Louis Huning is looking forward to actually enjoying the holiday season with his family this year.
Huning was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 10 years ago and it has limited him, especially in recent years, from doing things he enjoys.
“I found myself almost in a fog,” he said.
After the delicate balance of medications Huning took every day stopped working, Huning researched deep brain stimulation surgery at the recommendation of his doctor, Dr. Holly Shill, a neurologist and movement disorders specialist at Banner Sun Health Research Institute.
Even though Huning is a resident of New Mexico, he has been a patient of Shill’s almost since the onset of his disease. Huning also chose to have the brain surgery away from home, with neurologist Dr. David Pootrakul at Banner Boswell Memorial Hospital.
Huning’s surgery was Oct. 13, and since then, he has decreased his medications from 16 pills a day to 10. Although Shill said he may never get to the point when he can stop all medication, it’s much more manageable now.
He and his wife Nancy are looking forward to interacting with their two children over the holidays, which has been difficult for him in the past — the family might be playing cards or another game, and he would be too tired to participate.
“We’d be doing things as a family, and his energy would just go,” Nancy Huning said.
Years ago, Huning would be very particular in the placement of the lights on the family Christmas tree, making it so the cord couldn’t even been seen, Nancy Huning said.
“It’s been years since he did that,” she said. “He gets to take part in it now.”
Huning served as the mayor of Los Lunas, outside Albuquerque, for 27 years but stepped down two years ago after it became too difficult for him to travel, conduct meetings or do small everyday tasks.
“You just can’t understand unless you have Parkinson’s,” he said.
Huning said it was extremely frustrating to wake up in the morning and feel like his legs were cemented to the ground.
“I could still conduct meetings, but it was such a chore.”
Deep brain stimulation functions like a pacemaker for the brain, providing electrical stimulation to the area of the brain that controls motor symptoms, decreasing or sometimes eliminating the uncontrollable movements that become debilitating to Parkinson’s patients.
The small battery device is placed in the patient’s chest, with wires snaking up behind their ears to two small nodes on top of the head; on Huning, the nodes are small, barely noticeable raised bumps.
Pootrakul has maintained a 0 percent infection rate for the procedure since 2004, one of the major reasons Huning chose to have the surgery at Banner Boswell.
“For the people that are qualified, it’s life changing,” said the doctor, who has done about 100 of the procedures.
Deep brain stimulation represents 10 to 15 percent of Pootrakul’s annual surgical practice, and his office estimates between 7 to 10 percent of the patients who have had their initial DBS surgery in Sun City are from outside the Valley. Those represent the growing number of patients who are choosing Banner Boswell as a destination to have the DBS procedure.
“We’re going to have a nice Thanksgiving this year thanks to you and your team,” Huning told Pootrakul when he stopped to say hello to the doctor after a check-up with Shill Monday.
Shill suggested Huning look into the DBS surgery because he had reached the peak of his medications’ effectiveness — the various drugs would work for a few hours at a time, but then wear off, taking Huning on a roller coaster ride through each day.
“He could no longer really plan his day because he didn’t know if he would be able to more or not,” Shill said.
With the surgery, it’s like the best medication response Huning could get, but it’s continuous throughout the day, Shill said, and it’s that predictability that patients appreciate.
At his recent appointment, Huning had a few questions for Shill about dyskinesia, or involuntary movements, and a slight slowness of speech he was still having. While those sypmtoms are normal for Parkinson’s patients even after the DBS surgery, Shill adjusted the voltage of the battery in Huning’s chest. She also showed Huning and his wife how to use a personal remote to change the voltage settings slightly from home.
“He’s done really well,” Shill said of Huning.
Nancy Huning said before the surgery, her husband couldn’t go shopping with her because it was so difficult for him to move. But now, fetching a forgotten item from across the store while she’s in line is no problem.
“You just can’t understand what it’s like to have that,” Nancy Huning said. “Before, it was life with Parkinson’s, now its life.”
Huning said when he went into the hospital for his surgery, he had to be wheeled in on a wheelchair, but when he left, he walked out on his own.
“I feel wonderful,” he said.
The Hunings paid for the DBS surgery out of their own pocket since insurance didn’t cover it.
“It was worth every dime,” he said.
Even though their friends and family might be buying cabins or second homes, Nancy and Louis didn’t see the point in an investment like that if they couldn’t enjoy it.
“It was the best money we’ve ever invested,” Nancy Huning said. “We wouldn’t have done it any differently.”
The Hunings drove back to New Mexico with their son Louis Jr. after Louis’ check-up appointment Monday, looking forward to spending the holiday together.
“We’re going to be very thankful for what the Lord has given us,” Huning said.