With only two small hairline scars on the top of his head, the average person would not know Grant Rowe had major brain surgery.
With a smile on his face, the Shepparton man sits and recounts the exact moment his quality of life changed forever.
After living with the crippling effects of Parkinson’s disease for 10 years, Mr Rowe had deep-brain stimulation five weeks ago while he was wide awake.
Having brain surgery is a terrifying feat for most people, let alone being awake for the whole procedure.
‘‘I wasn’t particularly keen on being awake while it was happening, it is pretty confronting,’’ Mr Rowe said,
‘‘I tried to make light of the situation and I joked a bit, but that is just me.’’
Mr Rowe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago aged 39, after noticing a tremor in his right hand.
‘‘One of the biggest symptoms I didn’t notice was when I was walking, my right arm didn’t swing,’’ he said.
‘‘Everyone else noticed it, but I didn’t, nobody wanted to say anything because they wanted me to work it out.’’
After years of taking medication and having a number of treatments, he said his life got to the point where the side effects from the medication were just as bad as his symptoms.
‘‘It is frustrating, you are limited, you have to compromise yourself and it is something I don’t like to do,’’ Mr Rowe said.
After living with the disease for 10 years, Mr Rowe had a gruelling 4-hour deep-brain stimulation surgery in a bid to reduce the main symptoms associated with Parkinson’s — shakes, stiffness and slowness.
The procedure involved surgeons inserting electrodes to stimulate a tiny part of Mr Rowe’s brain, the size of a grain of rice.
During the procedure, a medical device, similar to a pacemaker, was inserted into Mr Rowe’s chest that works to send electrical impulses to specific places in the brain that control different functions.
The surgery requires patients to be awake and alert, so that the higher level of brain activity can help guide surgeons to the target region of the brain.
‘‘I was unmedicated, so one of the problems was I was trying to keep still, but I couldn’t stop shaking,’’ Mr Rowe said.
‘‘That was pretty hard to do, so the less I could focus on it during the surgery the better.’’
Mr Rowe was one of 19 patients whose surgery results were used as part of a trial for Melbourne’s Bionics Institute clinicians and researchers studying deep-brain stimulation surgery.
These researchers were looking at finding key markers in patients’ brains that were active while under anaesthetic, meaning in the future patients would not have to be awake during the surgery.
Because of this, Mr Rowe’s brainwaves were recorded during surgery, putting extra pressure on him during an already overwhelming time.
Mr Rowe said he would never forget the moment the surgeon dropped the drill during surgery, meaning the procedure was put to a painstaking halt while the drill was sterilised and another was brought in.
‘‘In the end, the anaesthetic had worn off and when he was stitching me back up it was quite interesting,’’ he said.
‘‘I felt every bit of it, but there was nothing I could do, you see what is happening and you just have to smile and put up with it.’’
Mr Rowe walked away from hospital with just two small clear bandages on his head, despite the enormity of the situation.
He said his quality of life had had the biggest improvement.
Before surgery he was taking 13 tablets a day to combat his symptoms, but five weeks on, he is medication free.
Mr Rowe’s Parkinson’s had become so severe he had not been able to work a full-time job for the past three years — until Monday when he started a new job at McGuire College.
‘‘I started work this week, which is something I haven’t done for a while,’’ Mr Rowe said.
‘‘It is still hard work because my body is not used to it.’’
Mr Rowe is optimistic for the future, saying he was looking forward to getting back involved in his life that was quickly passing him by.
While he is dealing with the after effects of surgery as the swelling on his brain subsides, he said he would recommend the surgery to any Parkinson’s sufferers who were eligible.
‘‘You can either sit back and watch life go by or get involved,’’ he said.
‘‘Parkinson’s is a challenge... but because nothing is easy, it makes me more determined to get involved and do my bit.
‘‘At this stage I feel like I have got my life back — I am not ready to get thrown in the junk pile.’’