“I Have Parkinson’s – It Doesn’t Have Me”

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“I Have Parkinson’s – It Doesn’t Have Me”… Deep Brain Stimulation Gives Donna Miller Her Life Back and Inspires Her to Share Her Story

1 (7)Donna Miller learned she had Parkinson ’s Disease when she was just 36 years old. Her condition worsened as the disease progressed, and eventually her 26 pill per day routine failed to offer relief. At this point, she decided that she had to battle Parkinson’s through Deep Brain Stimulation. Since undergoing this surgical procedure, her symptoms have subsided, allowing her to achieve a greatly improved quality of life.  

Donna Miller, a loving wife and mother of two remarkable sons, learned she had Parkinson’s at the age of 36. When she first learned of her diagnosis, she felt relieved to know that there was a cause behind her body’s decline. After receiving an explanation for her ever changing symptoms, she decided to never let her condition control her life.

As each year passed, Donna’s ability to perform daily tasks worsened, yet she continued to wear a smile. Because of her positive frame of mind and the ongoing support offered by her close-knit family, she remained strong and full of hope. “We dealt with it as a family. Our sons never knew a different Donna than the Donna with Parkinson’s Disease,” remarked Donna’s husband, Darrell Miller.

At the peak of her disease, Donna was taking 26 prescribed pills per day in six separate doses. Even with an increased level of drugs, she still found herself in a severely disabled state. She realized it was time to explore a more invasive route, and ultimately opted to undergo a brain surgery known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). While the decision was difficult, Donna and her family knew that the potential outcome outweighed their uncertainty. “I wanted help. I wanted to be me again,” reflected Donna.

The Miller family felt reassured to find themselves under the excellent care of Dr. Rajeev Kumar, an internationally recognized neurologist at the Rocky Mountain Movement Disorders Center and the Medical Director of Colorado Neurological Institute’s Movement Disorders Program. Under his guidance, Donna began a series of three DBS procedures. “I have found him (Dr. Rajeev Kumar) to be not only brilliant, but also very caring. I believe I have received the best care possible from Dr. Kumar and his staff,” says Donna of her care experience.

Donna’s first surgery involved securing attachments to hold a plate that would be used in the second surgery to help in locating the optimum positions in her brain for electrodes. During the third surgery, the wire bundle from the implants was connected from behind her ear to her neck. From her neck, the wires traveled to her shoulder and onward to her collar bone where a stimulator was implanted.

Once DBS was complete, Donna was essentially functioning off a battery-operated brain. Months of programming took place to discover her ideal settings. After an adjustment period, Donna’s symptoms faded, and her pill intake dwindled to a mere 7 pills per day.

Donna continues to make progress, especially since she began working on her speech and physical capabilities at CNI’s NeuroHealth Center. She has also participated in several clinical research studies, receiving cutting edge treatment and quality care. “CNI encompasses all the services that I need to battle my disease. As a patient, I find it convenient and comforting to have one source to go to,” says Donna.

The wonder of her improvement sparked a fire inside Donna, and she soon became invested in sharing her story to spread awareness for the miracles made possible by brain research. When Donna learned of the Neuro Film Festival, her eyes lit up and her brain went to work. Presented by the American Brain Foundation, The Neuro Film Festival aims to raise awareness about the need to donate money for research into the prevention, treatment, and cure of brain and nervous system diseases. Donna decided this event would provide the perfect opportunity to voice her story. With the help of Dan Weyand, a Hollywood filmmaker and childhood friend, Donna’s hopes of inspiring others came to fruition. She submitted versions of her story to both the 2011 and 2012 festivals. To view her video, please visit www.DBSDonna.com or www.thecni.org.

“The purpose of the NFF is to help raise awareness and funding for brain research. Donna and her family are the perfect example of what can happen with a positive outlook. When you’re done watching the film, I hope you see this as a story of hope and inspiration for what brain research has done and must continue to do,” said Director Dan Weyand.

Along with her involvement in the Neuro Film Festival, Donna also participates in a number of other Parkinson’s activities. She is a trained Parkinson’s Advocate for the national Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and Communication Director for the Bionic Brigade DBS Support group. She has also started her own Parkinson’s/DBS support group on her personal Facebook profile where people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers are able to share questions, concerns, victories and event information with each other. Other organizations she supports include Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies, University Hospital and CNI’s Movement Disorders Program.

Today, Donna continues to experience improvement in her mind and body’s capabilities. She hopes that her story will reassure those with Parkinson’s that medical technology has the potential to restore lost quality of life. She encourages people to educate themselves on the paths available to them.

About Colorado Neurological Institute

Colorado Neurological Institute (CNI) has been providing research, education and patient services for persons with neurological conditions and their caregivers since 1988.  As the only nonprofit organization in the Rocky Mountain Region of its kind, CNI offer patients easy access to comprehensive, state-of-the-art care, support services, clinical trials, outpatient neuro-rehab, counseling and more. Learn more at www.thecni.org.

CNI is happy to now have three movement disorders specialists on campus (Rajeev Kumar, Monique Giroux and Aaron Haug).  All three are CNI physician members and are active in the Parkinson’s community.  In addition, we have welcomed neurosurgeon, Adam Hebb to our team.  Adam specializes in Deep Brain Stimulation and, with the help of CNI, is conducting a major research project which will ultimately make DBS surgery even more effective for our patients!

About Parkinson’s Disease (PD)

PD is a progressive neurological brain disorder caused by death of cells in a certain part of the brain known as the substantia nigra that produces dopamine. Symptoms include: tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement and walking problems. PD is most common later in life, usually around age 60 and up. PD has a slow progression over 15-20 years. It is one of the few progressive neurological disorders in which symptoms can be alleviated for many years with medications. There is no cure for PD at this time.

About Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

DBS is a surgical procedure used for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications. DBS is not a cure, but it can help manage associated symptoms. The procedure involves implanting a neurostimulator, which is a device that blocks abnormal nerve signals by way of electrical stimulation to areas of the brain that control movement.

How to Help

Just as CNI’s physicians and researchers touch lives and change futures through patient care, education and research, our donors touch lives and change the future through their sharing and generosity.

Learn how to support patients like Donna Miller at www.thecni.org. Your donation fuels CNI’s mission, allowing us to deliver excellence from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation and recovery.

For more information about giving to Colorado Neurological Institute, please contact Nancy Miller at 303-806-7415 or nmiller@thecni.org.



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