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Young dystonia patient helped w/ deep brain stimulation treatment

March 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The onset of a movement disorder called dystonia happened suddenly for Michael Sharp, and gradually became worse.

"It just kind of escalated to where my arm was kind of stuck like this for a few months," Sharp said, bending his arm at a 90 degree angle.

Sharp was 11 at the time of his diagnosis. Meds work for one in four sufferers and Sharp was not one of them.

He left school and travelled the world to try experimental treatments, but in the end, he said the disorder always returned.

After four years of pain, doctors suggested deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure often used to treat Parkinson's. Electrodes are placed inside the brain, and wires connect them to batteries implanted in the chest. The device sends electrical pulses to affected parts of the brain, resetting the brain function and making spasms disappear.

"In very few cases, they may go away right in front of you, but that's more the exception than the rule. Most of the time, the spasms take weeks to months," said Dr. Michele Tagliati, a doctor at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

"The DBS didn't get rid of the dystonia completely. It is there, it's just being fought back against," Sharp said.

Despite memory loss, Sharp graduated at the top of his high school class and is now in law school.

"Going through that definitely changes a person," he said. Sharp may have been bent, but he was never broken.

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