New treatment hailed as "life changer" for tremor patients

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Doctors at Swedish Medical Center are performing a new treatment called focused ultrasound to help patients with a movement disorder called essential tremor. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE--When Gregg Ley took a bite of breakfast, it was a moment worth capturing on home video. The day before, the fork wouldn't have reached his mouth. His right hand would shake so much when he tried to complete a task like feeding himself, food would fall off.

The shaking is from a movement disorder called essential tremor.

"About three years ago, it got bad," he said. "It started getting bad on my right side. and it got to where I couldn't function."

Gregg couldn't write his own name, let alone work in the TV repair shop he owns with his brother. Desperate for a solution, he traveled to Seattle and Swedish Medical Center for a new treatment called focused ultrasound.

There's no incision. Instead, beams of energy destroy the damaged brain tissue that was causing the tremors. The outpatient treatment took four and a half hours, and the results were immediate.

Gregg showed us a spiral that he drew perfectly. "That's the minute I came out of the machine after four and a half hours," he said.

The focused ultrasound treatment was first under clinical trials and then FDA approved last year. Swedish is the only hospital offering it in the Pacific Northwest.

"Because this is pretty new, it's been about two and a half years, maybe three, we don't know long term yet," Physician assistant Martha Short said of the treatment's effects. "But we're extremely hopeful because (patients) are doing wonderful so far."

Gregg wants others to know about the option. "It's a wonderful thing," he said. "I've got my life back."

Right now, insurance does not cover the focused ultrasound treatment. Essential tremor can also be treated with surgery or gamma knife radiation.

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