Dr. Jayaraman Rao, Oscher Medical Center in New Orleans
Now, Parkinson's disease patients no longer have to travel to centers in New York and Boston to get state-of-the-art treatment to relieve their troubling symptoms. Dr. Jayaraman Rao, a neurologist and Parkinson's specialist, performs deep brain stimulation right here in Louisiana at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans.
This procedure is not experimental, but is FDA-approved as a viable treatment for Parkinson's patients. Indications are for patients who have not responded well to Parkinson's medications, or who have had complications from them.
While deep brain stimulation is not a cure for the disease, it does alleviate some of the symptoms of this debilitating neurological disorder. These include tremor, rigidity, squirming, slowed movement and walking problems. However, the treatment is not effective for speech or bladder problems. "There are many patients who benefit," Rao observed. "Some patients may start walking better. Some patients with the squirming like Michael J. Fox will have the squirming go away when the electrode is put in. But, it definitely is not a cure. It is only to control symptoms."
The procedure involves two stages. At the first step, a surgeon drills a hole in the skull which is approximately the size of a quarter, and places an electrode into the brain at the areas involved in Parkinson's. The patient returns a week later, when the physician connects the wire in the brain to a neurostimulator ("battery pack") in the chest. After the system is in place, electrical impulses are sent from the neurostimulator into the brain, which block the signals that cause Parkinson's symptoms.
Rao has been working with deep brain stimulation since 2001. As a neurologist, he assists the neurosurgeon in placing the electrodes. He has participated in about 300 procedures, both at LSU and at Ochsner. "I was at LSU for 30 years before I moved to Oschner," he said. "I have treated thousands of patients with Parkinson's."
Patient feedback has been positive. "They have done wonderfully well," Rao reported. "The majority of them are happy. Once in a while, a patient is too old or we waited too late. The circuits are burnt out in the brain, and it may not help the brain stimulation. They may have marginal benefit, but they may not get complete benefit."