Despite all she’s been through with Parkinson’s Disease over the past 12 years, joy and gratitude radiate from Maureen Kennah-Hafstein.
On Sept. 17, the Salmon Arm resident and former Sicamous teacher underwent long-awaited Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery in Vancouver, which involved the placement of two electrodes in her brain. If you feel the top of her head, you can feel two small bumps, which she laughingly calls her antlers.
She has a little square antenna that she can place on her skin next to a pacemaker device that was attached just under the skin of her abdomen during surgery. The antenna has a short cord which connects it to a hand-held stimulator.
When she needs to increase the brain stimulation in order to reduce the medication she has to take, she just presses a button, much like you might increase the volume on your cell phone. What she does is checked by a team of nurses during her regular appointments in Vancouver.
The transition has been full of highs and lows, both physical and emotional. The only side effects at this point are slightly slurred speech and some drooling.
Over the next few weeks, the process of adjusting the stimulator and her medication continues, with the goal of leaving her on as little medication as possible. Already her previous allotment of 36 pills per day has been reduced to six.
The night before the interview she was unable to sleep because of restless leg syndrome. She used the stimulator to get rid of the tremors.
Although Kennah-Hafstein describes the actual surgery as “the hardest thing I’ve had to endure in my whole life,” she finds the whole DBS treatment nothing short of miraculous.
“Sitting across from you, I’m not going into these crazy body movements… I have a calm body inside which I haven’t really had for 12 years. People don’t realize what you see on the outside (all the movement that comes with the Parkinson’s medication) is amplified on the inside.”
Her overriding focus remains gratitude and joy.
“You realize you could go down the dark path or the light path. I chose the light path because there’s so much more you can get from that. Joy and gratitude is a lot more enjoyable and satisfying than doom and gloom.”
She repeats her favourite expression, which she admits to both hating and loving. It sounds really bad, she says, but is actually a sign post.
“It’s never so bad it couldn’t be worse” is the expression. She thinks with any trial in life, people have to go down the dark side to appreciate there is another way to look at it.
“I chose to look at it as a lesson I have something to gain from. So now I’m overflowing with gratitude – I can’t describe to you how much gratitude.”
She says the best gift you can give to anyone is that positive energy, the light side.
“I can be a good example to my children and everybody. I’m not the only person who has endured this suffering,” she says.
“If everything was rosy all the way along, you wouldn’t learn anything. You wouldn’t learn gratitude to the depth I’ve learned it. I feel that I’ve been given the gift of understanding that.”
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, whose children she taught in school, recognized the contributions of Kennah-Hafstein to improving treatment for people with Parkinson’s in the Legislature recently. She says the speech was the icing on her cake.
Once the adjustments to the stimulation and medication are complete, Kennah-Hafstein expects to have 10 years symptom-free, “but I am pushing for 20. Every bit of joy and gratitude I can get out of myself will help get me there.”