Since she was a child, Sara Gordon had strange fears. She thought everything she touched was sticky or dirty. She would wash her hands constantly and take three-hour showers. She wouldn’t comb her hair because she thought the comb was contaminated. Simple run-of-the-mill tasks became a living hell.
Sara suffered daily meltdowns. The former A-grade student began to struggle. Reading became impossible. She felt compelled to wash her hands every time she turned a page. Sara became unable to cope and asked her parents to kill her every night.
At their wit’s end, Sara’s parents got professional help. The 13-year-old was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD.
Her heartbroken parents agreed to have her hospitalized. After 16 months of treatment, she no longer felt like a fish out of water. Sara was in a better place.
She returned home and continued her studies. She went to college, but during her final semester, the OCD returned. She managed to work through it and was accepted to graduate school at Harvard University.
Around this time, Sara’s mom saw a TV program on Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS. DBS works by implanting electrodes deep in the brain. These electrodes allow doctors to send precise electrical pulses to parts of the brain.
Since 1987, Parkinson’s Disease has been treated with DBS. Doctors believed it could also benefit people suffering from OCD and depression. Sara was one such person.
On June 25th, 2014, Sara had the DBS electrodes implanted in her brain.
After the surgery, the doctors asked Sara for feedback as they changed the settings of the electrical stimulation. With one setting, she felt super anxious. With another, she began to cry.
Sara can reprogram the electrical pulses to her brain using a remote control.
Free from the crushing grip of OCD, DBS has helped Sara graduate from Harvard. She now works as a college counselor in New Jersey. In her spare time, she raises awareness of mental health issues.
Some think in the future, those with DBS could have enhanced abilities such as heightened focus or creativity. Dr. James Giordano of Georgetown University says that even in its current state DBS can make you more outgoing, less inhibited, and happier. But he warns there are ethical considerations. “What about others? … This gets back to a question of fairness. Can everybody get this? Who’s going to get this?”
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