Parkinson's Patient: 'I Was Free'

Mary Kane won't let Parkinson's disease stand in her way.

"I move hay. I move 50 pound bags of feed. I fix fences," she said. "I chainsaw down trees!"

So when her symptoms become resistant to the medication she has been taking for 16 years, she went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to have her brain surgically re-wired.

Watch the series premiere of "Hopkins" Thursday, June 26, at 10 p.m. ET. CLICK HERE for behind the scenes videos, doctor profiles and patient updates.


Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological disease. Some of the symptoms, which vary from patient to patient, are caused by a deficiency of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that delivers messages from brain cells that regulate many body functions. When there is not enough, patients experience involuntary movement. Tremors, slowness of movement, and rigidity are all common symptoms of the disease, which is why Parkinson's is classified as a movement disorder.

There is no single diagnostic test to determine if a patient has Parkinson's, and people like Kane are often misdiagnosed.

"I tell everyone I was diagnosed by my vet," Kane, a recreational equestrian, said.

After riding in a horse race in 1991, Kane was shaking. Some of her friends attributed the tremor to stress, but a veterinarian suggested she might have Parkinson's. Almost a year later, after being told she has ALS, and multiple sclerosis, Kane was correctly diagnosed with Parkinson's — this time by a physician.

Parkinson's is a degenerative condition, and for Kane, who is 57 years old, mercifully slow-moving. She credits her active lifestyle with her relatively good health, but her worsening symptoms make it hard for her to care for her two horses and her Russian wolfhound. After consulting with her neurologists in Tennessee, Kane traveled to Johns Hopkins Hospital for the ultimate treatment.

Deep Brain Stimulation

An ABC News team followed Kane's story while filming at Johns Hopkins for the "Hopkins" series. As she waited in her hospital room the day before surgery, Kane's pronounced symptoms could no longer be mistaken for anxiety.

Kane sat up in her hospital bed and swayed from side to side as she proudly discussed photographs of her animals. Her movement, called dyskinesia, is a side effect of the medication she takes to treat the tremor and rigidity. Only hours away from brain surgery, Kane was remarkably upbeat, even as she explained the effect her symptoms have on her daily life.

"It's hard for me to eat. When I go to a buffet, it's a food fight … Parkinson's is not fun, but it's fun to watch," she said.

Although she joked, she also admitted to being scared and somewhat ambivalent about the procedure: "I don't like being messed with, a hole in my head and all that nonsense."

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) seems like something from an episode of Star Trek. A surgeon bores a small hole in the skull and implants a wire into the brain that extends to a regulating device embedded under the skin on the chest. This system, sometimes compared to a pacemaker, sends electricity to a targeted area of the brain. These electrical pulses can help curb Parkinson's symptoms.

"I'm going to be bionic," quipped Kane.

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