Strides Against Parkinson's Disease

Does This Operation Work?

Del Maxson's life became almost unbearable when his medication began to cause side effects as bad as the Parkinson's disease he was trying to control.

Uncontrollable body movements made him housebound and, in his own words, stuck in "a body that doesn't work." But now Maxson plays pool, buttons his shirt – even shaves himself – thanks to a surgical treatment just approved by the Federal Drug Administration for advanced Parkinson’s sufferers, Morley Safer reports.

Surgery to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's has been around for decades, but it has mostly consisted of destroying tiny parts of the brain. The treatment given to Maxson and approximately 3,000 Americans like him consists of stimulating the brain with electricity.

Electrodes are implanted into the sufferer's brain to deliver varying amounts of electricity, making the treatment adjustable as symptoms worsen. It's a distinct advantage over earlier surgical procedures, which were often one-shot propositions that were more dangerous to perform. The surgery is reserved, however, for patients with advanced Parkinson’s, those whose drug treatment is causing serious side effects.

The patient must remain awake during the six-hour operation so surgeons can be sure not to do any harm as they go deeper into the brain. Results are immediate. They are also lasting; the first patients to receive the treatment eight years ago are said to be still doing well. Maxson says the procedure gave him a new life. "My perspective before the operation was Parkinson's was incurable and progressive, kind of a dark future that I had," he says. "Now I've got a future."

Cleveland Clinic doctors on the team that operated on Maxson say the operation, called deep brain stimulation, doesn't always work as well for everyone. Some patients may not do as well as someone like Maxson.

Some may even do better. Mark Sharp was also suffering from the debilitating effects of advanced Parkinson's and, he too, received the operation at the Cleveland Clinic. Doctors there boast that Sharp was able to compete in a triathlon soon after the procedure.

© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved