For the past 12 years, 69-year-old Bob Van Housen has been living with Parkinson’s disease. At first, in order to control his symptoms, Van Housen took a medication called levodopa.
Without the medication, Van Housen could not walk or drive. He also suffered from painful muscle spasms.
“The symptoms progressed worse and it got to the point where it was hard to keep up with,” Van Housen said. “(It was) hard to increase the dosage enough to take care of all the symptoms.”
Van Housen’s condition progressed to the point where he was taking five pills every three hours.
“He was ‘off’ for at least seven hours,” said Van Housen’s wife, Carol. “Seven hours is a long time to not be able to function every day.”
The couple often had to cut their trips together short and limit their social outings outside of the house. Because of the limitations his condition put on the family, Van Housen and his wife searched for a new treatment.
Eventually, they learned about the clinical trial at The Cleveland Clinic, run by Dr. Hubert Fernandez, which utilizes a ‘pump’ to maximize treatment.
“We are utilizing the biggest advantages of levodopa which is its efficacy,” Fernandez said. “But we are trying to deliver it in a way that’s done in a continuous basis so that patients don’t need to take it every hour or every hour and a half.”
The drug comes in a gel form. The gel then flows directly into the small intestine through a pump. The pump is connected to a tube that links inside of the body.
“The small intestine is the largest area in our gastrointestinal system that absorbs the medication,” Fernandez said. “The tube strategically ends there so that maximum absorption of the levodopa occurs.”
The pump used in the trial has various functions, though its ultimate function is to make sure that the patient has a steady flow of the drug, throughout the entire day.
“It looked daunting at first because I’m not a nurse,” Carol Van Housen said. “You have syringes to flush out the tubes. (But) it takes moments –it’s very easy.”
Van Housen said that being part of the trial at Cleveland Clinic has been life-changing. He hopes the treatment is approved by the FDA, so other patients suffering from Parkinson’s can also benefit from it.
"We can predict better how I'm going to feel and how I'm going to act,” Van Housen said. “So we can plan trips and work around those times when I otherwise would have been problematic."