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How deep brain stimulation is giving former fireman with Parkinson’s disease back his life

Mick Gallagher’s world came crashing down around him when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His career as a firefighter was cut short and he gradually became a prisoner in his own home… until he heard about deep brain stimulation.

A former fireman has told how deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment gave him back his life 17 years after a devastating Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis.

Mick Callaghan had been a firefighter for 28 years when he was diagnosed with the debilitating condition at the age of 47 – although he had begun noticing symptoms three years earlier.

For the first ten years his Parkinson’s was managed by tablets, albeit with the strength of the medication progressively increasing, but in the last five years his symptoms had progressed to the extent that he had become a prisoner in his own home.

His mobility was very limited, he was starting to have falls and he rarely left the house in Bedworth, Warwickshire, for fear of his Parkinson’s suddenly ‘freezing’ him like a statue.

Eventually, in 2014, he was referred to experts at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham where he was assessed and deemed a suitable candidate for DBS.

The treatment involves placing electrodes in the brain linked to a battery-powered device, like a pacemaker, implanted under the skin in the chest. A handheld device allows adjustments to be made in the stimulation level.

It is not a cure for Parkinson’s but can help to control symptoms by stimulating targeted areas of the brain.

Levels of stimulation are gradually increased to optimum levels after surgery, enabling a reduction in the amount of medication needed on a daily basis.

“I had stopped going out completely,” Mick said, “The fear of getting stuck in embarrassing situations and looking as if I was drunk because of the staggering meant I just stayed in instead.”

“Things that people take for granted become a real challenge when you are living with Parkinson’s,” said wife Tina, a pharmacy technician.

“It was getting to the point where I would help Mick out of his chair on to the floor at home, he would crawl to where he wanted to go and then we would get him up again.”

“It was terrifying lying in bed at night and sometimes not being able to move,” added Mick. “After 28 years in the fire service I knew that if there was a fire at those times I would not be getting out.”

DBS has changed all that, and Mick, now 64, and Tina can now plan and do things which they couldn’t even dream of for the past 20 years.

“There are risks attached to any surgery, let alone brain surgery, but this was a risk well worth taking for me,” he said. “It was the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make, not just for me but for my family.

“There are so many things I can do now that I couldn’t before the surgery – from making myself a cup of tea and going to the shops to socialising, going on holiday and visiting relatives who don’t live locally.”

“We have booked a cruise, we are retaking our wedding vows next year and I have applied to get my driving licence back.”

Wife Tina added: “It’s unbelievable the difference this has made already to us. We’ve got a lot to look forward to now. We have our dreams back.”

“It’s not just the mobility but the DBS has given me my dignity back,” said Mick. “I would recommend it to any Parkinson’s sufferer who is suitable for it.” 

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