PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Millions of people in this country have been diagnosed with devastating and debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

They and their families struggle to cope with those diagnoses.

However, some of those people may be suffering from a completely different condition that can be cured.

Nearly a year ago Dee McFarland, of Houston, Washington County, was quickly becoming an invalid.

Initially, a doctor told him that he had Parkinson’s. His family refused to accept it because something just was not right.

Their persistence paid off and he no longer needs his wheelchair, walker or cane.

Crossing his front yard to pick up the morning paper is not a problem for the 73-year-old McFarland now.

A year ago, his legs weren’t working right, his memory was fading and he was unaware that it was happening to him.

“He didn’t realize the fact that he was shuffling his feet,” Char McFarland said.

A neurologist delivered the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Dee had an uncle die of Parkinson’s and felt hopeless.

His wife and four children didn’t buy the diagnosis and began pushing for other answers.

“For him to get that bad in such a short time is when we made a decision to get a second opinion,” Lane McFarland said.

They searched the Internet and Lane asked his family doctor who suggested that his dad might have Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which is a brain condition easily misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The best part is that NPH is treatable.

Dr. Bennett Blumenkopf, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, performed the procedure that gave Dee his life back.

“The gains can be very, very significant. Both for quality of life and for the family members particularly,” Dr. Blumenkopf said.

Those over 60, who have trouble walking, problems with balance or falling, confusion, forgetfulness or poor bladder control may have NPH.

It’s not exactly clear what causes NPH, but normal cerebrospinal fluid increases faster than it drains.

To prevent that, two small incisions are made. One is in the head, while the other is made in the abdomen. A shunt is inserted allowing the fluid to flow from the brain into the abdomen where it is absorbed.

To regulate the flow, small adjustments are made with a remote magnetic programmer so no additional invasive surgery is necessary.

The procedure takes less than an hour and results of the shunt procedure may vary from patient to patient.

While it appears to be extremely successful in returning motor skills, it’s not always as effective when it comes to restoring cognitive abilities.


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