For Cheryl Peacock, Essential Tremor was something she lived with and adapted to with a brave face – but deep down, she was worried that the day would come when she would lose her independence.
None of Cheryl’s doctors offered her much hope until she found out about Focused Ultrasound, a new procedure offered at Regional One Health. Focused Ultrasound is proven to relieve tremors with no incision and no hospital stay.
For Cheryl, the treatment was nothing short of a miracle, and she is grateful to once again be doing the things she loves.
Cheryl Peacock got really good at finding ways to adapt.
By age 61, she had lived with essential tremor for years. She learned tricks to get by: applying lip balm with two hands, drinking from a sippy cup, using an electric razor and toothbrush. At church, her husband Alex would dip her bread in the grape juice when she takes Communion.
“I eat with my left hand. I can’t wear makeup or nail polish or put in earrings. I like to cook, but it’s hard to flip eggs or pancakes. I love to sew, but I can’t thread a needle,” she says.
“You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, but in the past year or so, the tremors came on a whole lot stronger. It affects almost every part of my everyday life.”
And while Cheryl was willing to adapt, she was not willing to give up.
She saw three physicians, including a neurologist, and tried various medications. She tested out home remedies like drinking wine at night, wearing weighted wristbands, and even putting mustard oil in her bellybutton. “It didn’t help – it just smelled really bad!” she laughed.
She focused on being grateful for what she could do – playing with her great-grandson, using the quilting machine that belonged to Alex’s mom, enjoying the quiet beauty of her home in Water Valley, Mississippi – but as her hand tremor worsened and caused her voice to shake as well, she grew increasingly worried about where her condition was headed.
“I thought, ‘Am I going to have to just live like this? Is it going to get worse? Will I be able to feed myself? I kept thinking, ‘There has to be something that can help.’”
“Nobody had given me that kind of hope before”
Cheryl started doing research online and found a quiz on essential tremor. She filled out the form and clicked “submit,” but didn’t have high expectations.
So, when a nurse for neurosurgeon Aaron Bond, MD called the very next day, she was excited. The nurse told her about a procedure called Focused Ultrasound, which offers relief for tremors with no surgery and no hospital stay.
“I was elated,” Cheryl said. “Nobody had given me that kind of hope before.”
She met with Dr. Bond to see if she was a candidate for Focused Ultrasound, which he performs at Regional One Health’s East Campus Imaging Center.
Dr. Bond explained how Focused Ultrasound uses an MRI to guide ultrasound waves through the skull to treat the spot in the brain that causes tremors. He told her she’d need to shave her head and spend a couple hours in the MRI, but that the procedure is non-invasive, has few side effects, and is incredibly effective.
While Cheryl was nervous, she knew Focused Ultrasound was something she wanted to pursue: “I’ll just pray the whole time I’m in there,” she said. “I know it’s going to be worth it in the end.”
Treatment day arrives
The day of the procedure, Cheryl and Alex get up at 4 a.m. to drive the hour-plus to Memphis. She cropped her hair short in preparation for her head to be shaved; her great grandson helped until he announced, with a child’s honesty, “Grandma, I don’t like it!”
But for Cheryl, it’s a means to an end. Despite her nerves, she’s eager to get started.
Dr. Bond has her perform tests to assess her tremor, like drawing a spiral and writing a sentence. Next, using a local anesthetic, he applies a helmet to keep her head still during the procedure. Cool water will circulate in the helmet, so Cheryl is given blankets to keep warm. She also gets a “stop” button in case she needs to suspend treatment at any point.
Before heading into the MRI, Cheryl asks if anyone in the room prays. Dr. Bond and his team place their hands on her shoulders to pray for a successful treatment and courage for Cheryl.
Then, it begins. Dr. Bond identifies the spot in Cheryl’s brain to treat, then applies ultrasound energy. He has told Cheryl to expect to feel some pressure, warmth and a spinning sensation, but that it will be short-lived – if she counts to 20, it will be over by the time she’s done. Between applications, he tests her tremor by having her hold out her hand or draw a spiral.
Even after the first treatment, Cheryl’s hand is steady, and later Dr. Bond reveals he was able to address 95 percent of her tremor with that first application. He does a couple more applications to complete the process, with the whole procedure taking under two hours.
Then, Cheryl is taken to a recovery room to have a snack and water, change back into her own clothes, and reunite with Alex.
She keeps looking at her hand, asking Alex to look…because it is now completely steady. She draws a tight spiral and writes a perfect sentence for Dr. Bond, then opens a bag of crackers and bottle of water without even thinking about it.
And just like that, she’s headed back to Water Valley.
“Nothing short of a miracle”
Two days later, Cheryl and Alex head to church. Cheryl is tired, which Dr. Bond had told her to expect, but she’s also determined.
For so long, she’s relied on Alex to help her take Communion. She’s been hesitant to sing along to the hymns, afraid her voice will shake.
“It hurt that I couldn’t do something as simple as taking Communion,” she said. “But the Sunday after my procedure I was able to do it myself. I cried. It was just so humbling. I even sang along for the first time in years. I’m not a good singer, but I did it anyway!”
A couple weeks later, she helped cook Thanksgiving dinner. She has taken orders for two quilts and is working on another for a new great grandson. She’s excited to use a vivid peacock print, a nod to her last name, to make valences for the windows in her quilting room.
“It has changed my life 100 percent for the better,” she said. “I thought it was going to be this way for the rest of my life – or worse. But there’s hope out there. I came out of it and felt like a new person. It was a miracle – nothing short of a miracle.”