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Procedure helps people with tremor disorder

A procedure that can help restore normal function is giving hope to those with Essential Tremor.

KENDALL, Fla. – It’s estimated that up to 10 million Americans suffer from a neurological condition that leads to uncontrollable movements called Essential Tremor, which is 10 times the number of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Fortunately for patients like Nan Levy, there is a procedure that can help restore normal function.

For years, when Levy tried to draw a simple circle, it looked like a ragged, squiggly mess.

“It started approximately 15 years ago when I noticed something wasn’t right. There were little hints of shakes and I thought, ‘Well maybe I’m just nervous about something,’ so I dismissed it,” Levy said.

As the years went on, it gradually got worse.

A visit to a neurologist revealed she had a condition called Essential Tremor, which causes the hands, head, trunk, voice or legs to shake and is often confused with Parkinson’s.

“In Parkinson’s disease we will often see a resting tremor that kind of goes away when they go to do something such as brush their teeth or write their name, whereas essential tremor is the exact opposite. They could be sitting there talking to you and you have no idea they have a tremor, but if you ask them to grab a glass of water it will be very apparent,” said Dr. Justin Sporrer, a neurosurgeon with Baptist Hospital’s Miami Neuroscience Center.

While medication was an option, Levy chose instead a procedure using high intensity frequency ultrasound.

The HIFU therapy focuses ultrasonic waves deep into the brain, targeting the source of the tremors.

“What we’re doing with this procedure is a non-invasive ablation, actually burning and essentially removing those bad tremor cells from the circuit,” Sporrer said.

Levy was overwhelmed by the outcome: Her once shaking hands are finally steady.

“Living with this is not anybody’s wish naturally, but to see where Baptist Health came through with this breakthrough, I mean it was just beyond words,” she said.

While Essential Tremor can affect men and women equally, it’s more common in people age 65 and older and there’s a strong genetic predisposition for the condition. In fact, Levy’s mother also had it.

Certain medicines, caffeine or stress can make it worse.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.