Dave Kohler today, exercising.
On the car ride from his home north of Scranton to St. Luke’s Bethlehem last November (2019), Dave Kohler sat quietly in the back seat, his vocal cords stilled, unable to process brain signals due to Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
If he could have spoken, the 69-year-old retired surveyor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and one-time paleontologist might have described his hopes for the new deep brain stimulator (DBS). That the pacemaker-like device he would get that day would hold its electrical charge longer than his first one, not needing batteries replaced frequently or more regular charging. He also might have lamented his longtime struggles to walk, talk and keep his balance, caused by the vexing movement disorder that afflicts 1 million Americans.
How different Dave was on the return trip home the next day, says his wife, Linda. Thanks to St. Luke’s neurosurgeon, Roy Hwang, MD, who replaced his decade-old deep brain stimulator with the new Boston Scientific model. Dr. Hwang implanted the device under the skin of Dave’s upper chest and connected it to the two electrodes running deep into his brain. Dave’s life improved surprisingly and, incredibly, overnight.
“Dave recited poetry all the way home,” Linda said. “It was amazing!”
Dave Kohler helping to dig up a Mastodon head when he was 16. The entire skeleton is on display at the Pennsylvania Museum in Harrisburg.
A deep brain stimulator (DBS) helps some patients to control Parkinson’s symptoms when medications can’t. Electronic leads wired to the DBS are inserted into the “movement-controlling” part of the brain where symptoms start when vital chemical reactions don’t occur. Electrical pulses from the device replace these chemicals, reducing symptoms and promoting movement.
Linda and Dave were astonished and thrilled with the new, state-of-the-art device that has given Dave much more than longer battery time. Thanks to it, he now has a new life, indeed, one that he has missed since 2005 when his Parkinson’s symptoms appeared.
PD is a degenerative brain disorder that hampers movement, says Dr. Lasker, St. Luke’s neurologist and Dave’s neurologist, and medical director of its Movement Disorders Program. Ten million persons world-wide suffer this condition.
While medications often can control or reduce symptoms, a subset of patients must turn to deep brain stimulators that send the impulses to the brain, which travel to the nerves and muscles, thus improving movement. But neither medication nor a DBS will reverse the debilitating impact of Parkinson’s that worsen over time, explained Dr. Lasker.
Dave’s first DBS was implanted 11 years ago in New York City, when he was under the care of a NYU movement disorder neurologist like Dr. Lasker. But the batteries had been failing repeatedly over the past few years, requiring frequent replacement, which involved surgery. Wanting neurology care closer to his Northeastern Pennsylvania home, Dave found St. Luke’s where he receives advanced treatment from Drs. Hwang and Lasker.
The leads of his DBS, embedded in his brain, weren’t replaced when the electronic stimulator containing new software was implanted. The Boston Scientific unit better stimulates and focuses signals from the leads, sending them to the regions of the brain affected by the disease, explains Dr. Lasker. Though he first met Dave just after surgery, Dr. Lasker says he had never seen such amazing improvements in symptoms like those of his new patient with his new DBS.
“I never expected changes like that,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable story.” He adds this was the first time the Boston Scientific device was implanted at St. Luke’s, which is the first hospital in the region to offer it to Parkinson’s patients.
Today, Dave walks and talks better than ever in his 15-year history with Parkinson’s. He and his wife, praise Drs. Hwang and Lasker and marvel at his Boston Scientific DBS that improved Dave’s quality of life. Now he can speak longer and louder than a whisper, stand without getting dizzy and walk without falling over.
He’s looking forward to resuming his life-long hobby as an amateur paleontologist and archeologist. In his teens, Dave discovered the bones of a Wooly Mammoth near Wyalusing (Pa) while on a “dig.” Its ivory tusks are housed in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. While he had to put on hold his years-long passion because of Parkinson’s, Dave now can describe in detail the finding and unearthing bones of the prehistoric giant beast. He’s enjoying his life once again, thanks to his new caregivers and advanced device.
“At St. Luke’s, we use the newest technology that benefits our patients,” Dr. Hwang says. “We’re willing to factor in what the patient wants and offer them the latest treatments. We won’t settle for what is just conventional technology.”
“I’m more than pleased with St. Luke’s and the new DBS,” Dave says, clearly and without hesitation. “They gave me a better quality of life.”
Linda concurs: “He’s a new man.”
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Sam Kennedy, Corporate Communications Director, 484-526-4134, firstname.lastname@example.org
About St. Luke’s
Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 16,000 employees providing services at 12 hospitals sites and 300+ outpatient sites. With annual net revenue in excess of $2.5 billion, the Network’s service area includes 11 counties: Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke’s is the preeminent teaching hospital in central-eastern Pennsylvania. In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s established the Lehigh Valley’s first and only regional medical school campus. It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 38 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with 347 residents and fellows. St. Luke’s is the only Lehigh Valley-based health care system to earn Medicare’s five- and four-star ratings (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction. St. Luke’s is both a Leapfrog Group and Healthgrades Top Hospital and a Newsweek World’s Best Hospital. U.S. News & World Report ranked St. Luke’s #1 in the Lehigh Valley and #6 in the state. Three of IBM Watson Health’s 100 Top Hospitals are St. Luke’s hospitals. St. Luke’s University Hospital has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation from IBM Watson Health eight times total and six years in a row. St. Luke’s has also been cited by IBM Watson Health as a 50 Top Cardiovascular Program. Utilizing the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) system for both inpatient and outpatient services, the Network is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of the SLUHN’s information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information. St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers.