Hawaii man with Parkinson’s runs again thanks to brain surgery

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Just a few years ago, running seemed like an impossible dream for Robert Fitzgerald, who has Parkinson’s disease.

“It was very frustrating that I couldn’t do the type of stuff that I could do before,” said Fitzgerald, who lives in Oahu, Hawaii.

Then brain surgery changed his life.

“I’ve gotten to the point now, where I run three times a week at Ala Moana for maybe four or five miles,” said Fitzgerald.

Nearly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Fitzgerald was diagnosed in 2006 at the age of 41.

Over the years, his symptoms got worse. The disease eventually forced him to retire from his hands-on job as an engineer.

“I was having trouble with my right hand and writing any notes,” Fitzgerald said. “I got to the point where I couldn’t even … I would put a screwdriver in my hand and I couldn’t get into the slot.”

Dr. Michiko Bruno, the medical director for the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Center and the Queen’s Medical Center, said there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.  

“People with Parkinson’s can have tremors, slowness of movement, and difficulty coordinating their movements, and it can be, unfortunately, slowly, gradually progressive,” Bruno said.

However, he said, there are treatment options to control the symptoms, including deep brain stimulation surgery, which involves placing a stimulator electrode in the deep part of the brain controlling motor function.

“By changing and altering and adjusting the circuit there, it can help the symptoms,” Bruno explained.

He said the surgery can improve 70% to 80% of symptoms. However, only 5% to 10% of Parkinson’s patients are qualified candidates for the surgery, and only 2% of those in Hawaii actually go through with it.

Fitzgerald underwent the surgery in January.

“I only wish I had done it sooner,” Fitzgerald said. “I only wish I had done this DBS surgery years ago because it just … I just felt so great. It’s like somebody just turned a light switch on.”

While Fitzgerald is not cured, he is able to enjoy the little things in life a whole lot more.

“When you struggle to put on some socks, or you struggle to put on a button or a shirt or [struggle to] tie a shoe, untie a knot in a shoe,” he said. “So you think about those things and you think about how life is so fragile, and if you just look at the positive side of things, there’s always good in everything and you can always make good out of a bad situation.”

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