"I almost feel like a new man." Life-changing treatment helps patient with Parkinson's rewind the clock

Melissa Varner
June 26, 2023
Don Campbell and family
Don Campbell and family

Don Campbell feels like a new man. He didn’t discover the Fountain of Youth, but he says it feels close.

“My wife said I look 10 years younger,” Don said. “My kids have all said, ‘Dad, you look fantastic.’ I'm back to doing activities I couldn't do before. It's really given me back 15 years of life.”

“It” is deep brain stimulation. Neurosurgeons at MUSC Health were the first in South Carolina to offer deep brain stimulation, or DBS, as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

Here’s how it works: A surgeon places thin metal wires in the brain and a pacemaker-like device in the chest. The device sends electrical pulses to the brain to help control some motor symptoms.

For Don, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 17 years ago, the results have been life changing. Before surgery, he was taking up to 12 medications a day to help manage his symptoms. Since his surgery six months ago, Don is down to three medications a day – with a goal to get to zero.

“I like to box. I like to ride bikes. I especially like to play golf. And I was slowly losing my power and ability to do those things,” he explained. “DBS gave me the coordination and strength I needed to do them again. I almost feel like a new man.”

Innovations like deep brain stimulation are made possible through research, like the studies and clinical trials underway at the Murray Center for Research on Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders at MUSC, where investigators are exploring new ways to use DBS to help patients.

Gonzalo Revuelta, DO
Gonzalo Revuelta, DO

“Stimulation is currently very effective for motor symptoms,” explained neurologist Gonzalo Revuelta, DO, medical director of the Deep Brain Stimulation program, director of the Murray Center and Don’s doctor. “But we're trying to see if we can use deep brain stimulation to improve speech, cognition and walking. So that's a big push in the center right now.”

The Murray Center was established in June 2003 with a generous gift from the late William Edwards Murray, to help develop new therapies for Parkinson's disease and similar neurological problems.

At the time, Revuelta says, there was just one movement disorder neurologist and one neurosurgeon recruited to start the brain stimulation program. Over the last 20 years, the center has focused on growing a team that’s dedicated to finding answers and developing innovative solutions for Parkinson’s patients. As of June 2023, the center was in the process of hiring its eighth movement disorder neurologist.

“I'm most excited about the potential for developing a new therapy for Parkinson's disease here,” Revuelta said. “I think some of the brain stimulation approaches that we're developing here have real promise.”

In addition to DBS, the center is studying TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation, which MUSC researchers have already pioneered for the treatment of depression. Murray Center researchers are using it to help Parkinson’s patients who have trouble walking. They’re also studying ta-VNS, or trans auricular vagal nerve stimulation, which is currently used for treating epilepsy and depression.

Revuelta is thankful to William Edwards Murray and all the donors who have supported the Murray Center and made treatments like deep brain stimulation possible for patients like Don.

Don and his wife Kathy on a recent vacation
Don and his wife Kathy on a recent vacation.

Since his surgery, Don says he hasn’t had any more dyskinesias, the medical term for what he describes as “herky jerky” movements. “I walk normal, I talk normal, I function normal. And like I mentioned before, I gained 15 years of my life back.”

Don says he owes his “heroes” – Dr. Revuelta, Dr. Istvan Takacs and Dr. Vanessa Hinson – his deepest gratitude.

“I think God put these people in my life to get me through this point,” Don said. “Between God and the doctors, they combined to give me a little miracle. I hope one day I can do something in return.”

Because of them, he’s able to enjoy one of life’s most precious gifts.

“We just had our first grandchild, and we’re just so happy,” he said. “Of course, we think he's the cutest grandchild in the world.”