How are you doing? It’s a simple conversation
under the most complex of circumstances during brain surgery.
Serena Kelly is the first patient in Canada to receive a procedure known as
deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant post-traumatic
stress disorder or PTSD. Sunnybrook surgeons guided by her brain
images have inserted two electrodes deep into her brain targeting the precise
areas causing her PTSD. By talking her through a series of questions they make
sure they’ve hit their target. These electrodes will eventually be controlled
by this pacemaker-like device. It will be implanted during the second part of the
surgery and will send ongoing electrical stimulation to the affected parts of her
brain, hopefully easing her symptoms. For decades, Serena has lived with the dark and debilitating effects of PTSD. She says she has survived multiple sexual
assaults, an abusive long-term relationship, and most recently, the loss
of her daughter Harley in a motorcycle collision. So that was very traumatic
and has caused a lot of a lot of very intense symptoms.
Living with PTSD, I feel is like being in a prison almost. I can’t do the things
that I want to do. I don’t have a life. Other treatments offered no relief but
that’s where deep brain stimulation comes in, says Dr. Nir Lipsman,
the principal investigator of a new Sunnybrook-led study looking at the
safety of deep brain stimulation for patients like Serena. Over the last 20
years or so we’ve been learning much more about psychiatric conditions. Things
like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress
disorder. We’re starting to realize that those symptoms of those conditions are
driven by circuits in the brain that we can access with these electrodes. It’s
estimated more than three million Canadians are currently living with PTSD,
a crippling mental illness that can occur after abuse, disasters, accidents, or
military combat. Approximately one-third are treatment resistant, meaning possible
new options like deep brain stimulation are critically needed. Dr. Lipsman
says it will likely take months to gauge how the treatment is working.
This first phase of the study will include an additional four patients who
will be followed for one year. With eight grandchildren and three surviving
children, Serena says she wants to be there for them. I hope that at least the
bigger symptoms go away. I do hope this does work, not just for me,
but for for others, to give them hope. With Sunnyview, I’m Monica Matys.