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Mater opens Queensland first neurology clinic

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Mater opens Queensland first neurology clinic
Mater has opened Queensland’s first Functional Neurological Disorders Clinic in a bid to help a group of neurology patients who find it difficult to get a diagnosis.
Neurologist Dr Alex Lehn created the clinic at the Mater Centre for Neurosciences for the 20 to 30 per cent of patients who present to neurologists with Functional Neurological Disorders. These patients often have normal test results yet can have disabling symptoms such as episodes of loss of consciousness and disturbances of movements or speech. 
“Patients with Functional Neurological Disorders usually have normal blood tests and scans yet something is seriously wrong. In the past these patients were often sent away and told that there was really no problem or that they were just imagining things,” Dr Lehn said.
“Often patients have exhausted all medical avenues and feel isolated and rejected by those around them.
“There is definitely no easy fix; I work in conjunction with a terrific team of neuro-physiotherapists, neuro-psychologists and neuro-psychiatrists.
“Patients must be part of the treatment team and their understanding of what’s involved is essential. For many patients we can make a real difference and they can return to being a functional member of society again,” he said.
After misjudging a jump from a skate park wall, 16 year old Britney Smithers nightmare began. A year after her bones had healed, Britney found she was in constant pain, her right side was paralysed and walking became so difficult she had to be pushed around in a wheelchair.
Her teenage life collapsed around her. Britney missed more than six months of school, she stopped seeing friends and preferred to stay home as she just couldn’t keep up with everyone.
Instead of blossoming into an independent young woman, she was reliant on her parents to be by her side 24 hours a day, seven days a week in case she had a fall at home.
“I was really depressed and I could see what effect it was having on my parents, brothers and sister which made it worse,” she said.
A referral to Neurologist Dr Alex Lehn turned Britney’s life around in an instant.
“I was diagnosed with Functional Dystonia and discovered I had to retrain my brain to walk again,” Britney said.
“I spent two weeks in hospital learning how to stand up and walk again.
“I used a giant walker every three hours for 30 minutes with a physiotherapist and four weeks after my stay, I was moving around just like everyone else.
Dr Lehn said Britney impressed him with her level of understanding and determination.
“When I explained the diagnosis of functional dystonia to Britney and her family I noticed straight away how well she grasped the concept and the underlying mechanisms that led to her movement disorder,” Dr Lehn said.
“From day one she worked incredibly hard with our physiotherapy team. It is often difficult for me when I have to explain to patients that all I can offer is their hard work but Britney worked on her recovery with an admirable focus, which is reflected in her excellent outcome,” he said.
Britney has had to learn there is a fine line between overdoing it and not doing enough and movement relapses taking weeks or months to recover from.
Fifty six year-old Julie Wright is another of Dr Lehn’s success stories after close to 18 months of being shuffled between various doctors with no clear outcome.
“Last year, I started losing mobility in my left leg and arm, developed tremors and the simple act of making a sandwich became impossible,” Julie said.
“I could not work and became unemployed, I felt my life was turning upside down. The crunch came when I was on the phone one day and mid-sentence I couldn’t talk and I knew something was very wrong.
“Dr Lehn spent a long time revisiting my medical history and examining me. It was obvious to him that somewhere along the line, my central nervous system was receiving and sending the wrong signals―the hardware was fine, it was the software that was broken. Dr Lehn did a simple test called ‘The Hoover’s Sign’: He showed me how much better I could move my left leg when I wasn’t thinking about it. I immediately felt strength in the muscles of my left leg that I thought were very weak,” she said.
By working in conjunction with a neuro-physiotherapist in the clinic, Julie was able to relearn normal movements through a series of conscious thinking exercises which slowly improved her mobility and speech and gave her the confidence to continue on with treatment.
For Dr Lehn, the work is very rewarding.
“It’s very satisfying to help people who are disabled by non-epileptic seizures or functional movement disorders,” Dr Lehn said.
Chief Operating Officer Mater Health Sean Hubbard said Mater prides itself on being able to meet unmet community need. 
“Patients seen in Dr Lehn’s clinic have usually run out of options and it’s encouraging to see successful outcomes for a number of patients already,” Mr Hubbard said. 
Dr Lehn said about up to 70 per cent of patients with Functional Neurological Disorders were able to be treated with good long-term outcomes.
Access to the Functional Neurological Disorders Clinic is via a referral from a neurologist only.  Further information is available at:

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Tags: neurological