SPECIAL REPORT: Miracle at UVA
AMHERST COUNTY, Va (WSET) - As many as 10 million Americans have a disorder that affects their everyday lives, uncontrollable shaking called essential tremor.
Doctors are finding new ways to use focused ultrasound on the brain to treat it. Researchers just finished up a clinical trial at the University of Virginia and one young man’s life is changed forever because of it.
Drew Callahan grew up on the golf course with his grandfather, Eldon Cox. But his effortless swing was shattered 10 years ago when get got into a motorcycle crash that left him with a life altering disability.
"I'd see his hands start to shake,” Cox said. “And then it'd get uncontrollably shaky."
Doctors diagnosed Callahan with essential tremor. "It really affects all aspects of your life. Even down to your confidence,” Callahan explained. “You imagine meeting people for the first time and you're worried about it. I couldn't even coordinate if my hand was going to touch their hand."
Doctors told Callahan that aside from medication there was really little they could do.
But his grandfather wouldn't take no for an answer. "I was looking for just some relief, just anything to help him,” Cox said. “We came upon a miracle."
Dr. Jeffrey Elias, who headed up the trial, explained how the ultrasound works. "You can heat the tissue and ablate an abnormal area of the brain," he said.
Elias said UVA was one of eight centers around the world taking part in the trial; what he saw in patients before and after was really quite magnificent. "The effects are immediate so we can deliver the treatment, check the patient,” Elias said. If we don't like the location of the treatment, we can change it."
When Elias met Drew, he thought the young man would be the perfect candidate; and Drew ended up being the last patient to take part in the trial. "Drew's case is really extra special, not only was he the last person we treated in the trial, but he was the youngest at the prime of his life," Elias explained.
After a four hour procedure in April 2016, focused ultrasound changed everything for Drew. "By the time he was done, for the first time in almost 10 years I had a completely steady hand," he said.
Callahan’s grandfather remembered seeing him for the first time just hours after the procedure when his grandson held up his hand, tremor free. “We walked in around the bed and he looked up and smiled,” Cox said. “It's a miracle."
As miracles go, this one seemed to cure Callahan right away. "I actually played 9 holes of golf on this golf course the day after technically I had brain surgery," Callahan said.
That effortless swing is now back thanks to modern medicine and a grandfather's love.
Focused ultrasound is now FDA approved to treat essential tremor. Elias said they are now testing focused ultrasound out to treat epilepsy and the tremor Parkinson’s Disease patients develop.
Doctors also think Drew's tremor is cured; he's six months out with no reoccurring tremors. But, he will return yearly to check on his progress.