New Jersey man first in U.S. to use iPhone to control Parkinson’s Disease

Posted: 7:14 PM, May 25, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-25 19:14:56-04

EDISON, N.J. — Controlling your brain from an iPhone sounds like science fiction, but it is a life-changing reality for one New Jersey man.

"They woke me up in the operating room and they tested it. Right there and then, she said put your hands up and the tremor stopped. It was amazing," said Paul Detlefsen, 44, of Iselin.

Tremor is a key symptom of Parkinson's disease. Detlefsen was diagnosed at age 36.

"I sat around the house thinking - is this gonna be my life?" he recalled. "I didn’t want to go out, thinking people were looking at me."

Now, with the touch of a button in an iPhone app, he can make the tremors stop.

"These are the ones controlling his tremor," Dr. Asif Bashir, a JFK Neuroscience Institute brain surgeon, pointed out the two electrodes permanently implanted at the forefront of Detlefsen's head.

A wire runs beneath the skin, down the back of his neck to a battery implanted in his chest. His phone connects to the technology in his body by bluetooth.

"They are always advancing the technology," said Jacqueline Cristini, Director of the Deep Brain Stimulation Program at JFK Neuroscience Institute. "There has only been one company that actually produced these DBS systems for 20 years and now there is competition. And of course competition drives technology."

In the past, patients used to have to carry around bulky remotes to control the electrodes in their brain. In order to have the system adjusted, they'd have to come for an office-visit.

Today, Detlefsen can e-mail videos of his symptoms to the medical team at JFK. They'll then respond with a healing high-tech prescription of voltage and frequency adjustments, delivered right to the palm of his hand.

"I could be at the bar or the dinner table, wherever, and no one knows what's going on," he said. "They just think I’m on my phone."