For 20 years Dr. Christopher Honey has been changing the lives of Parkinson’s patients and others who suffer from body tremors and an inability to move.
He is the sole neurosurgeon in BC able to perform Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a relatively unknown procedure to the public, but to the patients it helps at UBC Hospital and soon at Vancouver General Hospital it is life-changing.
“It is miraculous to me even now,” says Dr. Honey as he explains the feeling of activating the DBS device. “I watch these people who cannot control their tremors and then instantaneously, their hand is still.”
Parkinson’s disease, among others, can cause painful, uncontrollable tremors and an inability to move. This leads to incredible hardship on those who suffer from them. Every day tasks like brushing teeth, self-feeding, or brushing hair are either difficult or impossible to accomplish.
DBS addresses these symptoms directly. In this operation, an electrode is surgically implanted in the brain. It is then connected to a neural stimulator (like a pacemaker) in the chest. Dr. Honey then switches on the stimulator and, in a few seconds, watches as his patient’s disabilities melt away.
“There was a former patient of mine, a young woman who was in a wheelchair and losing her eyesight, but what bothered her was the tremor in her arm because it meant she couldn’t brush her daughter’s hair,” says Dr. Honey. “She was being isolated from the love of her family in a physical kind of way, because when she got near her daughter, the brush was a danger.”
And so Dr. Honey led the procedure and upon installing the DBS device, the shaking stopped.
“I didn’t get her out of the wheelchair, but this allowed her to hug her daughter,” says Dr. Honey. “Her quality of life went through the roof.”
Leading DBS procedures province-wide
Since 1998, Dr. Honey has led 35 DBS operations annually. Recently, the capacity for this procedure has doubled thanks to increased funding from the Ministry of Health for operations and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation for the equipment. Now, 72 patients per year can receive DBS.
Dr. Honey also takes on a yearly fellow — a trainee to learn from his vast knowledge of neurosurgery and his highly specialized skillset. After 20 years of fellowship students, Dr. Honey estimates his teachings are in use in at least a dozen countries worldwide.
“I love the surgery. I get to look at this person and say, Okay, I’m going to stop your tremor now. And I get to see the look on their faces when that happens and it doesn’t get old. I don’t see myself retiring. I just can’t,” says Dr. Honey.
Thanks to Dr. Honey, British Columbians can rest easier knowing that if the time comes when they need brain surgery, they will have access to one of the world’s best doctors right here at VGH and UBC Hospital.
Learn about the impact Deep Brain Stimulation had on Dr. Honey’s patient Steve Blackthorne.