first_imgImagine not being able to walk more than a few steps without losing your balance and falling over. Imagine being able to take only shuffling, baby steps, holding on to the wall as your feet slide slowly forward. You are fully aware that your mid-life vitality is being held prisoner in a body that won’t let you meet life on your terms. Your brain’s electrical impulses are misfiring and the signals to complete the most basic motions don’t reach the muscles. Then a remarkable team of neurosurgeons performs an astounding operation. They implant a hair-thin electrode deep into your brain. This device will transmit electrical impulses. A small micro-computer is implanted under the skin in your chest which will control the frequency and strength of the impulses. Now imagine being set free, in a body that responds to your brain’s commands. Walking is no longer a task. Speaking doesn’t require monumental effort, lifting your arms doesn’t take Herculean strength. You are, once again, a normal, middle-aged individual able to enjoy an active lifestyle. This is what Dr. Ivar Mendez, and his Brain Repair Centre team at Halifax’s Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and Dalhousie University, do. The changes they bring to people’s lives are profound, and profoundly moving. The process is called deep-brain stimulation, and, in essence, it corrects electrical impulses in the brain. These weak or faulty impulses prevent the brain’s instructions from reaching various parts of the body, often the limbs. This results in tremors, a loss of co-ordination, a loss of motor function or a combination of all of them. These symptoms appear in many conditions, but the one most recognized by the general public is probably Parkinson’s disease. The procedure itself is not a long one, and for much of it, the patient is awake, working with the team to make sure that the electrodes are placed in the optimum location in the brain. The team uses about 100 images of the patient’s brain, taken by an MRI, to map a safe route to the centre. The needle used to deliver the electrode is small enough to push the brain aside without damaging it. The Brain Repair Centre team is one of an elite few in the world developing the technology, and performing these types of operations. In September 2002, the centre performed the first telementoring robotic neurosurgery at a distance of 400 kilometres. This long-distance procedure, between Halifax and Saint John, N.B., was a world first. Dr. Mendez is a pioneer and innovator in the field of deep brain stimulation. With his credentials, he could be applying his considerable talents in any number of centres around the world. He chooses, however, to perform his miraculous work in Halifax. When asked why, one might expect to hear platitudes about the natural beauty and quality of life; but Dr. Mendez’s reasons go much deeper than that. For him, what makes Nova Scotia uniquely special is the spirit of co-operation and innovation here. As usual, Dr. Mendez has done his homework. “This is not new in Nova Scotia,” he says. “When this was the centre of shipbuilding, innovative designs and teamwork sent ships around the world. That spirit is still here.” Dr. Mendez grew up in Bolivia, received his medical education and training in Ontario and has lived in Toronto and Sweden before coming to Halifax. Of all the places in which he has studied and worked, he says Nova Scotia exemplifies true collaboration. “Here,” says Dr. Mendez, “the common good is more important than personal interests. That is rare and must be nurtured and shared with the world.” The Brain Repair Centre is quickly garnering an enviable international reputation. Dr. Mendez has taught students from Australia, Japan and across Europe. The centre recently hosted a delegation from China, who are very interested in developing their own Nneurological Ccentre. The National Museum of Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Japan, has contacted the centre requesting videos taken of patients that illustrate their dramatic improvement for an exhibition dealing with the medicine of the future. Dr. Mendez believes that all this is possible because Nova Scotia provides a fertile environment for people to excel. He says people need to stop looking outside the province for leadership and benchmarks, that our own people are leaders and set the benchmarks. Dr. Mendez says that too often, we tend to look at our natural beauty as one of our greatest assets. He believes that the true value of Nova Scotia goes beyond the physical environment, to the people. It is his contention that it is the dedication and selflessness of the province’s people that has nurtured the Brain Repair Centre and made it what it is today. “Don’t misunderstand,” states Dr. Mendez, “Nova Scotia offers a wonderful quality of life, but so do other places in the world. What really makes the difference, why I am here, is that Nova Scotia allows people to achieve their own professional, and more importantly, human potential.” He is adamant in his belief that Nova Scotia can, and will, continue to innovate in many different fields: science, technology, business, arts, medicine; anything that awakens the potential within. Dr. Mendez and his team personify the new, growing confidence that Nova Scotians have to create innovations that earn the admiration of the world. They are testament to his ideal that when you put what’s in your head together with what’s in your heart, there are no limitations. For more Nova Scotia success stories visit www.novascotialife.com . -30-last_img read more