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Woman finds success in SC therapy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pam Carper became understandably depressed when her husband died at age 46 in 2000.

When the weeks grew to months, Carper knew this was more than situational depression and she sought help. At the time, she was living in Georgia, where she was director of a Headstart program that served 126 children and employed 34. Her depression was affecting her job.

Antidepressants helped, for a while. Then Carper would have to change medications. And the cycle repeated itself. And months of depression grew to years.

A move back to her home state didn't help, either. Here, Carper took a high-stress job as director of the West Virginia Board of Optometry. In a short period of time, her father died, as did an elderly aunt for whom Carper cared.

When Carper heard this year of a new drug-free therapy being offered by her physicians at Psycare in South Charleston, she was ready to try it. She underwent 30 in-office treatments of NeuroStar TMS Therapy, which uses a focused magnetic pulse to stimulate the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is known to be underactive in those suffering from depression.

So far, count Carper thrilled with the results.

"It's like day and night," she said.

Carper has cut her depression medication in half and hopes to continue that trend. For her part, she has taken up yoga and meditation.  

One of Psycare's psychiatrists, Dan Thistlethwaite, is happy for Carper and cautiously optimistic the relatively new therapy will bring good results for more patients.

"We certainly don't describe this as a panacea," Thistlethwaite said. So far in his practice, the magnetic pulse therapy has helped some patients and had no effect on others, though there are more positive results than not. Some patients may require follow-up treatment.

For patients who find good results, the benefits are many, he added.

"The memory is not affected. There is no anesthesia. The best result is the patient might not have to take their medications," he said. "We've been hearing about this device for more than 10 years and the (Food and Drug Administration) approved it four years ago."

Thistlethwaite has been practicing medicine since 1991 and notes medications have improved greatly - but still often work only for a period of time before a patient requires a change.

The number of people who seek treatment and get better is still too low, Thistlethwaite said.

"That's what's so exciting about this treatment," he said.

Depression is a troubling disease and physicians now understand that chronic depression is caused by a change in biological brain function.

Some are reluctant to seek help.

"They think, 'I have no right to be depressed.' They feel guilty," he said.

Severe depression affects about 14 million Americans. It is the No. 1 cause of disability in women worldwide. Psychiatrists and neurologists now understand there is a connection between severe depression and dementia later in life.

"We know this isn't a character flaw. Our hope is someday to eradicate this," Thistlethwaite said.

Carper said her depression, even with medication, had gotten so bad it affected her ability to work. Her thought processes were dull. Her vocabulary changed.

She decided to tell co-workers of her struggle. Some said they realized her issues; others were shocked.

"It took me a long time to tell people, but I felt I had to disclose it," she said. "There is no shame in this."

"I developed panic attacks - I thought it was my heart," she added. "I even had my heart checked."

Within a week of starting daily treatments, during which she sat in a comfortable chair and watched television, Carper noticed differences.

"Within a week I began to spontaneously laugh - something I had stopped doing. I was able to think again. My vocabulary came back. People even noticed my gait had changed," she said.

Carper is hopeful her recently completed treatments will have lasting effects. Thistlethwaite is hopeful the treatment will benefit many patients and be another key to solving a disease he and his colleagues in psychiatry, neurology and even general practice see on a daily basis.

"The brain is a mysterious organ," he said.

Contact writer Monica Orosz at or 304-348-4830.


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