Oklahoma girl becomes first pediatric patient to undergo robotic deep brain stimulation

Written by on June 12, 2024

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(BETHANY, Okla.) — An Oklahoma girl has become the first pediatric patient in the world to have robotic deep brain stimulation performed on her, two hospitals have announced.

The patient, 8-year-old Karliegh Fry, suffers from rapid-onset primary dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions.

Karleigh’s condition initially left her paralyzed, unable to walk, eat or sit up on her own. She was put on several medications, which improved her condition slightly, but she was also left at times with involuntary movements that caused her to injure herself.

A joint team at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health and Bethany Children’s Health Center began exploring options and decided she might be a good candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS).

“This marked the global debut of using a robot from our operating rooms to perform DBS in a child, setting a precedent not only in Oklahoma but also across the United States and worldwide,” Dr. Andrew Jea, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, said in a press release.

Deep brain stimulation is a procedure in which a surgeon implants one or more small wires knows as electrodes, or leads, in the brain. The electrodes are connected to a small device called a neurostimulator implanted in the upper chest.

It is used in the treatment of neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome. These conditions are caused by disorganized electrical signals in the parts of the brain that control movement, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

DBS works by interrupting the irregular signals that causes tremors or other involuntary movements. It does not cure these conditions but can improve a patient’s quality of life.

Using a robot to perform the procedure enhances “surgical precision and safety,” according to OU Health.

“So it was like trying to decide if we thought that the surgery would be worth the risk … but I think anything to give her her best shot,” Karleigh’s mother, Trisha Fry, said in an interview with OU Health.

Karleigh’s surgery was split into two separate parts, according to her mother. The surgery was performed at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital and Karleigh was transferred to Bethany Children’s Health Center for post-operative care and pediatric rehabilitation.

Within a few minutes of the neurostimulator being activated, OU Health said Karleigh was able to lower and relax her arms, which she couldn’t do prior to the procedure.

She is able to exhibit more control over her movements and her speech is also improving, the hospital said.

“Her arms used to lock up to the point we would put socks on her hands because she would scratch her neck,” Trisha Fry said. “There’s definitely been some improvements, even from the moment they turned it on. She is even using her voice a little bit more, and we can make out some of her words. I think she’s going to have a great future for sure.”

The team said Karleigh is continuing to show progress and that this could pave the way for more robotic DBS procedures performed on pediatric patients.

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