Home' Southern Health News : March 2017 Contents Spaceman given wings
BY WISHA SMITH
When Edward Cheesman goes
swimming, they call him the Spaceman.
Born with level 4 cerebral palsy, 22-year-old
Edward Cheesman cannot walk unaided or speak
without difficulty. Now, thanks to life changing
neurosurgery at Flinders Medical Centre (FMC)
and the help of an Immersion TherapyTM service
developed by Determined2®, he now has the
freedom to move like an astronaut underwater.
“It was just suggested as a fun activity, we didn’t
expect him to get below the surface,” said Kevin
Cheesman, Edward’s dad.
“All his previous swimming attempts were
attended by two people; now they call him the
Spaceman for how he moves along,” he said.
Edward had an anoxic (low oxygen) brain injury
at birth, which caused damage to the two
putamen nuclei in his brain. The putamen play an
important role in coordinating control of all body
movements. As a result, Edward has suffered
from abnormal muscle contractions (dystonia) and
painful twisting in his limbs and head.
Kevin contacted Associate Professor Robert
Wilcox, a neurologist at FMC, who suggested
Edward might be a candidate for Deep Brain
“DBS can be very useful for movement disorders
like Edward’s but it is dependent on electrically
stimulating living brain neuronal circuits,” said
“We were concerned that Edward’s birth injury
may have damaged the brain areas so much
that DBS wouldn’t work effectively to control his
painful dystonic muscle spasms,” he said.
Professor Wilcox discussed Edward’s situation
with Dr Marc Agzarian, head of the Magnetic
Resonance Imaging (MRI) Unit at FMC. Dr
Agzarian and his colleague Dr Donald McRobbie,
Chief Medical Imaging Physicist, had recently
applied a new method of MRI tractography that
allowed living neuron fibres in the brain to be
“This is a very specialised technique called
constrained spherical deconvolution (CSD). This
method allowed us to show that the neuronal
fibres we wished to target in Edward’s brain
were still largely intact and functioning,” said Dr
“This indicated there was a good chance that we
could help him with DBS,” he said.
In April 2016 Professor Wilcox targeted two
identical areas deep in Edward’s brain called the
Globus pallidis internus (GPi). The DBS surgical
team at FMC, led by neurosurgeon Professor
Matthew McDonald, accurately placed two
DBS leads and electrodes into Edwards’s brain to
electrically stimulate both the GPi.
The surgery had an almost immediate effect on
Edward. Within days the muscle pain he had
experienced for most of his life disappeared. Over
the past nine months, his muscle contractions and
abnormal movements have improved and he has
been able to manipulate objects with his hands
and move his fingers for the first time.
“He has very little pain. His left arm use to
be contracted; now it’s quite loose. He’s
commanding his hands to move; he has control,”
“He has improved functionality in his life. We’re
hoping this year he can start using a hand control
on his power wheelchair.
“If he can control his wheelchair, I can see him
becoming Australia’s first power wheelchair racer,”
By July 2016, Edward had received his hyperbaric
clearance to use scuba – a first in the world for
someone with his condition – and was ready to
“He was nervous at first but now he’s not just here
to receive a service, he’s the heart of this session,”
said Pete Wilson, founder of Determined2, the
Immersion Therapy service Ed participates in
“Immersion Therapy offers a unique opportunity
for people to feel weightless with total freedom
of movement giving them full control over what
ever function they have.
“Ed’s a motivator for other people. Six of his
friends are now coming in for sessions too,” he
According to Kevin, Edward’s determination has
only grown since the DBS.
“I’m the sort of guy that’s happy to see other
people happy. The happier I see him the happier
“Every little advance makes him more determined.
It’s going to take years, he doesn’t know what he
can do but he has so much potential,” Kevin said.
As for Edward, he hopes his progress can help
and inspire others.
“I hope it will encourage doctors and the medical
community to not give up on people with
“I hope they keep on trying and keep on finding
new ways of helping people with cerebral palsy
to improve their functionality - as it can be
improved,” he said.
offers a unique
opportunity for people to
feel weightless with total
freedom of movement.
Edward Cheesman with Immersion
Therapy assistant Jessie Miller.
4 / MARCH 2017 / SOUTHERN HEALTH NEWS
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