x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Deep brain stimulation helps UAE mum ease son's pain

Mother hopes new treatment will make a difference in her son's life.

Waleed Al, pictured with is mother Mariam Hossani, has been severely physically impaired for nearly 13 years. But after an operation last month at SKMC his impairment has reduced drastically and doctors say his family will continue to see progress over the coming year. (Antonie Robertson / The National)
Waleed Al, pictured with is mother Mariam Hossani, has been severely physically impaired for nearly 13 years. But after an operation last month at SKMC his impairment has reduced drastically and doctors say his family will continue to see progress over the coming year. (Antonie Robertson / The National)

"Are you feeling well today?" Mariam Al Hossani asks her son Waleed, 33. He answers by raising his thumb, to indicate yes.

"Do you feel any pain?" she asks. This time he raises his thumb and index finger, meaning no.

When Waleed Al Sawaidi was young he had a passion for cars and loved to hang out with his friends. But a hard fall in the bathroom turned his life around.

Only 20 at the time, he suffered a severe head injury and loss of oxygen to his brain. He now has dystonia, a movement disorder characterised by involuntary muscle contractions that cause twisting and repetitive movements.

Waleed cannot speak or walk. Although he understands what is said, he can respond only with hand signals.

In the living room of Ms Al Hossani's home, one can see the commitment she has. Creases can be seen on his hands, which contractions have forced shut for years.

"Lift your right leg," she tells Waleed. On a mattress, he slowly lifts his leg. "Good, good. Now lift your left leg. You see, there's no way he could do this before the operation."

When Waleed fell, he was taken to a public hospital in Dubai, where doctors provided emergency care but could not address the dystonia. Ms Al Hossani was referred to Germany but doctors there said nothing could be done.

Back in the UAE, she was determined to improve his condition. She went to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and doctors advised her to see Dr Maher Mansour, a consultant neurosurgeon who told her about deep-brain stimulation.

"Dystonia patients feel an incredible amount of pain," Dr Mansour said. "Imagine involuntarily stretching your neck back or twisting your arm behind your back for hours on end."

First he consulted other experts.

"It wasn't a normal case of dystonia, which usually appears at the age of six or seven and then slowly progresses," he said. "This is a unique case as a result of injury."

Unlike Parkinson's disease, where results are instantly visible, progress in dystonia patients is gradual, Dr Mansour said.

With continuous physiotherapy, he expects Waleed's quality of life to improve significantly.

Ms Al Hossani said she hoped her experience would instil faith in the UAE healthcare system.

"I would advise others not to travel if the treatment is available here," she said. "Thank God, we have good doctors and great hospitals."

mismail@thenational.ae