With the help of a procedure, "I can feel his heartbeat in my hand," says Andrew Joannou's wife

By Alison Schwartz
Updated February 05, 2014 02:00 PM
Credit: Courtesy Mount Sinai Hospital

Roses and chocolates sure are nice, but for Valentine’s Day this year, Amy Joannou will hold her husband’s hand – and that might just be enough.

Amy’s husband, Andrew, has Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.

Up until recently, these tics – including hitting himself in the head – had made it dangerous for the couple to hold hands. “When we walked hand in hand, he would have a stumbling tic, and he would pretty much yank my arm,” the 39-year-old Stratford, N.J., resident told ABC News. “There were times when we would both almost stumble to the ground.”

Andrew, 46, who was one of the estimated 200,000 with a severe form of Tourette syndrome, underwent deep brain stimulation surgery in hopes of living a life free of the worsening symptoms he had dealt with for four decades.

“When it is successful, it is not uncommon to have near miraculous results, said Dr. Brian Kopell, who runs Mount Sinai Hospital’s N.Y.C. Center for Neuromodulation and has performed no fewer than 700 procedures in his career. (The stimulus is mostly used on patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.)

Throughout three surgeries, Kopell implanted a pacemaker-like device in Andrew’s brain to block the tics, reports ABC. In September, it was time to turn on the device to see if he would be one of Kopell’s success stories.

“It was awesome,” said Andrew, whose extreme tics stopped after the surgery. “I was physically able to sit still and physically able to walk and be quiet.”

He could walk, hand in hand, with his wife again. When he got home, “He walked down the stairs, grabbed my hand, and we went for a walk,” recalled Amy. “It was as if we were dating again.”

Added Andrew: “She cried.”

For Amy, after all, it’s the perfect gift.

“When you’re holding hands, I want to say it’s as if you’re one person. You’re connected,” she said. “I can feel his heartbeat in my hand.”

For more about the procedure, watch the video above.

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