August 13, 2018

Essential Tremor Patient Says Surgery was Life-Changing

Aug. 13, 2018 | Kimberly Zimmer stretches her arms out in front of her and smiles. The 50-year-old is showing off how steady her hands are.

“Never in my life have I been able to hold my hands that still,” she said.

Zimmer had been diagnosed with essential tremor as a child. Fellow students bullied and poked fun at her for shaking. As she grew older, the condition progressed to the point that she was unable to hold a drink without spilling it. Eating was a challenge, too. Zimmer says she couldn’t keep food on a spoon long enough to reach her mouth.

“I became a recluse,” she said. “I didn’t want to go out to eat with my husband or friends because I didn’t want anyone to see me making a mess on the table like a child.”

UAMS neurologist, Rohit Dhall, M.D. explains image to his patient, Kimberly Zimmer.

Zimmer had tried all medications available on the market to help reduce her tremor. None of them seemed to make much difference. Her neurologist referred her to UAMS’ Rohit Dhall, M.D. to see if she was a candidate for a surgery called deep brain stimulation. Dhall is an associate professor of neurology in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of neurodegenerative disorders at UAMS.

“She was a fantastic candidate because she didn’t have memory issues,” Dhall said. “And her tremor was so severe that it was debilitating.”

Essential tremor is eight times more frequent than Parkinson’s disease. Dhall says most eligible candidates are unaware this treatment could be available to them. Only 3 percent of those who qualify get the surgery. But for most who do, the odds of improving are greater than 90 percent.

“He explained the procedure to me in great detail. I felt very hopeful and c

Erika Peterson, M.D., UAMS Neurosurgeon

omfortable in our decision to move forward with the surgery.”

UAMS neurosurgeon Erika Peterson, M.D., performed Zimmer’s surgery the day after Thanksgiving 2017.

During the operation, Peterson placed small electrodes into the areas of the brain that control movement. Patients are awake during the surgery because doctors say it’s the best way to reliably test if they’ve hit their intended target and to insure there won’t be side effects from the electrodes as the patient comes out of surgery.

“Dr. Peterson gave me a dry erase board before surgery,” Zimmer said. “She asked me to draw a square, a circle and a triangle and to sign my name. Of course you weren’t able to recognize any of it because it was just scribbles.”

Once the electrodes were placed, Dr. Peterson had Zimmer draw the same shapes and sign her name.

“They were as perfect as the day is long. It was the prettiest triangle, circle and square you have ever seen. I’d never written my name so pretty.”

No longer hesitant to eat in front of people, Zimmer enjoyed Christmas dinner with family.

“Not a crumb left on the table,” she said. “I could pick up my glass and drink normally. I felt like an adult again. I got my life back.”

Zimmer says the absence of the tremor has been life changing for her.

“I can sit and pay attention to my husband, carry on a conversation without feeling like I’m being watched. It’s been a blessing.”

Zimmer returns to the clinic once every 6-8 weeks for necessary adjustments.

Since opening the UAMS Tremor Clinic nearly two years ago, Dhall said, hundreds of patients have been treated.