GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - During a visit to Valley View Hospital for a unique procedure this summer, New Castle resident Mari Riddile was asked to sign in.
That's routine, of course, for anyone being admitted to the hospital. But in this instance, that signature had special significance, Riddile said.
A sufferer from what's known as essential, or central, tremors for the past 15 years, Riddile had progressed to the point where her handwriting was often just a wild scribble across the paper.
A few hours later, neurosurgeon Dr. Claudio Feler was carefully working to stimulate the sensors in her brain using a series of small wires, when something incredible happened.
Riddile, who was kept conscious through the deep brain stimulation procedure so her movements could be monitored, was asked to write her name again.
"They were checking my hands and watching for the shaking to stop, when they asked me to write my name on the back of a pad of paper," Riddile recalled. "It was amazing, I was able to write without shaking.
"They took it out to show my husband, so he could see," she said. "It was very exciting."
Not to mention just a little emotional for the both of them, Riddile added.
Small electrodes were eventually placed inside her brain and attached to a battery pack, similar to a heart pacemaker.
Today, Riddile can write again and is able to knit, do her calligraphy and scrapbooking, all things she had given up because the shaking had gotten so bad.
Riddile is one of a growing number of deep brain stimulation (DBS) success stories among patients who have central tremor, Parkinson's disease, dystonia and other movement disorders.
And now, instead of having to travel to Denver to have the procedure done, local patients can be treated at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
"We are the only hospital on the Western Slope to provide this, which is a huge convenience to the patients here," said Dr. Feler, who has been at VVH for about 15 months.
The process to evaluate patients and determine if they qualify for DBS can be fairly lengthy, involving multiple visits to neurologists, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and even psychiatric evaluations.
For that reason, it's a major time and travel commitment for several months up to and through the two surgeries that are required to complete the procedure, Feler said.
"By offering this here on the Western Slope, we are better able to do a true, multi-disciplinary evaluation of our patients," he said.
Following a full evaluation, the team of physicians sits down to discuss each patient and decide if they can benefit from DBS.
"It's all part of providing the best care possible, and it's something that can have a very positive impact on our community," Feler said.
Feler has been a practicing neurosurgeon, specializing in movement disorders, for more than 20 years at the University of Tennessee at Memphis Medical Center. He also completed his residency there, and did his fellowship in Toronto working with Dr. Ron Tasker, whom Feler referred to as the "grand old master" in the field.
A frequent visitor to the Roaring Fork Valley for skiing trips, Feler was recruited to join the medical staff at VVH by Dr. David Miller.
DBS as a medical procedure dates back to the 1960s and '70s, Feler explained. It was approved by the FDA as a pain treatment in the 1990s, and Feler participated in the early clinical trials.
Later that decade, attention turned to offering it as a treatment for Parkinson's and other disorders that include shaking as a symptom. It's become more common for those patients just in the last few years.
Feler has treated five patients since his arrival at VVH.
"So far, the patients we've seen have been very happy with the results," he said.
Treatment without a vial
Riddile, 51, had tried numerous medications to try to control her tremors, but "nothing changed," she said.
"The medications just made me really tired, and the shaking just got worse," she said.
Riddile said she had considered going through the evaluation for DBS in Denver, but hesitated due to the time commitment.
"I was to the point where I had to use a straw to drink so I wouldn't break a tooth on the glass," she said. "I even chipped a tooth with my toothbrush one day."
When she learned that the procedure was available at VVH, she jumped at the opportunity.
"The idea of not having to go to Denver was just so wonderful for me," Riddile said. "But it wasn't just that. It also needs to be the right doctor. It just made sense to do it now, and improve my quality of life."
Mary Noone of Glenwood Springs can also attest to the benefits of DBS. She had the procedure done in 2008 in Denver, and has been free, for the most part, of the tremors associated with Parkinson's disease ever since.
And she doesn't have to take the cocktail of 20-some pills a day she used to take to control her symptoms.
"I was shaking constantly, which made me nothing but skin and bones," she said in a 2011 interview with the Vail Daily.
"I remember my daughter and I were sitting on a bench watching people go by, and I thought, 'Just being able to walk - I'll never be able to do that.' And now I can."