Jeff's Best Life: Living Without Essential Tremor

How deep brain stimulation (DBS) gave Jeff a new breath of life at 67.

Pain and Movement|Jun.30, 2022

Jeff Weseman is one of those people who seems to have lived a thousand lives.

At 70, he tells stories that range from the lighthearted, like the days he spent with his grandmothers as a child in Chicago, to the unfathomable, like the nine months he spent at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital learning to walk again after an oil drum fell on him in Panama.

He's a veteran. He spent years as a diesel engineer in the Army. He's managed a paint company. He's been a clinical research data analyst in New Jersey. He now runs a cemetery in rural Illinois, putting his kindness to work to give families and loved ones a welcoming space to remember the people they've lost.

He's lived quite a life. One of the only constants throughout, though, is his tremor.

Jeff was born with essential tremor, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking. It can affect almost any part of the body, but for Jeff, his hands were the worst. In the military, he got by as an engineer who didn't need to work with weapons, but simple things like holding a cup of coffee or carrying glassware often felt impossible.

Over the years, he's tried it all to reduce the impact his tremor has had on his daily life. As a high schooler in the 1970s, he was prescribed amphetamines. Then Valium. Eventually, physical therapy. At one point he was self-medicating, which isn’t uncommon as many with essential tremor eventually are unsure where to turn. He'd essentially accepted that living with the tremor and powering through was his normal. After all, his father and grandfather both lived with the same condition.

And so he did too.

Until a few years ago.

He learned about deep brain stimulation (DBS), which sends targeted signals to the brain to relieve tremor.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "I had a lot of questions, but the neurology team at Loyola (University Medical Center in Chicago) made me feel really comfortable."

Two key members of that team were — and remain — Dr. Kalea Colletta, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Loyola and Director of the Consortium of Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders at Hines VA Hospital, and Matt Fowler, an Abbott representative who answered all of Jeff's DBS-related questions. Dr. Colletta and Fowler know that DBS can change the lives of those whose bodies haven't responded to medications and whose lives are being disrupted by tremors.

Such was the case for Jeff. At 67, Jeff received our Infinity DBS System, which Dr. Colletta prefers as its user-friendly remote programming allows her to do on-demand adjustments for her patients no matter where they are, and saw a "night and day" difference. He was the first veteran to receive DBS at Hines.

Jeff accredits Dr. Colletta for giving him a whole new life. This impact of DBS isn't lost on her.

"When treatments are not effective, people with essential tremor or Parkinson's can suffer from depression due to their quality of life and be withdrawn," Dr. Colletta said. "Once DBS is effective, you can see them light up. Little things, like being able to write their name for the first time in years or grab a glass of water and not think twice about it – they become a new person. It's such a privilege serving veterans and having the ability to offer this cutting-edge treatment at no cost to them."

Now, in his new life, Jeff is able to focus on the things that matter most to him, from providing comfort to families and creating a beautiful space at the cemetery to advocating for DBS and walking potential DBS recipients through their questions and experiences. According to Dr. Colletta, Jeff sharing his DBS experience with friends, acquaintances and strangers alike has increased interest in others who have also suffered with essential tremor or Parkinson's.

Jeff may have lived what seems like a thousand lives, but this new one, where he's free of paper plates, stares in public and the pain of tremor, is his best life.

This story reflects one person’s experience; not everyone will experience the same results. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of your treatment options.




Brief Summary: Prior to using these devices, please review the User’s Guide for a complete listing of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, potential adverse events, and directions for use. The system is intended to be used with leads and associated extensions that are compatible with the system

Indications for Use: Bilateral stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) or the internal globus pallidus (GPi) as an adjunctive therapy to reduce some of the symptoms of advanced levodopa-responsive Parkinson’s disease that are not adequately controlled by medications, and unilateral or bilateral stimulation of the ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM) of the thalamus for the suppression of disabling upper extremity tremor in adult essential tremor patients whose tremor is not adequately controlled by medications and where the tremor constitutes a significant functional disability.

Contraindications: Patients who are unable to operate the system or for whom test stimulation is unsuccessful.  Diathermy, electroshock therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are contraindicated for patients with a deep brain stimulation system.

Warnings/Precautions: Return of symptoms due to abrupt cessation of stimulation (rebound effect), excessive or low frequency stimulation, risk of depression and suicide, implanted cardiac systems or other active implantable devices, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electromagnetic interference (EMI), proximity to electrosurgery devices and high-output ultrasonics and lithotripsy, ultrasonic scanning equipment, external defibrillators, and therapeutic radiation, therapeutic magnets, radiofrequency sources, explosive or flammable gases, theft detectors and metal screening devices, case damage, activities requiring excessive twisting or stretching, operation of machinery and equipment, and pregnancy.  Loss of coordination is a possible side effect of DBS Therapy, exercise caution when doing activities requiring coordination (for example, swimming), and exercise caution when bathing. Patients who are poor surgical risks, with multiple illnesses, or with active general infections should not be implanted.

Adverse Effects: Loss of therapeutic benefit or decreased therapeutic response, painful stimulation, persistent pain around the implanted parts (e.g. along the extension path in the neck), worsening of motor impairment, paresis, dystonia, sensory disturbance or impairment, speech or language impairment, and cognitive impairment.  Surgical risks include intracranial hemorrhage, stroke, paralysis, and death. Other complications may include seizures and infection. User’s Guide must be reviewed for detailed disclosure.

To review the full Impotant Safety Information (ISI), please click HERE.