The day Maureen Kennah-Hafstein has long been waiting for is suddenly approaching at the speed of light.
On Sept. 17, the Salmon Arm woman plans to be in Vancouver undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation, an operation that has had life-altering effects on people with Parkinson’s disease for whom medication no longer works.
It all began 13 years ago when, at age 49, Kennah-Hafstein was in her prime as a chemistry and math teacher at Eagle River Secondary in Sicamous. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007, she began taking medication to manage the symptoms almost immediately.
“Within the first two years it became clear that I was not getting good response from the medications.”
It was in 2011 that her neurologist suggested she consider Deep Brain Stimulation surgery (DBS). Eager to find alternatives to brain surgery, Kennah-Hafstein began researching.
One remedy she tried, switching from pharmaceuticals to a natural substance, she calls both her “best and worst experience” of taking control of her own health.
“At its best, I literally felt 100 per cent normal most of the day. ”
That success lasted about three years before the symptoms slowly started becoming unmanageable. Having to take increasingly big doses, she would have to go off the substance at night so she could sleep. That created unbearable daily withdrawal symptoms.
The worst, she says, are the side effects from the drugs. The disease creates lack of movement, muscles of stone. So the drugs produce movement, but often relentlessly.
After three years the symptoms became so unbearable that Kennah-Hapstein had no alternative but to pursue DBS.
In July 2017 she was officially put on the wait list. She also received a short letter from Dr. Christopher Honey, the only neurosurgeon in B.C. who does the life-changing surgery. He called the wait list “unacceptably long” and asked his patients to lobby their MLAs to help convince the Health Minister to provide funding for a second neurosurgeon.
If a person with Parkinson’s has to wait too long for surgery, their condition can deteriorate to a point where the surgery is no longer effective.
“After much suffering and some very scary times for me, my family and friends, two years and two months after officially getting my name on the wait list, my surgery date is Sept. 17, 2019,” Kennah-Hapstein says happily.
Given all the lobbying she has done, she is equally pleased the province has committed to hire a second neurosurgeon.
An unexpected bonus after being given a surgery date in July has been her renewed zeal for life, “nothing short of a miracle,” she says.
As the date for her brain surgery draws near, Kennah-Hapstein doesn’t feel afraid.
“I feel confident about the outcome and count the days until then. In the meantime I continue to appreciate my much improved levels of energy, enthusiasm and joy each day.”