Essential tremor stands between a nurse and the work she loves

(left to right) Neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist, Dr Dheerendra Prasad of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York; radiation oncologist, Dr Sylvia Rodrigue; patient, Mrs Melanie Thomson; and neurosurgeon Dr Frans Swart. Mrs Thomson, who suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, was one of the first patients to receive Gamma Knife Icon treatment at Netcare Milpark Hospital.

“I started suffering from essential tremor two or so years ago. It only affects my hands, which shudder severely when I try to do any task,” says 49-year-old Sr Daleen Meissenheimer, who hails from the Free State.

“I was placed on long term incapacity leave from my work as a nurse at a public sector clinic a year ago as a result of this condition.”

Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder in the world. It is a neurological condition that causes involuntary trembling in a part of the body, most often the hands and arms.

“As you can imagine, I was not able to do my nursing work properly with hands that shook so badly that I could not take a patient’s blood or even hold a pen properly to fill out a patient file or write a report. This has been one of the hardest aspects of this condition for me to bear, as I love nursing and miss it very much. I have a young son and need to be able to work in order to support us.”

When Meissenheimer was first diagnosed with essential tremor she was prescribed medication, which initially helped to control the tremors, but a month later the symptoms returned. While deep brain stimulation is usually used to treat severe essential tremor nowadays, Meissenheimer was not a suitable candidate for that procedure.

“My neurosurgeon advised that the Gamma Knife was the best and safest treatment option available to me,” she adds.

The Gamma Knife Icon is the sixth generation of the Leksell Gamma Knife system, and introduces a number of new innovations, such as integrated imaging and software, and an advanced patient motion management system to continuously control dose delivery. The system is used in the treatment of selected brain tumours, head and neck tumours, vascular malformations in the brain, as well as functional disorders, such as essential tremor.

“The Gamma Knife Icon procedure itself was completely painless, no sedation was necessary and I wasn’t even aware that it was taking place. I was able to go home directly afterwards. My doctors anticipate that the Gamma Knife Icon procedure will take between three to six months to show benefit, and I will also need a further procedure in a year’s time on the other side of my brain in order to complete the treatment process,” Meissenheimer explains.

She expressed her gratitude to the Gamma Knife South Africa team who conducted her treatment, adding that she wished this technology had been available years ago as it would also have benefitted her father. “My father suffered from very bad essential tremor, so much so that he needed full time care including having to be fed during the last years of his life.”

Acoustic neuroma patient’s long wait is over

“One morning, I woke up and I couldn’t hear in my right ear anymore. I went to the GP, and then to an ear, nose and throat specialist, and at first they couldn’t diagnose what was wrong. Eventually, I was sent for an MRI, and the scan identified a tumour growing on a nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. I was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma,” says 49-year-old Renet Kotze of Johannesburg, who was the first patient to receive Gamma Knife Icon treatment in South Africa.