Imagine being an avid swimmer, having practiced and enjoyed the sport your entire life, only to have the skill stripped away. Documented in an article by the NY Times, this was the case for three patients who all received an electronic brain implant. The device, made by Medtronic, is used to help control tremors and other symptoms patients had developed due to Parkinson’s disease. Deep brain stimulators started to become an option for patients about 20 year ago, providing relief in the brain by emitting electric signals to counteract abnormal impulses. While not a cure for the disease, it can help control the symptoms.
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The signals emitted from the device decreased the patients ability to control their arm and legs movements, vital resources in the sport of swimming. According to a medical team from the University of Zurich, once the stimulator implants were turned off, the patients saw immediate results in their ability to move through the water. Doctors believed the initial case was isolated, but through more research, over seven more cases were discovered. Dr. Christian R. Baumann stated “I think it’s a minority of patients. We find many who are still wonderfully able to swim and we don’t know why. We have no clue. They are treated in the same region of the brain. But this is life-threatening, and we need to pay more attention in the future.”
Doctors are warning patients with the stimulators to never swim in deep water alone. A spokesperson from the F.D.A. confirmed that the agency was aware of the safety concern and was in the process of confirming a labeling change on the devices being used and sold.