Unfreezing a Life: How UF Health Physicians Helped one Woman with Parkinson’s Disease

Keila Del Manzano began to panic as her muscles tightened. Her body stiffened, and the cramping was painful. For the first time after being diagnosed, she was feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s, a disease that she’d had and managed for nearly eight years.

Del Manzano, who lives in Puerto Rico, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005 at 48. She began a regimen of medications, which kept the most intense symptoms under control for almost a decade. Over time, Del Manzano started to experience freezing, a symptom typical of the disease. She would try to move her arms or legs, but they would be frozen in place. Her stiffness and tremors worsened.

“Sometimes, I would freeze up and not be able to walk forward, but for whatever reason, I could go backward,” Del Manzano said. “I laugh every time I think of the day my friend and I had to walk backward from the very far back of a casino all the way out the front door.”

Her doctors in Puerto Rico told her she may need to consider a more advanced treatment for Parkinson’s disease called deep brain stimulation surgery, or DBS. In DBS, surgeons implant electrodes in the patient’s brain to deliver electrical pulses to specific areas in the brain that control movement. The goal is to block the abnormal nerve signals that cause typical Parkinson’s symptoms.

So in 2013, she traveled to the University of Florida Health Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration in Gainesville.  But, before she came to the appointment, she had to be medication-free for 24 hours.

“Being off the medication, I realized how brutal this disease had become,” Del Manzano said. “On that morning, I finally came to the realization that I have Parkinson’s.”

After meeting the treatment team, which included Michael S. Okun, M.D., UF Health neurologist, chair of the College of Medicine’s department of neurology and medical director of  the National Parkinson’s Foundation, and Kelly D. Foote, M.D., UF Health neurosurgeon, she said she knew this was the right treatment at the right time.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t nervous. During one of her pre-surgical appointments, she spotted a lady in her 70s in the waiting room who had undergone DBS. She thought, “If she can do this, so can I.”

Del Manzano had the first surgery on one side of her brain in February 2014 and a second surgery on the other side six months later.

“I was nervous and scared at first, but the doctors were so calming,” Del Manzano said. “I remember one medical resident in the operating room who massaged my foot during the entire surgery because I was having terrible cramps, and he wanted to help me relax. I wish I could thank him today.”

She said the results were immediate. She was able to come off of some of the medications. No more walking backward. No more freezing or cramping.

Del Manzano will be 59 this year. She plays tennis, does Zumba, body surfs, bicycles and swims whenever she gets the chance.