Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

April 26, 2014

Device means a return to normal living for local man with Parkinson's

April is awareness month for Parkinson’s Disease

GLASGOW — A year ago, Chris Boling was struggling to walk and sometimes relied on a motorized wheelchair to maneuver around the assisted-living facility where he resided.

Now, Boling, 41, of Glasgow, can walk without any help, lives alone and has been cleared by his doctors to drive.

Boling has Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed 16 years ago at age 25.

He believes he developed the disease after being exposed to manganese as a child while watching his grandfather do welding.

“They know it’s environmental of some sort because I have no genetic markers and my age is way too young for it to be a general, gradual progression of the disease,” he said.

For many years, Boling relied on medication to manage his symptoms. In April 2013, he underwent deep brain stimulation surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville in an effort to control the disease without medication.

“I was Stage 4 easily,” he said. “I was in bad shape. I was about to lose hope.”

DBS surgery involves the placement of electrodes in the brain that are connected to a device called the Activa PC neurostimulator, which is inserted beneath the collarbone. The Activa PC emits electrical current to block neurological signals caused by Parkinson’s disease. The Activa PC works much like a pacemaker.

Boling can turn the battery-powered Activa PC on and off by using a hand-held device called the Activa Patient Programmer.  

The only side effect is that his speech slurs some when the Activa PC is on.

“The higher the voltage goes, the better my mobility gets but the worse my speech gets,” he said.

DBS surgery is done in stages. In Boling’s case, it was done in three procedures.

“I was wide awake through the whole thing,” Boling said. “I got to watch the whole thing on TV.”

During one of the procedures, doctors switched the Activa PC on to make sure the electrodes were in the appropriate locations on his brain. They asked him to do a variety of tasks during the procedure, such as opening and closing his hands and moving his elbows and hands to see how stiff he might be.

“In the past five years, I’ve not been able to get out of the bed really without taking my medication first,” he said.

After spending the night in recovery, Boling was able to move about without having to take his  medication.

“My symptoms went back to probably Stage 2 or Stage 1 within 30 days,” he said.

Dr. Fenna Phibbs, a neurologist at Vanderbilt, performed Boling’s surgery.

“He has done very, very well,” she said. “His life before surgery was dictated by his medications. He was at a stage where if you have something to do that day, you had to plan out when you are going to do it. It becomes often difficult to plan your day.

“After surgery it becomes almost the exact opposite. It is very freeing for patients.”

Her hope is that the surgery will continue to help control Boling’s symptoms.

“The surgery is not a cure. His disease will continue to progress,” she said.

Ron Burns, a close friend of Boling’s, can attest to his improvement. Watching Boling’s Parkinson’s progress, Burns said, has been “incredibly sad.”

“Before he had surgery, he was having major cramps. His body would lock up. He couldn’t walk real well,” Burns said. “You couldn’t understand him most of the time.”

The difference between Boling’s condition then and now, Burns said, is “just like night and day.”

“He’s not like he was 20 years ago, obviously, (but) it’s quite amazing how different he is,” Burns said. “There is just a big change in him emotionally as (well as) physically.

“Going from a normal, functioning human being to what Parkinson’s turns you into, I can’t imagine what he went through mentally,” he said. “His mind is sharp, but not to be able to take care of yourself and talk and have people to understand you, zip up your pants, things like that at 35 years old, I can’t imagine what he went through.”

Since having DBS surgery, Boling has traveled to Rupp Arena in Lexington to watch an NBA exhibition basketball game with his sons, Cabot, 8, and Coleman, 10.  

He has also taken his sons wake-boarding at Barren River Lake and taught them how to ski and snowboard at Paoli, Ind.

Boling urges other Parkinson’s patients to not give up and to look into having DBS surgery.

“It’s well worth it,” he said.

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