Oregon man ‘stoked’ after getting new brain implant

William Cronenwett, 68, had the device implanted October 31

William Cronenwett points to where an updated medical device was placed that can improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease and other similar conditions, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)
William Cronenwett points to where an updated medical device was placed that can improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease and other similar conditions, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 68-year-old Oregon man is one of the first in the country to receive an updated medical device that can improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other similar conditions.

The deep brain stimulation device works by implanting electrodes in the brain. New advancements mean doctors can better steer electrical pulses ultimately designed to help motor control.

An x-ray of a human brain (Public Domain Photos/Kai Stachowiak)
An x-ray of a human brain (Public Domain Photos/Kai Stachowiak)

William Cronenwett had the device implanted at the Portland VA Medical Center on October 31. Dr. Ahmed Raslan put the “directional deep-brain stimulation device” into his brain.

Once the transmitter is activated it will treat symptoms such as essential tremor and dystonia.

The Terrebone resident, who goes by Herb, was a propane installer but now calls himself a backyard mechanic and woodworker. The shaking, he said, really limits what he can do.

“It was kind of a joke at times. If you wanted a paint can mixed up just hand it to me, I’d mix up the paint, or if you’re looking for a milk shake, just give me a gallon of milk and I’ll have it shook up for you in no time.”

He described the tremors he’s had for about 10 years as “annoying and frustrating, maddening.” His left hand shakes almost continuously — except when he’s sleeping.

“That’s because your mind is resting,” he told KOIN 6 News.

People with Parkinson’s commonly experience dystonia as a cramp in the foot that causes the toes to curl and stay clenched. It causes forceful twisting movements that, for example, can draw a person’s arm behind their back, or pull the head to the side or toward the chest.
Parkinson’s Disease Foundation

Essential tremor signs and symptoms:
Begin gradually, usually on one side of the body
Worsen with movement
Usually occur in the hands first, affecting one hand or both hands
Can include a “yes-yes” or “no-no” motion of the head
May be aggravated by emotional stress, fatigue, caffeine or temperature extremes
Mayo Clinic

This device was approved by the US Food & Drug Administration in October, OHSU officials said.

Although deep brain stimulation surgeries have been performed for a quarter-century, the new device lets doctors divert current away from parts of the brain that may cause numbness.

He had a similar device about a year ago, but he said there were complications. But the relief he had was dramatic, he said.

“I’m stoked, as they say. Yeah, really looking forward to it.” – William Cronenwett

William Cronenwett is one of the first people in the country to receive an updated medical device that can improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease and other similar conditions, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)
William Cronenwett is one of the first people in the country to receive an updated medical device that can improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other similar conditions, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)

“I’m looking forward to being a quote-unquote guinea pig” to prove the electrodes now placed in his brain will provide relief from his constant tremors.

Herb said the electrodes are about 2 inches long and can send a signal to different directions in the brain.

“The idea of that is that it can give you more of an exact area to add the voltage to, if necessary, to help eliminate more of the shakes,” he said.

As he explained, a wire connects the electrodes, then joins behind the ear with a main line.

“It’s the same thing, like a pace maker,” he said. “They actually plant this device under the skin.” No wires are exposed.

He said the doctors are going to turn the device on Wednesday morning. He’s also hopeful this new device will help others with even more severe cases than his.

“I’m stoked, as they say. Yeah, really looking forward to it. I’ve had it once, I know what it’s like.”