On Pat Boyd’s 52nd birthday, it hit her: She was now the exact age her father was over 30 years ago when he lost his battle with depression and took his own life. She reflected on how depression deeply affected them both and the very different outcomes thanks to three decades of advancements in research. Today, Pat is prevailing over a life-long battle with depression.
In early 2008, Pat underwent surgery to implant a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) for treatment resistant depression (TRD).
Roughly the size of a small pocket-watch and weighing less than an ounce, a VNS device, originally designed to treat epilepsy, was placed in Pat’s chest. The device works through the vagus nerve in stimulating the area in Pat’s brain suspected of causing her depression.
This breakthrough for Pat followed a lifetime of treating her depression, which she refers to as her “genetic inheritance,” with psychotherapy and medications that never fully relieved her symptoms. Pat was always teetering on the edge of falling into what she calls an “abyss” of depression. She said, “I always knew how bad it was, but I was trying not to go there, always trying to keep it together.”
Following an episode of major depression, Pat describes “being hit by a lightning bolt” of sorts, as she recalled reading articles about VNS. She began calling local hospitals for information and reached Linda Carpenter, MD, chief of Butler’s Mood Disorders Research Program and the principle investigator of the VNS study at the hospital.
Pat began to see improvements in her mood within several months following the VNS implant. Her friends and family noticed sooner. Today, there’s no doubt in her mind that she made the right choice. She describes with awe something many people take for granted—being able to stay within a normal range of emotions and reactions to every day life.
She now attends college, majoring in health information technology, and is able to write again, a life-long passion that depression robbed her of. “I can’t wait to write my next essay or poem for school. The creativity is just pouring out of me again,” Pat stated.
Pat feels the results of her surgery were a realistic success. “I still have stressful and difficult days, like anyone else, but I’m able to say I had a hard day, rather than a hard week, a hard month, or a hard year.”
Pat credits research for making the difference. “Without research, there’s just no hope...I’m absolutely and totally blessed to be living in a time when VNS is available. I had an opportunity that my father did not, and it literally saved my life,” expressed Pat.
Pat’s role is equally important. “We are grateful for people like Pat, who participate in research programs that ultimately lead to better treatments and help many patients with depression,” said Dr. Carpenter.