Deep brain stimulation brought Charles Schellenger relief from his hand tremors and helped him to regain a sense of independence.
For 72-year-old Charles Schellenger, of Lewes, Delaware, tinkering with model trains grew from a casual interest to one of his most beloved hobbies. With a large display in his basement, he would spend hours arranging railway tracks, carefully painting houses and setting scenery with patience and precision.
“As you can imagine, painting many of the buildings, trees and other scenery requires a lot of detail but I began experiencing hand tremors and it became more difficult to work on all the different pieces,” says Schellenger.
The tremors that he experienced in his hands continued to get worse and began to seriously impact his quality of life—so much so, that Schellenger was forced to stop the hobby he loved.
“I would shake so bad that it was hard to keep my hand steady. It was very frustrating and eventually, I just had to quit,” he says. “The medicine that I was taking at the time wasn’t working and it got to the point where I knew I had to do something.”
Schellenger decided to seek help and his journey led him to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. There, he underwent deep brain stimulation under the care of neurosurgeon Dr. Ashwini Sharan.
“Imagine you have an electronic device and there’s an issue with the wiring,” explains Dr. Sharan. “When that happens, it can affect the way other parts function. The brain works in a very similar way—it’s all connected. In the part of the brain that controls movement, if there are abnormal brain signals, it can cause issues.”
Deep brain stimulation involves a two-step process. First, small electrodes are placed in targeted areas of the brain. Then the electrodes are connected by a wire to a device similar to a pacemaker. The device activates the electrodes, which produce electrical impulses that help to override and regulate the abnormal brain signals that can cause tremors.
While the procedure itself is not a cure, it can provide significant relief and improved quality of life for individuals with certain movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.
“Deep brain stimulation is amazingly predictable in terms of reducing the tremors and it can also be helpful in reducing the use of medication,” says Dr. Sharan.
Schellenger was able to notice a difference almost immediately.
“At one point, while I was still in the hospital, I was asked to hold a bottle of water and when they took the bottle away, my hand didn’t shake at all…it was amazing,” he says.
The successful surgery brought Schellenger relief from his tremors and also helped him get back on track doing what he loved.
About a week or two after my procedure, I got right back to my trains – painting houses and trees and getting everything set up again. I’m able to keep my hand steady and focus on each little detail with no problem. —Charles Schellenger
While he’s grateful for the opportunity to return to his beloved hobby, Schellenger says it’s about so much more—including regaining his independence.
“Even something as simple as being able to hold a can with one hand or being able to bait my own hook when I go fishing—for years this was hard,” says Schellenger. “I’m able to do so many things on my own again. It really has been a dream come true.”