Nightly News   |  August 20, 2012

Younger Parkinson’s patients opt for surgical treatment

With Deep Brain Stimulation, an implanted device acts as a kind of pacemaker for the brain allowing some patients to go off their medications completely. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> in health news tonight we're going to talk about the 40,000 people diagnosed with parkinson 's disease every year in this country. a growing number of them are young, under age 50. more these days are turning to surgery to help keep their disease and symptoms at bay. tonight our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman has one remarkable success story.

>> reporter: angela is a mother of four and a life-long runner. she used to start her days with a five- mile run , but lately her parkinson 's disease has made that and so much more impossible.

>> i have little kids and they like to run around the yard. i would like to be able to keep up with them.

>> reporter: angela is one of the estimated million americans living with parkinson 's disease a growing number under the age of 50. it is a degenerative disease which means it gets worse with time.

>> that's me seven years ago just with one side. now it's switching over to both.

>> reporter: she is off her medications because she has decided to try brain surgery to help her manage her disease and the surgery must be performed when her symptoms are at their worst.

>> i love you.

>> you ready?

>> no.

>> reporter: her husband, matt, shaves her head in preparation for the surgery. but as much as she tries to take it all in stride, it is sometimes overwhelming. angela was only 32 when she was diagnosed.

>> i was kind of shuffling.

>> reporter: it's okay. it's okay. what is the painful part?

>> i think just that was the point where i started losing who i was.

>> reporter: it's the morning of angela 's surgery. she'll be awake during the procedure called deep brain stimulation or dbs.

>> doing all right?

>> okay.

>> reporter: dr. whiting tests the effect of electrical currents on the nerve centers in her brain so they can implant a device that will send shocks to control her symptoms, like a pace maker for the brain.

>> i think it went very well. i could see that her tremor got better and we're real hopeful this will be a life changing experience for her.

>> reporter: two months later we meet up with her on vacation in north carolina . angela , lift your arms for me. the surgery has worked. she is off her meds completely. how do you feel when you can do that?

>> awesome.

>> reporter: angela is even running again. she signed up for a local 5-k charity run. what makes you want to do that?

>> because i can.

>> reporter: her first race since the dbs.

>> good, baby.

>> reporter: just part of the life she says she has been given back by her surgery. this procedure is meant for those people who don't respond to medication and if it works it has permanent effects. and for those who do qualify for the surgery, it's covered by insurance, brian.

>> what else to say? it is absolutely remarkable.