Darien Smith

Darien SmithA current treatment for Parkinson's disease

"What's wrong with your leg?" That's what people often asked Darien Smith. And he'd say, "What do you mean?" What they meant was that Smith was limping, dragging his left leg. "People noticed before I did," says Smith.  "I thought maybe it had something to do with playing softball, that I had pulled a muscle. It was no big thing."

But it turned out that it was a big thing: Smith, 44, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in spring 2003. And despite years of taking medication, his symptoms continued for years. "The medication I was taking didn't work all the time," says Smith. "It would come and go. I was on medication for six years or so. And it got to the point where I was having more off times. It wasn't helping."

Smith's doctor recommended deep brain stimulation, or DBS. DBS uses a surgically implanted, device called a neurostimulator to deliver electrical stimulation to electrodes implanted in specific areas if the brain that control movement.

So, Emory physicians. Mahlon DeLong and Robert Gross outfitted Smith, then 42, with a neurotransmitter and electrodes. He says he was both excited and nervous, but the DBS has given him a new lease on life. "I'm really satisfied with the outcome," says Smith. A day after surgery he says he was back on his feet. "I still have the tremors from time to time but, I'm not dragging my leg anymore," says Smith.

Smith still can't work because of the Parkinson's but he says DBS has given him the opportunity to do more with his family, his wife, Kristin, and his two children, Sydney, 13 and Bryan, 10. "It has allowed me to get involved with the kids' school and help around the house. We can go to the park, walk, and play with my kids. "

Before the DBS, Smith said he was frustrated by the things he couldn't do and the way he felt in public. "I couldn't walk around without people looking at me," says Smith. "A lot of Parkinson's patients have a problem with people looking at them. My confidence was affected. I started withdrawing. But my faith and my family really helped me through that. Friends were very supportive-they were understanding and they were there for me. Especially my family. I wouldn't trade my family for the world."

Smith says he has become involved with online support groups, which helped him as well. He now has his own web site, www. Keepthefaith1296.com. "I have a lot of people I've become friends with online," says Smith.  "People who have the same problems. "It's amazing how many people have Parkinson's disease."
Smith now wants to raise awareness of what it means to have Parkinson's. "I had no idea until I was diagnosed," he says. "There are people who are dying inside even though there's life in their bodies. They just can't control the life."

Smith urges people with Parkinson's disease to never give up. "Lean on your family, lean on your faith. It is what it is, and you have to make the best of it."

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