Caring for others comes full circle for Phil

Dr. Phil Stoll’s career in medicine was a creative evolution.  In the beginning, he practiced dentistry as an officer in the Army. Unfortunately, in his mid-30s he developed essential tremor (ET). While initially he was able to adapt his skills to manage the tremor, as it grew worse, he could no longer practice at the highest level, and he moved on.

While it was the end of one chapter, it was also the beginning of a new one. His next step was to go to medical school! He attended an accelerated program for people who had previous medical education and chose to go into pathology, which required a 5-year residency. He then practiced as a Naval Medical Officer until retirement from the military.

In 2005 he began work as a medical examiner for the state of Virginia. After a decade of experience, he retired in 2016, partially because his ET was impacting his work. For example, when he had to do fine needle aspirations, precision work and drawing blood he had trouble stabilizing his hand which often drew comments from patients and colleagues.

Once he retired, the symptoms of ET continued to bother him. Whether it was holding glasses or inserting a screwdriver into a screw head, tasks were just incredibly frustrating for him. As luck would have it, on a flight he saw an ad in the in-flight magazine for a hospital that performed incision-free surgery for essential tremor. The technology had been developed by Insightec.

He was very excited to learn about this treatment option and soon after the flight contacted Insightec to learn more and to be evaluated for suitability for the procedure. Once he understood what the treatment was–its safety and effectiveness–he decided to have the procedure and was referred to a hospital in Nebraska.

He was surprised to learn that he could be scheduled for surgery very quickly, but decided to wait until after Christmas. In January 2020, Phil drove up to Nebraska from Dallas with his wife. It was somewhat of a fact-finding mission as well since ET often runs in families, including his own.

Phil was the first surgery scheduled at the hospital that morning. He got there at 5:00 AM despite the frigid 1-degree temperature outside. After warming up inside, they checked in and filled out paperwork. Soon after, the medical team shaved his head and put a halo (or frame) on his head. The halo is gently positioned on the head and affixed with screws to ensure that his head would not move during the treatment. Once settled on the table in the MRI scanner, it was time for the surgeon to focus the ultrasound waves to the small spot in his brain that is considered to be responsible for tremor.

The application of the ultrasound waves lasted about 15-20 seconds during each of the 2 or 3 applications required to achieve the desired effect.  He felt a little dizzy and slightly uncomfortable at different points of time during the treatment, but it was tolerable. Overall, the surgery lasted about 2.5 hours. He remained fully awake during the procedure. After application of the ultrasound waves, the team would come into the MRI room and ask him to write, draw and hold a cup of water as a means of testing tremor improvement (i.e., spillage or not).

For about one month, he experienced some anticipated, mild side effects from the surgery. He felt weak on one side of his body, and his sense of motion and balance was slightly off. Every week, he would do telehealth visits with his neurosurgeon to monitor these symptoms which eventually subsided. He also had a bit of trouble sleeping but that lasted only a couple weeks. The only side effect that has persisted is numbness on the tip of the tongue. Most of the time, Phil doesn’t even think about it.

All in all, Phil considers the surgery a success. Everything he does with his right hand (only the right side was done) is now much easier. He is a handyman at heart and is thrilled to be able to hold his tools and fix things once again.  He also enjoys going out to restaurants and the like with his family without worrying about the embarrassment caused by the essential tremor.

From the first time that Phil learned about using ultrasound to treat ET, it made sense to him. As a doctor he understood how the surgery worked, and the incredible technology it required. The many years of caring for people has come full circle and now Phil’s life is improved through the care of others.

This testimonial may not be representative of all treatment outcomes. For additional information about focused ultrasound for essential tremor, including safety information, please click here.