A 17-year-old boy from Pennsylvania with Tourette’s has had his tics dramatically reduced by experimental brain surgery.
Callum deQuevedo was plagued by severe tics for three years, which included screaming, cursing and hitting himself in the head.
The successful surgery involved inserting a device called a neurostimulator under Callum’s collarbone, which sends a current to his head and produces electrical impulses that block the abnormal nerve signals that cause tics.
The experimental procedure is typically used to treat Parkinson’s and has already reversed symptoms of the brain disorder in patients in the UK.
Doctors drilled two holes into Callum’s skull, guided by an MRI scanner. An electrode is then implanted there, connected to a thin insulated wire which is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder. A stopwatch-sized chip was then inserted near his collarbone connected to the wire in his brain. This chip sends out electrical impulses, which block the abnormal nerve signals which cause tics. Callum now adjusts the strength of the impulses him with an app
Callum’s mother, Dawn deQuevedo, said it took seeing roughly 30 doctors over seven months to get a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome
Dr Ted Panov at Mount Sinai West in New York performed the procedure in December.
A few weeks later, leading Tourette’s expert Dr Joohi Jimenez-Shahed adjusted the levels of current sent to Callum’s brain, something he eventually was able to do himself with a remote control.
Callum’s improvement was gradual but life-changing.
He told CBS News after the procedure: ‘I just felt like this is the best I’ve felt in a long time.’
‘I feel more relaxed now. It’s nice that I don’t have to be moving constantly to keep myself distracted or to stop the tics. I can sit at my house and watch TV without worrying about screaming, or hitting myself, or punching or anything like that.’
The experimental surgery is typically used to treat Parkinson’s, a brain disorder characterized by unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.
Callum’s tics resembled those caused by Parkinson’s. They included screaming, cursing and hitting himself in the head, head jerking, face crunching and grunting.
He would also occasionally wake up in the middle of the night screaming, while other times he felt as if he was choking and couldn’t breathe.
Callum’s condition got particularly bad when he was 14.
His mother, Dawn deQuevedo said: ‘So the next day, sent him off to school and the nurse calls and says, “Listen, he really is struggling to breathe,”. So, every day that week the nurse called and said, “Something’s not right.”‘
At that point, no one knew it was a tic. Callum’s parents took their son to an Ears, Nose and Throat clinic, where a diagnosis of vocal cord dysfunction was suggested.
But a speech therapist admitted Callum’s condition was beyond their expertise, so he was sent to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
It took seeing roughly 30 doctors over seven months to get a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome.
Even after the diagnosis, Callum struggled with his mental health to the point where he tried to kill himself.
The treatment is called deep brain stimulation, and works like a pacemaker.
Doctors drilled two holes into Callum’s skull, guided by an MRI scanner to determine where in his brain would be most receptive to treatment.
An electrode is then implanted there, connected to a thin insulated wire which is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder.
Callum’s severe tics, such as screaming, cursing and hitting himself in the head, plagued him for three years
Doctors drilled two holes into Callum’s skull to insert a small conductor into his brain. They used MRI to gauge the exact positioning that would be most effective for reducing his tics
The wires are connected to a stopwatch-sized conductor is surgically implanted near the collarbone.
A few days post-surgery, Callum returned to the doctors where Dr Jimenez-Shahed remotely started the chip to send electrical impulses along the wires to the brain, and adjusted the levels to to optimum amount.
The electrical impulses block the abnormal nerve signals causing Callum’s tics.
He can now adjust the strength of the impulses himself using an app, and said his tics have reduced 70 percent since the device was implanted.
Dr Panov said that more improvement will follow in the coming months.
He said: ‘The brain is smarter than anything that we can ever imagine, and the brain is able to get this help from this device and start learning together with the device.’
Tourette’s is thought to affect more than half a million Americans and 300,000 Britons, most of whom are children.
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, and it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The disorder usually starts during childhood, between the age of two and 14. Half of sufferers say their symptoms improve with age, while it goes away completely for others.
In rare cases, it can occur later in life due to a ‘reactivation’ of childhood tics or psychiatric or genetic diseases, as well as damaged areas of brain tissue.
There is currently no cure for the syndrome but treatment — such as therapy and medicines — can help manage symptoms.