In 2002, drummer Robert Girouard noticed numbness in his right wrist. Soon his wrist grew stiff. When he was drumming, his arm and wrist would freeze up. Gradually, the symptoms traveled up his right leg and foot.
A year later, Girouard learned he had Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that affects movement. Medications helped but the effects eventually wore off.
“Your rigidity gets worse, and you start to shake more,” says Girouard, 60, a drummer and music industry writer from Albany. “You start to limp. Soon, you can’t walk. You don’t have energy to pursue your interests.”
Girouard grew depressed. He could no longer drum and became increasingly immobile. His girlfriend suggested he talk to Dr. Julie Pilitsis, who specializes in functional neurosurgery, about deep brain stimulation. DBS places a device in the brain to stimulate regions that control movement and is only available at larger medical centers such as Albany Med where neurosurgeons and neurologists skilled in the technique are available.
Girouard was nervous about DBS, but desperate. “I didn’t have any options left,” he says.
On Aug. 23, 2012, Girouard underwent the 7-and-a-half-hour DBS procedure under the direction of an Albany Med team including Dr. Pilitsis and neurologist Dr. Adolfo Ramirez-Zamora. The results were almost instantaneous. “I could walk better, I could talk better, and I could swallow again,” Girouard says. He also cut down on his medications.
DBS transformed Girouard’s life. He resumed drumming and recently reunited with his band Urban Gumbo. “I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world when I get up in the morning,” he says. “I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m not just existing. I feel like I’m contributing again.”