Checkup on the patient who was awake for brain surgery

April 25, 2012

Stewart Martz Phoenix Police Officer Stewart Martz is back on the job after undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease. (Photo by Terry Ward - KJZZ)

In November of last year, we did a story about Stewart Martz, a 42-year-old Phoenix police officer diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. KJZZ's Terry Ward profiled Martz as he underwent a medical procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation, designed to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's. It's also showing promise as a treatment for depression and other diseases. Today, we get an update on Martz' progress.

TERRY WARD: Stewart Martz was diagnosed with Parkinson's at the unusually early age of 34. That was eight years ago. Last November, Martz underwent an operation at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix where a small hole was drilled in his skull. The procedure required Martz to be awake so he could respond to commands. Here's how it sounded:

ROHIT DHALL: Ok, Mr. Martz, we're going to do the same thing again. I'm going to stimulate through the tip of the recording wire. Pay attention to any drawing of the right side or any light that you see.

STEWART MARTZ: Right shoulder. I'm getting some involuntary movement there.

WARD: During that procedure, doctors inserted an electrode into a specific area of Martz' brain where the symptoms of Parkinson's originate. The area is then stimulated with electrical impulses. The electricity alleviates the tremors generally associated with Parkinson's. Today, Martz is back on the job.

WARD: The image of Stewart Martz the cop is in stark contrast to five months ago as he lay on a gurney in the operating room at Barrow Neurological Institute. Standing next to his unmarked car, he's wearing a black bullet-proof vest, 'police' scrawled on the front and back. A 45-caliber Glock is on his side.

DISPATCH: I've got a guy were looking for, for a probable 451 and his name is Trenton.

WARD: Martz is assigned to a task force working with federal marshals. They're serving arrest warrants on dozens of fugitives throughout the Phoenix area.

MARTZ: Copy, I'll get started on it.

WARD: Since his diagnosis, Martz concentrates mainly on research, using his experience as a patrol officer to track down bad guys. Doctors surgically implanted a battery pack under his left collarbone. From there, a wire runs under his skin, through his skull and into his brain. The battery generates the electrical impulse that keeps his Parkinson's symptoms at bay.

MARTZ: I'll take this info and start running it through the databases I have and see if we can locate the suspect for them.

LEAH RAE: Stewart is an excellent detective. If there's someone to be found, I send Stew to find that person.

WARD: Sgt. Leah Rae is Martz' supervisor. She says she initially feared the department might lose a good cop.

RAE: His investigative skills, his networking, his contacts are a huge help to the department. He knows everybody.

WARD: Getting to this point hasn't been easy. The Parkinson's threatened to end his career. Martz underwent a second operation after the first surgery didn't produce the results that Martz and his doctors had hoped for. But the surgeries have not dampened his spirit.

WARD: Was it worth it?

MARTZ: Oh hell yeah. It's like a new beginning. It's another chance at life, really.

WARD: His doctors say Martz was a perfect candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation. His age, his symptoms, his reaction to medication -- and his attitude. Through it all, he never lost his sense of humor.

MARTZ: I kinda joked about that song, 'Insane in the Membrane' by Cypress Hill. If they played that while I was in the O.R. I thought that would be funny.

WARD: He says dealing with Parkinson's has given him a deeper appreciation for the little things in life. Things that make going to work each day possible.

MARTZ: Some of the things you take for granted like walking, talking, sleeping. The basic things in life.

WARD: Doctors say Deep Brain Stimulation could potentially be applied to the treatment of other disease. Dr. Francisco Ponce the neurosurgeon at Barrow who is treating Martz says clinical trials are in the early stages for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. The procedure also is showing promise in the future treatment of depression. 

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