Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

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Oct 16th
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Patients, Doctors Celebrate Tzu Chi Hospital's Parkinson Treatment Center

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Doctors, nurses, patients and their families came together at Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien in east Taiwan to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its pioneering center for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Over the past 10 years, it has helped more than 860 people, saving the lives of some and enabling others who were wheelchair-bound to walk again and return to work. The center has received foreign recognition for its treatment.

A degenerative disease of the central nervous system, the disease is named after James Parkinson, the British doctor who published the first detailed description in 1817. It is most common in the elderly, with most cases occurring after the age of 50, and places a heavy burden on the care-giver, usually a spouse or close relative.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and the 10th of its Parkinson's Treatment Centre, which has treated over 860 patients since it was established. Of them, more than 130 received a form of surgery known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), accounting for over 30 per cent of the patients in Taiwan who have received such treatment. The hospital organized a large gathering: staff, patients and their families came together to celebrate the work of the center and give thanks for the treatment they have received. Over 90 per cent of them were able to walk into the gathering unaided; it was hard to imagine that they had the disease.

Among them was Shih Ming-sheng, 61, from Kaohsiung. Hearing his quick wit and good sense of humor, no-one would imagine that he was a Parkinson's sufferer. It was in 2006 that, on the advice of his wife, he had the DBS operation. "At that time, the disease was very serious," he said. "I felt that I had no hope. I thought to myself that the best I could do was retire and live the rest of my life quietly. I did not imagine that Dr. Chen Hsin-yuan, of the hospital's neurosurgery department, would say: 'No, you can go back to work!' After the operation, I felt as good as before the illness. I could not only go back to work but also continue my first love, playing golf. Dr. Chen gave me a new life after Parkinson's disease!" Dr. Chen said that, currently, there was no complete cure: "what we do is to improve the symptoms, through drugs or an operation. This requires the full co-operation of the patient and his family. So we must give thanks to everyone – the patients, their families and all the medical staff."

International recognition

The center has received recognition not only in Taiwan but also abroad. In 2006 and 2007, it received awards for the high standard of its care from the Taiwan government. Its doctors have many times been invited to Malaysia and Thailand to perform difficult operations there. In 2010, the Discovery television channel came to make a program about its work.

From wheelchair to walking

The first person to receive the DBS treatment was Tseng Hsu-lung, now 56. He and his wife arranged the trip, they came to the hospital to thank the medical team who gave him a new life. In 1991, he started to tremble and lost power in his lower limbs. The initial diagnosis of the doctors was endocrine imbalance; he took drugs for two years but they were ineffective. Then he discovered it was Parkinson's. His wife, Pan Jiu-shia, said: "at that time, I pushed him in a wheelchair for treatment in all the hospitals in north Taiwan. We were fortunate that he had the DBS operation in Hualien in 2002. A man who had to use a wheelchair and be fed was finally able to walk out of the hospital on his own." This remarkable recovery of her husband cured Pan of the depression she had been suffering because of his illness.

The patients and their families could not find the words to express their thanks. Dr Chen and his colleagues in the neurosurgery department, Dr. Tsai Sheng-tsung and Dr Lin Sheng-huang, shared their knowledge of the disease and the new forms of treatment. Dr. Tsai said that the DBS operation did not damage the structure of the brain. DBS had become the most effective form of surgery for Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Chen reminded everyone that the disease most commonly affected people in middle and old age, with 15 percent of those over 65 likely to show symptoms. "But we had a patient who was only 19 years old. The most probable cause was genetic or environmental. We know of nine genes that are related to Parkinson's. Of the cases we have in Hualien at the moment, 89 percent of patients are eating meat, 11 percent are following vegetarian diet. Although we have not proved the impact of a vegetarian diet on the disease, eating many green vegetables and a diet of 'three lows and one high' are definitely good for a person's health." He was referring to low fat, low sugar, low salt and high fiber.