Rescue Mission

TMS therapy keeps depression at bay.

Depression first began to dig its unrelenting claws into Angelina* about 30 years ago, shortly after the Puerto Rican native living and working as a pediatric nurse in New York City gave birth to her only son.Dr. Barnett came to the rescue when Angelina needed to get some TMS therapy for her depression.

“I was twenty-eight, and I was working the night shift at a hospital while trying to take care of my son during the day,” Angelina explains. “It didn’t help that my son was a short napper, so after a month or so, I became very sleep deprived.

“I really didn’t understand what was happening to me at first. In addition to being tired, I was starting to feel all these aches and pains, and when I went to see a doctor about it, he sent me to a psychiatrist, who put me on Tofranil.”

The Tofranil did the trick, but only for a while. A few years later, Angelina’s depression returned, this time in another form. Instead of losing sleep, Angelina eventually lost much of her desire to associate with friends and engage in her hobbies.

In the years that followed, Angelina’s New York-based psychiatrist treated her depression by prescribing a series of antidepressants, none of which provided her with the long-lasting relief she was hoping for.

“They’d put me on a medication and it would work for a while, but after a short time, usually about six months, it would stop working,” Angelina confirms. “It was like that with every medication prescribed for me, which was very frustrating.”

Angelina finally found a cure for her frustration about two years ago when she read an article in a New York newspaper about a study in which patients suffering from severe depression were treated with transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

The TMS Era

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008, TMS therapy is for people such as Angelina who have suffered from depression for years and have not achieved satisfactory improvement from either antidepressants or talk therapy.

It was first found to be an effective treatment for depression in 1985, when a team of University of South Carolina researchers discovered that magnetic pulses can stimulate the parts of the brain that are insufficiently active in people suffering from depression.

The magnetic pulses are similar to those used in MRI stimulation. They’re delivered through a paddle-shaped device with a magnetic coil that is placed on the prefrontal cortex while the patient rests in a comfortable chair similar to a dentist’s chair.

Each treatment lasts approximately 30 minutes, and patients are typically treated five times a week for six weeks. Then they are slowly weaned down over two weeks, during which they receive fewer treatments that last about 20 minutes each.

“For patients who have yet to find that optimal treatment, TMS therapy offers new hope,” explains Debra Barnett, MD, of Associates for Behavioral Medicine in New Tampa. “For some, it could even prove to be lifesaving.”

The treatment proved to be no less than life-altering for Angelina. Now a winter resident of Florida, she completed her first course of TMS therapy early in 2016 while still in New York, and the results, she says, gave her a whole new perspective on life.

“It was a real breakthrough for me,” Angelina enthuses. “I was feeling as good as I ever have. I was more active socially, and I became more involved with a lot of my hobbies again, which is something I had gotten away from.”

Angelina continued to lead a more content and active lifestyle all through 2016 and most of 2017. It was only near the end of 2017, after she and her husband traveled south to Florida for the winter, that she detected a regression.

“At first, I just wasn’t eating right,” Angelina explains. “I’d kind of lost my appetite for everything. And I was either not sleeping at all or I was sleeping too much. Worst of all, I just lost all interest in socializing with my friends and being active with them.”

Angelina didn’t need a doctor to tell her what was wrong. Because of her long fight with depression, she knew exactly what the problem was. Thankfully, she also knew the cure for the problem. The only question she had was where to find that cure.

Close, Personal Care

Through online research, Angelina found Dr. Barnett, who immediately accepted her as a new patient and scheduled her for a consultation three days later.

Upon first meeting her, Angelina was immediately sold on Dr. Barnett.

“I could tell right away that Dr. Barnett cared about how I was doing and how I was feeling because she’s not someone who looks at her computer while she’s talking to you the way a lot of doctors do,” Angelina says. “Having been a nurse, I know all about that.

“A lot of doctors will look right through you when you’re talking to them. They’ll be typing or looking at their records, but not Dr. Barnett. When I got there, she had already researched my medical history, which had been transferred to her from my doctor in New York.

“I also liked that we had a good, thorough consultation before I even started the TMS therapy and another one afterward. I’ve never had another doctor do that with me before. That’s how I could tell that she really wanted to help me.”

The consultations are a critical part of Dr. Barnett’s care. Without them, she might have considered giving Angelina what doctors refer to as a touch-up course of TMS therapy in which the patient is treated for only two, three or four weeks.

Through her consultations, however, Dr. Barnett learned that during her second winter stay in Florida, Angelina had indeed fallen into a deep state of depression and was therefore in need of a full course of treatments.

“She had all the classic symptoms of depression,” Dr. Barnett reports. “She felt very sad; she was crying a lot and she wasn’t interested in socializing with her friends. That’s why I suggested the full course of treatments, which has worked very well for her.

“I would say by her fifth week of treatment, she was once again engaged in many of the activities that she’d abandoned before. She was hanging out by the pool, going to the beach, doing all those things she likes and enjoying her stay in Florida again.”

Angelina’s response to the TMS therapy is typical of most patients, Dr. Barnett notes. She says studies show that approximately 70 percent of all patients treated with TMS have a positive response and that 45 percent of those patients wind up in full remission, where the depression is gone.

Compared to the 15 to 18 percent remission rate for patients who have tried more than three antidepressants, the remission rate for patients receiving TMS therapy is “huge,” Dr. Barnett says.

Just as huge is the degree to which Angelina praises Dr. Barnett for the care she provided in what Angelina describes as an emergency situation.

Just the fact that she took me on as a patient on such short notice was amazing,” Angelina raves. “And then, the very close, personal care she gave me was truly amazing. She’s the best doctor I’ve ever had; she really is. I definitely recommend Dr. Barnett. She truly has been a lifesaver for me.”

*Patient’s name withheld at their request.
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