ROANOKE – Dennis Fett baited a hook with a wax worm outside his home earlier this week.
"For two years, I could not bait my own hook," said Fett, 56. "If I did, my wife (Chris) held my hand."
Then, he went into the kitchen and broke open eggs to bake treats for their dogs.
"You should have seen us making Christmas cookies," Fett recalled. "I could not separate the whites from the yolks. And if I had to stir anything by hand, it would go all over. She'd (Chris) steady my hand.
“I love cooking, I love baking, I love fishing," Fett said. "I could not do them anymore. I was very angry."
Then, Fett placed a monitor over a battery-operated neurostimulator implanted under his skin below his collarbone and pressed a button.
His entire body began to shake uncontrollably.
"This is how I went through life before," he said. "Restaurants were out of the question. People watch you when your food is flying all over the place. At night, I would not fall asleep until I wore myself out."
He placed the monitor over his neurostimulator and pressed the button again. The shaking stopped.
"It's like being given a second chance," Fett reflected. "I know I'm not healed. But it's quality of life."
Fett is among 1.5 million Americans with Parkinson's disease that attacks the central nervous system, which causes involuntary body movements and worsening over time.
Several months ago, he had a series of three surgeries of the new generation of deep brain stimulation at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) delivers electrical pulses to areas of the brain to control the involuntary movements.
"The electrical stimulation of those target areas negates the symptoms that occur by the loss of dopamine" in the basal ganglia part of the brain, explained Dr. Jason Seibly, a neurosurgeon with Central Illinois Neuro Health Sciences in Bloomington who is performing the new generation DBS surgery at BroMenn.
According to OSF media relations coordinator Libby Allison, DBS has been around for a couple of decades and has been offered for 25 years at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
"We were doing them here (in Bloomington-Normal) about 15 years ago," Seibly said.
But, after the surgeon who performed a couple of DBS surgeries at BroMenn left the community, Seibly decided against performing the surgeries, describing them as "time-consuming and uncomfortable for the patient."
"And there was room for error," Seibly said. "DBS success is based on the leads (wires) being in the right spot in the basal ganglia. I thought, if they come up with an easier way to do this, I'll come on board."
That recently happened when the primary procedure was reduced from eight to 10 hours down to three and a half. According to Seibly, changes were made to make it more comfortable for the patient and the work became more precise.
Fett had worked since he was a teenager at Charles River Labs near Washburn, which processes chicken eggs used in vaccines. He worked his way up to plant manager. For 10 years, he was a volunteer firefighter with the Roanoke Fire Department and was Firefighter of the Year in 1995.
Eight years ago. his right hand began shaking from time to time. After several months, he saw a neurologist who made the Parkinson’s diagnosis. Fett was shocked.
A neurologist prescribed medication to boost dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is made in the basal ganglia where movements are coordinated. When nerve cells that produce dopamine die, Parkinson's develops, producing tremors or stiffness.
The medication slowed the progression of symptoms for about five years, then they began to worsen again. Three years ago, he had to quit his job.
"I bawled for two weeks," he said. "I loved my job."
His neurologist referred him to Seibly in 2018 and Seibly described DBS, which is for patients whose Parkinson's is severe enough that medication is losing its effectiveness and the disease is hurting their quality of life, but not so severe that the medicines are having no impact at all.
"I was just so desperate, I said, 'Let's do it,'" Fett recalled.
During the first, one-hour outpatient surgery, the day before Thanksgiving of ‘18, Seibly placed four markers in Fett's skull to act as reference points of where Seibly had determined — from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain — where to place the incisions.
During the second surgery in December, Seibly placed wires called electrodes into the basal ganglia. That three-and-half -hour surgery required an overnight stay.
During the third, one-hour outpatient surgery in January, Seibly placed the neurostimulator below Fett's collarbone and connected the electrodes extending from Fett's brain down his neck to the neurostimulator.
In late January, Hayden programmed the neurostimulator and turned it on, which delivered the electric pulses.
"I was shaking," Fett recalled. Within seconds, he stopped.
"I was in tears," he said. "I've never been so happy in my life."
The battery will be replaced after three years.
"It's been life-changing," Fett said. "I've returned to fishing, baking and cooking. I can walk into a restaurant with my head held high. I can take my dogs for walks again. It's easier to play with the grandkids."
"The goals are to improve the patient's quality of life, to dramatically lessen the symptoms of the disease and to decrease medication use by 50 percent," Seibly said.
Because the procedure does not eliminate Fett's tremors and because he cannot do heavy lifting because of the neurostimulator in his chest, Fett knows he is unable return to his former job.
"But I'd like to get my life back as close to normal as I can," he said.
Seibly expects to treat with DBS about 15 patients a year with Parkinson's disease.
"There's help out there," Fett advised. "Take it."