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Doctors Perform Groundbreaking Surgery for Stroke

TIME Health
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Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic recently performed the first deep brain stimulation for stroke surgery in a patient. The experimental procedure could help people regain function that is typically lost to stroke.

About half of the 800,000 Americans who have a stroke every year end up disabled. Dr. Andre Machado, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute, is hoping to change that through deep brain stimulation (DBS): By implanting electrodes into the brain that provide small electric pulses, people can regain control over movements lost to stroke.

"We are frustrated with the state of post-stroke care as it is today," says Machado. "The goal is to give people better recovery to gain independence."

People who are disabled by stroke can regain some motor function from physical therapy, but many will not recover all their movement.

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Judy Slater, 58, of Pulaski, Pennsylvania, is the first person to be surgically implanted with an electrode to treat her stroke symptoms with DBS. In May 2015, Slater suffered a stroke while trying to get out of bed. She fell down and couldn't get up, and was paralyzed on her left side. For some time, she couldn't move her left arm or leg. Today she can walk, but has to wear a brace, and her left arm is still paralyzed.

"I was nervous," she says about the surgery, which she underwent on Dec. 19. "You don't want anyone messing around in your brain, but I am curious to see if it's really going to work."

Today Slater is recovering from the brain surgery, and in March doctors will turn on the stimulation. Slater will continue to undergo standard physical therapy to see if the DBS will improve upon any gains from standard rehabilitation. After about three months, doctors will turn off the stimulation to see if the effects remain.

Slater says she is already experiencing improvements, and can move her arm to about shoulder height.

Machado is also testing DBS to treat tremors in people with Parkinson's disease. Neither procedure is yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After doctors observe Slater's progress, they will enroll more people in the clinical trial. The team ultimately hopes to test DBS in 12 people with stroke-related disabilities.

"I am excited," says Slater. "I want to get back to everything working."

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