Rob Mallard opens up about his essential tremor diagnosis
Making a cup of tea might not seem like a luxury. The mundane act remains a staple across many kitchens no matter what life throws at us.
But former interior designer Mary Hapgood, 73, couldn’t even enjoy brewing the drink without leaving broken mugs and debris behind.
Her shaking hands turned this daily activity into dangerous and frustrating experience.
The mum-of-three from Surrey is one of around a million people in the UK living with Essential Tremor (ET), which describes a progressive neurological condition with symptoms ranging from mild shaking to uncontrollable tremors.
Mary told The Mirror: “There is little awareness about ET. When I had my third child, the consultant misdiagnosed me with Parkinson’s disease as he hadn’t heard of ET.
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“After tests, it was eventually diagnosed and his advice was that I should have a glass of sherry every day.”
The condition has impaired Mary’s everyday activities like putting the kettle on or chopping vegetables.
She said: “I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. I was constantly burning myself and this day the kitchen looked like a bomb site. I just sat there on the floor and cried my eyes out in frustration.”
The condition prompts the electrical circuits in the brain that regulate movement to misfire.
Mary found the shaking affected every aspect of her life. She said: “I love cooking but had to give that up because it was too difficult and, frankly, dangerous.
“I gave up my job. Even going to a restaurant for a meal was a torment as I couldn’t control the shakes in my hands and head.
“My friendships were challenged because I was too embarrassed to go out or invite them to my home – imagine not being able to make a cup of tea for someone? For almost three years, I invited no one around and rarely went out.”
Fortunately, the 73-year-old was given her life back by a pioneering therapy that deploys ultrasound waves deep into the brain to burn out the faulty connections that cause the tremors.
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She was one of the first people to have focused ultrasound treatment to disrupt the source of the shakes.
The two-hour non-surgical procedure uses an MRI scanner to direct a sub-millimetre ultrasound beam to burn out the disruptive sections in the brain.
The procedure, performed at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in central London, requires patients to shave their head. The patient then receives a silicone skull cap to cool their head and a frame fixed on top of that.
The ultrasound is used in 10 second bursts to disrupt that faulty circuit so that the tremors subside and the patients can get some personal freedom back.
Until the procedure was developed, patients could only be treated with medication or undergo complex surgery that left implants in their brains to dampen the tremors.
Mary said: “It changed my life instantly as the shaking has almost completely gone. I could invite friends and family around and, most importantly, I could hug my beautiful granddaughter Molly. I have my life back.
“Before the operation, I could not complete tests that involved following a spiral with a pen and writing my name. But immediately afterwards I could write perfectly normally. It was incredible.”
The NHS waiting list for treatment is now up to four years long. Mary feels “very lucky” to have had the procedure that has opened up her world again.
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