Medical Advances and Breakthroughs
Scar-Free Surgery continued...
At first, Qua wasn't thrilled at the idea of having her gallbladder removed
through her vagina. But having had major scoliosis surgery in her teens, she
knew what being cut open and having stitches meant. "I wanted to avoid that
pain and long recovery," she explains.
Her decision was the right one. "My sister had her appendix removed through
traditional abdominal surgery and was wiped out and in bed for two weeks," Qua
says. "I needed a painkiller for just two or three days. A week later, I was
back to my regular activities, even chasing the kids at school, with only a
little tenderness around my belly button."
Some 18 million Americans suffer from major depression. Of them, about one
in five never gets better, no matter what therapy is tried.
Leslie Schaefer, 55, fell into that so-called treatment-resistant group. Her
problems began when she was about 20, newly married, and starting a family in
Rockport, MA. She worked at a bank and enjoyed teaching Sunday school.
At first, her mood was just off-kilter, though sometimes she experienced
mania — periods of wildly elevated emotion and extreme energy. "I'd stay up
half the night washing and ironing sheets," she says. She took the drug lithium
to regulate her moods, but eventually the swing tilted in the opposite
direction and stayed there.
Schaefer was so depressed she was barely able to leave the house. The
simplest tasks became overwhelming. "I had so little concentration, I'd get
lost going to the grocery store," she says. Once she wandered away from her
home and ended up in a nearby park, where her frantic family found her — hours
later — asleep on a bench.
Schaefer was hospitalized several times for her depression and, through the
years, tried everything — counseling, drugs, even electroshock therapy. "All
that did was destroy memories of my three daughters," she laments. She even
considered taking her own life.
Then, two years ago, Schaefer's doctor helped enroll her in a study of a
pioneering treatment called deep brain stimulation at Boston's Massachusetts
General Hospital. Already approved for treating patients with Parkinson's and
other neurological disorders, DBS is a kind of pacemaker for the brain. The
battery-powered unit is placed in the chest, where it sends electric signals to
receivers that have been implanted in specific brain regions, correcting
abnormal activity associated with depression.