Vagus Nerve Stimulation Relieved Her Depression
After years of therapy, drugs, and psychiatric hospitals, Beth Jerman, 40, of Huntsville, Ala., had given up hope. But her husband never did. He successfully lobbied their insurer to cover the $70,000 cost of a controversial treatment for severe depression. Now Jerman is back to being "a normal mom."
A controversial treatment saved her life.(BETH JERMAN)At 29, I took to my bed and—except for five to seven visits to a mental hospital per year—basically didn't get up for 10 years.
I have three children and a wonderful husband, but depression runs in my family, and I have it big time.
I can't complain about the care I got during my worst years. I was on 10 to 12 medications at a time, but I couldn't function with them or without them. I gained weight and went on disability. I never once made my children breakfast or sent them off to school. While I never thought my husband would leave me, I did fear he would have me committed to a state institution.
There wasn't anything out there that could help me, so we considered electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but I saw the people who had it in the hospital. They would come back from treatment and could not remember anything. They would sit there and repeat the same thing over and over again. I didn't want that.
About 2-1/2 years ago I tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of Benadryl. My husband said, "That's it," and told my psychiatrist he wanted me to try vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which had never been attempted in our state. My psychiatrist was like, "What have you got to lose?" I was desperate to get better.
Next Page: VNS uses a stimulator that sends electric impulses [ pagebreak ]VNS uses a stimulator that sends electric impulses to the left vagus nerve in the neck through a lead implanted under your skin. It was an outpatient procedure, and the device looks just like a pacemaker in your chest. My insurance covered it, but if they had not, it would have cost $70,000. Medicaid and Medicare don't cover it.
After three months, I started to feel better. After six months, I came off most of my medications, and I started doing things like get up in the morning and get my kids ready for school. People may not think that is a big thing, but for 10 years I could not do that.
It took about a full year to get the full effect, and now I am 110% better. See, I still get down, and I still have problems; the difference is I can deal with it now. The VNS allowed me to be in the real world, taking responsibility for yourself. People tell me that's a normal life! My husband says this is the first time in 10 years he has seen his wife laugh.
Long-term, I don't know how this will work out, but I lost 110 pounds with gastric bypass surgery, something they wouldn't let me do when I was depressed. I was 210 pounds, and I am now 107 pounds, and I am 5'1". I can exercise and function. The best part of all this? Now I'm just a normal mom.