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Post-Op Follow-Up

Brain Surgery Live: Patient Thrives Once Tremors Stilled by Neurostimulator

Greg Grindley awoke amazed after his first full night’s sleep in 10 years.

Greg Grindely at the food pantry

That isn’t all that has changed after deep brain stimulation (DBS) quieted the tremors that rocked his world in the decade since his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at age 40. The U.S. Navy veteran made famous by National Geographic Channel’s international broadcast of Brain Surgery Live now has a neurostimulator implanted above his heart, just above a tattoo of a cross honoring his mother.

The device can be adjusted with a small remote control if his tremors act up. Grindley’s doctors have already reduced his medication dosage to half of the 1650 mg per day he took prior to surgery.

Grindley’s gained so much more. He sleeps six to seven hours every night, freed from perpetually interrupted nights with no more than two consecutive hours of rest. His neck and legs are no longer cramped by angry, tight muscles, with DBS controlling his tremor and dramatic reduction in the involuntary movements called dyskinesia, as well as improvement in the toe curling caused by dystonia. And he instinctively reaches for a cane that, at this point, he no longer relies on to steady himself.

“I need rockets on my roller skates,” says his wife, Crystal, who’s been by his side throughout the whirlwind national coverage. She was comforted seeing her good-natured husband cracking jokes and smiling on TV during the procedure. He was discharged from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center the next day.

Camilla Kilbane, MD, Grindley’s neurologist, hopes DBS controls his symptoms suitably to allow the former electrician to someday return to work and to enjoying previous hobbies, like playing paintball with his sons and riding motorcycles with his brother.

Two months after his brain surgery was broadcast live on National Geographic, Greg Grindley is living a new life.

“DBS has been shown to improve quality of life measures,” Dr. Kilbane said. “I am hoping that he can return to work and to prior hobbies, take medications less frequently, and have a steady control of his symptoms throughout the day.”

Now, Grindley can’t sit still for an entirely different reason: walking without fear of falling. He and his family have taken multiple day trips, where he walks effortlessly. He also moves easily around the Portage County food pantry where he and his wife collect food to feed 350 families each month and fill backpacks to get hungry children through the weekends.

Helping others in need is a mission for Grindley, who learned that three out of four Parkinson’s patients eligible for DBS are unaware of its benefits. He’s hoping he inspired other Parkinson’s sufferers through Brain Surgery Live, which was broadcast in 171 countries.

“It was a little strange having someone poke around in my brain, and it was wild listening to the neurons fire,” Grindley said, who was awake while neurosurgeons Jonathan Miller, MD and Jennifer Sweet, MD, placed the electrodes, and neurologist Benjamin Walter, MD, and Dr. Kilbane listened to the “music” they made to target the proper part of Grindley’s brain. “But it wasn’t painful. And it’s so worth it. Life is completely different now.”