Arizona man’s involuntary rhythmic shaking ends after focused ultrasound treatment at Barrow
May 19, 2023, 8:00 PM
PHOENIX — More than 10 years after his hand began involuntarily and rhythmically shaking, a 78-year-old Phoenix man has been relieved of his symptoms thanks to a new, non-invasive treatment offered at Barrow Neurological Institute.
“Patients are amazed at the results. Many are in tears with how immediate and impressive the effect is,” Dr. Francisco Ponce said.
Jim Kurtz, an Arizona State University alumnus who worked many years as a sales manager for a company headquartered in Phoenix, said he first recognized the tremor at a business meeting.
“I remember it so vividly. I had poured a cup of coffee, and when I went to lift it, my left hand started to shake so much that I completely emptied the cup,” Kurtz said.
Over time, Kurtz’ tremor grew worse and medication only reduced some of the shaking. He lost the ability to type on a keyboard and write with his left hand.
He was diagnosed with essential tremor, the most common movement disorder in the U.S., affecting approximately 10 million people. It is a neurological condition not related to Parkinson’s disease that causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking.
While it’s generally viewed as a non-threatening disease, the impacts of ET on everyday life can be disabling, impairing patients’ ability to eat, drink, shave and write, as well as perform hobbies, housework, and workplace tasks.
“One day, I just decided to try calling Barrow because I knew of their great reputation,” says Kurtz.
After evaluation by movement disorder neurologist Dr. Justine Chan at Barrow’s Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in 2020, Kurtz learned he might be a candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS), another innovative treatment used for various neurological conditions such as essential tremor and Parkinson’s.
“DBS seemed too scary for me and my wife, Diane, at the time,” Kurtz recalls. “I know it works wonders and can be a miracle for some patients, but it just wasn’t something I was ready for.”
So, Kurtz lived with the tremor until recently. He read an article about a new technique using ultrasound technology and was immediately intrigued. It turned out Barrow had started offering the procedure and Kurtz was a candidate.
“When I met with Dr. Ponce, everything he said made sense,” says Kurtz. “The procedure is irreversible, and that was a little scary, so I went home and did a lot of research. I told Diane I needed to do this and that was that. I had a lot of faith in Barrow and Dr. Ponce.”
Kurtz underwent the groundbreaking procedure in March. Requiring an incredible amount of precision, the procedure can take three to four hours. Patients lie in an MRI tube which guides where Dr. Ponce directs each set of ultrasound beams. Doctors use a spiral test before, during and after the procedure to illustrate effectiveness.
“When we were only about three quarters of the way through, I could write with my left hand again. The tremor was almost gone,” he said. “By the end, my tremor was completely gone. I hadn’t been able to clearly follow a spiral with a pen like that in more than 10 years!”
Kurtz, who now resides in Strawberry, Ariz., says he missed the small things that really were big moments in his life, like carrying a hot cup of coffee in each hand to meet his wife of 23 years for their daily coffee date.
“Every morning since we both retired, we sit together and read the news while drinking coffee. For the first time in almost a dozen years, I can carry two cups at once. I don’t have to make two trips, or send her to get her own cup,” Kurtz adds.
Focused ultrasound was first approved by the FDA to treat essential tremor in 2016, the noninvasive, therapeutic technology was not approved by Medicare in all U.S. states until July 2020. Dr. Ponce, a world leader in DBS surgeries, performed Arizona’s first procedure for a patient with essential tremor at Barrow in Oct. 2022.