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Cutting edge technology in Fox Valley helps relieve depression symptoms

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Posted at 12:17 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 10:24:34-04

APPLETON (NBC 26) — Kaelin Cook finished her last treatment Wednesday at Ascension St. Elizabeth's TMS Clinic.

"I feel optimistic, which is a nice feeling as opposed to feeling glass half empty," Cook said. "I feel more like myself. I feel like this is how I should always feel."

Cook, a 25-year-old Appleton resident and early childhood education teacher, said she's struggled with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder since she was in middle school. Over the years, she's been on a dozen different medications and has seen five therapists to receive help for her mental health.

Some days, Cook said even small tasks like taking a shower or cleaning the bathroom felt impossible.

"I was just really trying to get through the days until eventually there were none left," she said.

That's when a friend told her about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, an alternative to treating major depressive disorder. The therapy is a non-invasive, FDA approved treatment for people who haven't responded to medications or psychotherapy.

Cook received a referral to begin the TMS program at Ascension St. Elizabeth. She said TMS was the "best outcome" she's had.

“The days go by so much quicker now than they use to," Cook said. "They use to just drag on. Now times just going by, and I’m getting stuff done, and I’m feeling productive and good about what I’m putting out into the world and giving the people in my life. So it’s a really good feeling.”

TMS is different from electroconvulsive therapy, which is when a patient is given anesthesia and administered seizures to rewire the brain.

During TMS treatment, magnetic coils wrap around the patient's head and administer a series of rapid pulses to the area of the brain that effects mood.

“In that cortex, it shows that neurons are really limited in activity," said Tracy Karnitz, Ascension St. Elizabeth TMS program coordinator. "So administering these rapid pulses, it actually helps to speed up that activity, gets new neuropathways working so those symptoms of depression lesson."

Since the program started at St. Elizabeth one year ago, Karnitz said they've conducted TMS treatment on 64 people. Patients typically go into the clinic for 20 minute sessions five days a week for six weeks.

Karnitz said the treatment can be uncomfortable at first, feeling somewhat like a woodpecker tapping on the head. She said the scalp usually desensitizes within a week. Cook said she barely felt the therapy after just a few treatments.

Many patients don't need to go back for additional TMS treatments. Karnitz said durability studies show it's good for at least 12 months.

Most people will continue with medications, but Karnitz said they can often decrease dosage.

"It helps people feel brighter, a little lighter, kind of more hopeful again," Karnitz said.

Some insurance companies will cover the cost of TMS if warranted. That wasn't the case for Cook, whose claim was denied.

The Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital Foundation stepped in and is covering the cost of her treatment.

“It just feels not real. Someone’s just never met me and they’re just gonna pay for me to better my mental health? I wish everyone could have that opportunity," Cook said. “I’m excited to keep living, I guess, and see where it takes me.”

Side effects may include headaches and fatigue. Karnitz said they haven't found any long-term effects.

Of the patients treated at St. Elizabeth, Karnitz said 84% reported feeling a 50% decrease in depressive symptoms at the completion of therapy. 64% reported feeling no depressive symptoms at all after treatment.