Local doctor pioneering treatment for dystonia



PITTSBURGH - For Amanda Bell, just moving is a struggle.

Amanda has Dystonia, a neurological condition that causes her muscles to tighten into painful knots. It began when she was 9 years old.

 “They started noticing her hands started cramping up and shoulder started to raise up”, said her father, Frank Bell.

The uncontrollable tightening has now spread through her body and to her tongue, making speech almost impossible.

 “It's frustrating”, said Amanda.

Amanda was quite severe, probably one of the most severe we've seen,” said Doctor Donald Whiting, vice chairman of neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital.

Doctor Whiting pioneered the use of ‘deep brain stimulation’ to treat Dystonia.

Last month Whiting and his team operated on Amanda, implanting tiny electrodes in the back of her head, and adding pacemaker type batteries in her chest.

Together they help stimulate the brain and treat abnormal impulses.

 “There are circuits in the brain that interconnect different parts of the brain that help smooth out motion, and in dystonia one of those relay centers are just going haywire,” said Whiting.

Amanda says she’s already seen a big change. The hope is that Amanda will recover like Ed Cwalinski who had the same procedure at AGH.

Cwalinksi is one of the treatment’s greatest successes, regaining normal movement and speech.

 “She's standing straighter, she's walking straighter, has much less pain in her muscles”, said Whiting.

 “We'll be thankful for what we get, right?” Frank said to his daughter, who responded, “yeah.”