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Health Beat: DBS for dystonia

Published On: Apr 15 2014 02:04:18 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 15 2014 05:36:21 PM EDT

Dystonia is a movement disorder that affects about 300,000 Americans. Now, a surgery that's known for helping people with Parkinson's is also helping those with dystonia.


Emma Horton is a little girl with a big personality.

"She lights up a room when she goes into it," said Cheryl Horton, Emma's mom.

Even though the 7-year-old can't talk, she can communicate with her iPad.


"My favorite movie is 'Frozen,'" Emma said.

Emma has dystonia, a movement disorder that causes her muscles to contract and spasm. Even the simplest tasks are a challenge.

"Just little things that you take for granted that a 7-year-old should be able to do, Emma was never able to do it," said Colby Horton, Emma's dad.

But today, Emma is doing better than ever, thanks to deep brain stimulation, DBS for short.

"We've been very pleasantly surprised by her," said Dr. John Honeycutt, neurosurgeon, Cook Children's Medical Center.

Here’s how it works: electrodes are placed in the brain and wires connect them to batteries implanted in the chest. The device sends electrical pulses to affected parts of the brain and "resets" them. The best part is Emma was able to have anesthesia and be asleep during the surgery.

"We used to keep the kids awake. They don’t have to be awake anymore," Honeycutt said. "We saw immediately some of that undesired movement stop."


Also, three months after DBS, Emma rode her bike for the first time.

Honeycutt said it typically takes six months or longer for patients with dystonia to see very good results after DBS. Emma is expected to improve even more.

Although DBS is a promising treatment, it isn't a cure. If patients have their device removed, their symptoms will likely return.

Dystonia affects about 300,000 Americans. Simple activities like walking, balancing, or even talking are hard for them.

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