9-year-old Aiken boy able to walk again thanks to deep brain stimulation

Deep brain stimulation
Every move was a struggle for Nathon Simmons. Then, doctors at Georgia Health Sciences diagnosed him with the neurological movement disorder dystonia. (WRDW-TV / Feb. 15, 2012)
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News 12 This Morning / Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Nathon Simmons loves playing football.

He's as energetic as they come at 9 years old, but the mere fact that he is able to walk is quite the feat for him these days.

Steven Simmons, Nathon's father, shared, "It was an unbelievably difficult journey because we love Nathon so much."

A closer look at Nathon and you'll notice something different. He has a device that protrudes out of the left side of this chest. It was put there after he had surgery in early November of 2011.

"I felt a little bad because every time I bent over it was hard to get back up," Nathon explained. "Every time I took a step, I would fall over."

Last year he could barely hold a pen and write out letters. By the summer of 2011 he was restricted to a wheelchair. Every move was a struggle for him. Then, doctors at Georgia Health Sciences diagnosed him with the neurological movement disorder dystonia.

Nathon first showed signs of dystonia from a very early age. His parents say the symptoms started to spread and became worse as he got older.

"When his brain tries to connect with his muscles, when he walks, his entire muscles cramps up and he's unable to release," his father explained.

Nathon's neurosurgeon, Dr. Cole Giller added, "He had been treated with medication, treated with a variety of things."

Nothing was working and he was getting worse. That's when doctors recommended something called deep brain stimulation.

"My initial reaction was whatever it is gonna take," Mr. Simmons said.

The process of deep brain stimulation includes the insertion of wires into the brain at specific locations. Surgeons also attached a pacemaker, which stimulates the ends of the wires.

"Stimulation of those location with electricity jam the circuits that cause dystonia and the abnormal movement," Giller added.

It's a procedure that restored much of Nathon's movement, and even though doctors said it would take about six months, Nathon was walking by Thanksgiving, less than a month after the operation.

"For it to happen within two weeks from wheelchair to walking and running and football," said Nathon's mother, Jeannie, "was an absolute surprise."

Doctors say Nathon's pacemaker should last him another three to five years. Nathon plans to take part in more non-contact sporting activities.

"Just seeing my dad looking at me, seeing me walk, that made me feel good," Nathon said.

Doctors say deep brain stimulation has been used to treat Parkinson's. There are also some new studies that show DBS can have an effect on memory, which leads some to believe it may help with Alzheimer's treatment. Those studies are in the very early stages, though.