This surgery can change the life of Parkinson’s sufferers. In B.C., it comes with a 2-year wait

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Deep brain stimulation used on Parkinson’s patients
WATCH: Deep brain stimulation used on Parkinson's patients Doris Maria Bregolisse reports – Sep 9, 2017

It’s a revolutionary treatment that can change the lives of people suffering with Parkinson’s disease. But if you want to get it in B.C., you’re looking at a two-year wait.

Now, the one surgeon in B.C. with the capacity to provide Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery is calling on the province to increase funding to cut that wait in half.

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Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegernerative disorder in the world. It affects tens of thousands of Canadians, and has no cure. But in the two decades doctors have been developing DBS surgery, it has shown a remarkable potential to for improving the quality of life of patients.

DBS involves drilling a hole in a patient’s skull and implanting a small platinum electrode in their brain. It is attached to a pacemaker, which sends a pulse to the brain to stop the tremors caused by Parkinson’s.

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“My criteria for surgery is you can’t feed yourself, clean yourself or dress yourself,” Dr. Chris Honey told CKNW’s The Jon McComb show.

The results can be dramatic, putting some people back in the workforce, and keeping others out of the emergency room or returning their independence and allowing their spouse to go back to work.

“I always through the economics of that would be a tremendous advantage to society as a whole,” Honey argued.

“You take a disabled person, who’s getting disability insurance, and you put them back to work and they’re paying taxes? I would have thought one patient would pay for the whole program.”

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Honey said the DBS device costs about $10,000, which is equivalent to the cost of a two-day stay in hospital for someone with Parkinson’s.

“Right now, if you sign your consent form, have your blood work ready and you are the perfect candidate for surgery, you’re waiting almost two years to get into the [operating room] to get your surgery.”

Honey said there is another surgeon in B.C. capable of performing the procedure, who spent a year training with him and now works out of Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

If Fraser Health were funded to perform the surgery, wait lists could be cut in half, he argued.

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Honey stressed that the procedure is not a cure, but said it does allow a much greater quality of life for people until the disease progresses too far to treat. He said provinces like Saskatchewan and the Maritimes have recognized that, and have ensured that anyone who qualifies for the surgery can get it in a timely fashion.

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“This is a disease of the elderly, so there’s only a finite amount of time when you can enjoy this benefit, and that window is closing over two years. And I think that is a tragedy.”

Global News has requested comment from Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health.

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