Palo Alto Weekly

Notes & Comments - September 12, 2007

Our Town: Hoping for better days

by Don Kazak

When Monica Kresse shops at a grocery store, she puts items into her cart, moves to the checkout stand and swipes her credit card for payment, as others do.

Unlike others, she is not always able to write her signature on the credit-card receipt.

"At times, I can't write at all," she said.

Kresse, 41, suffers from what is called "essential tremor." It used to be called "benign essential tremor" except there is nothing benign about it. It makes her hand shake uncontrollably. It has wrecked her life for 20 years.

Kresse first became aware that something was wrong when she was a student at Gunn High School and a classmate noticed her hand was shaking.

That led to consultations with physicians and prescriptions for different medications over many years, none of which made much difference.

Kresse lives with her parents in their south Palo Alto home, hoping for better days.

It's a comfortable, well-cared-for home, with family photos in the living room. Her father and mother are gracious and welcoming.

Kresse, with curly blond hair and a warm smile, said that she once worked for two video game companies for seven years, until both companies went out of business.

"That career pretty much ended there," she said.

She once wanted much more. She graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor's degree in criminology. Her dream was to be an investigator for a district attorney.

Kresse said that she can't get hired because the uncontrollable tremors in her hand and body destroy her chances in job interviews.

"They look at the movement," she said.

Her tremors start in her body, travel down her arm and affect her hand. "I can be driven into a partial seizure," she said. "It can put me on the floor."

She holds out her hands -- one is steady, the other visibly shakes.

Various things, including anxiety or anger, can trigger the tremors. And a job interview is an anxious time.

Essential tremor is largely hereditary. "It runs in the family," she said. "My mom's mother had it, my mom's brother and my dad's brother had

Parkinson's."

Kresse needs a brain operation that would cost about $200,000. She can't afford it because she doesn't have any medical insurance.

"It's a Catch-22," she said, referring the famous Joseph Heller novel. "I can't get health insurance without a job and I can't get a job."

The surgery that would help is called deep brain stimulation. The surgeon implants a pacemaker-like device that electronically quiets the brain impulse that triggers tremors.

"The results are generally good," Stanford neurosurgeon Jaimie Henderson said. "Eighty percent of the patients get 80 percent tremor relief."

Many with essential tremor are helped by medications but those with more pronounced cases aren't.

Kresse has been on medications for most of the last 20 years. "A lot of people have trouble with medications because of reduced efficacy over time plus the side effects," she said. "I had been on medication but the last one scared me."

"Stimulation is more successful than medication," Dr. Henderson said. An assistant professor at the Stanford University Medical School, he is the surgeon who performs many of the deep brain stimulation operations on patients who suffer from essential tremor and Parkinson's disease.

"The disease is often minimized because it is not life-threatening like Parkinson's," Henderson said of essential tremor. "The tremors can be embarrassing. But it is an actual disease and it is treatable."

Essential tremor also gets worse over time.

"It almost invariably will progress," Henderson said. "Many will get to the point where they can't feed themselves or dress themselves."

Kresse would like to get a job to have health insurance that would pay for the operation she needs.

"I can't ask for a free ride, but I would like to have a life," she said. "Right now, my quality of life is being stripped."

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by John, a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2007 at 10:47 pm

I went to elementary, middle, and high school with Monica; I sure wish her the best. In the meantime, I hope she's staying active in criminology, perhaps offering her expertise on a volunteer basis somewhere, with hopes that it will lead to something paid and stable. Never give up on your dream, Monica.


Posted by Monica, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm

John,

I know a few John's from that far back, elementary school and thank you so much for the encouragement. Since I don't know which John you are, none-the-less, thanks for reading the article and well wishes.

Monica


Posted by Jim, a resident of University South
on Jan 16, 2012 at 2:55 am

Some people just don't like to work, and make up excuses why they can't. She seems to be able to play competitive sports just fine.


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