WHEN UCLA NEUROSURGEON Antonio DeSalles, M.D, first met Veronica Jacobs, she was “a very sad teenager … always looking down, she never smiled.” It was clear that the young woman was in pain and annoyed that “she couldn’t do anything in life but stay in [her] wheelchair,” he recalls.
Veronica suffered from dystonia, a debilitating neurological disorder that caused her to experience abnormal muscular twitches and spasms that twisted her limbs and body. The condition, which affects some 125,000 Americans, deteriorated over several years, to a point where Veronica could no longer walk and was virtually wheelchair bound.
“I didn’t like my family seeing me going through the rough times that I was going through,” Veronica says, crying. “I didn’t want my brother or my sisters seeing me struggle.”
To treat Veronica, Dr. DeSalles recommended surgically implanting a pacemaker-like device to block the abnormal impulses in her brain and stop the transmission of electricity to the muscles.
At a minimum, Dr. DeSalles expected the surgery would stop Veronica’s spasms and allow her to sit up. But the outcome was far more successful.
After Veronica returned home from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, her parents went to the garage to retrieve her walker. Still in her wheelchair, she decided, “The heck with this, I’m going to get up and see if I can walk.” She got out of her wheelchair: “I walked to the living room … to the kitchen, from the kitchen, outside,” Veronica says. “And I just kept doing laps around the house, and I thought, wow, this is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening to me.” Veronica’s ordeal now is just a painful memory. Today, she is walking and smiling like never before.Photography: Courtesy of Nancy Williams