Epworth Richmond treats first deep brain stimulation patient

For Harrie Martens, life in retirement was starting to lose its sheen. Affected by his worsening essential tremor, Harrie’s usual leisure activities were becoming harder and harder to enjoy.

“It restricted me very badly,” explains Harrie. “I found I couldn’t do simple things like writing, using a computer, fishing, playing pool. All the things I love to do.”

The 65-year-old Western Australia (WA) resident had been a keen traveller, touring the country in his campervan and meeting new friends on the way, but the tremor – which presented with traces of Parkinson’s disease – meant getting out was becoming a challenge.

Harrie Martens_DBS“I tended to become a bit of a hermit, because it’s hard to go out and do things when you’re shaking all the time,” he says.

That’s when Harrie booked in to have deep brain stimulation at Epworth Richmond, under the care of Epworth surgeons Mr Andrew Evans and Mr Girish Nair.

Travelling from Albury WA, to Melbourne for the treatment meant Harrie could have surgery almost right away, under his private health insurance scheme, rather than waiting up to eight months in WA through public health.

Harrie’s procedure was the first for Epworth Richmond, which involves a surgically implanted medical device – similar to a pacemaker – that delivers electrical stimulation to precisely targeted areas on each side of the brain. Once implanted, tremors are controlled by a set voltage that can be raised or lowered depending on need.

Associate Professor Bruce Waxman, medical director at Epworth Richmond, says DBS surgery has undergone significant changes in the past five years, reducing operating time and surgical complications.

“DBS can improve our patients’ quality of life in one stage with a hospital stay of just two days.”

Now returned to WA, Harrie is ready to get back to a regular life unrestricted by his tremor, and hitting the road in his campervan is top of the list.

“It’s almost like getting a second lease of life,” he says.