From Miami to Mount Sinai: One man gets his life back after Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery

In 2002, Fabrizio Acquaviva noticed that the left side of his body was going numb. Shortly after, he received devastating news: he had Parkinson’s disease.  Even though he lived in Miami, Florida, because Fabrizio wanted the best care possible, he decided to be followed by a movement disorder specialist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan, New York. Over the course of the next 12 years, his symptoms worsened and his quality of life deteriorated. By 2014, Fabrizio was unable to walk, talk or perform basic activities of daily life, leading him and his wife to discuss the option of bringing a 24-hour nurse into their home. Thankfully, his doctor at Mount Sinai Beth Israel instead recommended that he consult with neurosurgeon Dr. Brian H. Kopell, Director of the Center of Neuromodulation at the Mount Sinai Health System, about a possible treatment; Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).

Fabrizio recalls having first heard about DBS in 2002 when he was initially diagnosed, but at the time, had decided against it because it was, “brain surgery, you know?!” DBS is an advanced medical treatment that uses implanted electrical impulses to control debilitating symptoms caused by a variety of movement and other neurologic disorders. To help someone using DBS, the neurosurgical team uses advanced imaging techniques to pinpoint the exact spot in the brain that is causing the problem.  A small wire with an electrode at the end is then inserted through a small opening in the skull until the tip reaches the target spot. The wire/electrode is then connected to a small wrist-watch-sized neurostimulator device that is implanted just under the skin, near the collarbone.  The neurostimulator enables the neurosurgical team to send electrical current when necessary, much like how pacemakers are used to ‘shock’ the heart for patients with certain types of heart disease. After researching details about DBS for a second time in 2014, Fabrizio and his family decided to forego the 24-hour nursing option and instead, opted for the brain surgery that had originally sounded so scary.  In 2015, Fabrizio and his wife flew from Miami, Florida to Manhattan to meet Dr. Brian H. Kopell to discuss scheduling the procedure. “He was brilliant. As soon as I met him, I knew I could trust him with my life,” said Fabrizio. “He really knew what he was talking about, and took the time to make sure we fully understood the procedure and necessary post-operative requirements. He said he was doing the procedure 4 days a week, with battery changes one day a week. That rigorous surgical schedule and his confidence made my decision to have surgery a lot easier.”

After the initial surgery, Fabrizio says that within minutes, he noticed a difference: he could talk without slurring and he could walk! Less than three years post-surgery, he has regained full function and is able to do 100 percent of the activities he had been able to partake in prior to his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Fabrizio says that on occasion he turns off one of the two leads that are in his brain so he can remember what it was like before the surgery. His symptoms instantly return, reminding him how grateful he is to Dr. Kopell and his team at Mount Sinai for the life-changing care they have provided for him and his family.

Fabrizio had his first battery change on September 20, 2017, two years after his initial surgery, and was confident that in Dr. Kopell’s hands, all would go smoothly. In the meantime, he has been participating in Parkinson’s awareness groups, sharing with others what a difference DBS has made in his life and encouraging what a difference it can make in theirs.  According to Fabrizio, the best part of his decision to undergo deep brain stimulations is that in addition to improving his quality of life, it has also improved the lives of his wife and children. “After my surgery, my 15-year-old, my youngest child, was able to stop constantly worrying about me,” says Fabrizio.  “I’m so happy to see him flourishing in school and I am eternally grateful to Dr. Kopell for providing that for me and my family.”