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Helmet treating Texas patients suffering from depression

AUSTIN, Tex. (KXAN) – Depression hurts millions of Americans, leaving them feeling discouraged, hopeless and even suicidal. While some find healing in drug medications, others don’t respond or can’t tolerate the drugs. Experts estimate nearly 15 million Americans are suffering in a given year, over 6 percent of adults.

But hope isn’t lost for that population. A FDA-cleared device is helping adults who failed to improve with anti-depressant medications.

The Brainsway Deep TMS is a cushioned helmet placed over a patient’s head. Brief magnetic fields, at an amplitude similar to that used in an MRI, are generated, impacting the mood regulation system. The treatment re-balances abnormal deep brain structures and causes substantial improvement in depressive symptoms.

“It’s a very gentle way to do it, there’s no medication, there’s no sedation,” said Jaron L. Winston, M.D. He works with patients battling depression at the Texas TMS Center. “One patient I had come in said, ‘Do anything you want to me, I don’t care. I feel so bad, do whatever you want.’”

Dr. Winston says the treatment re-trains the nervous system to fire correctly, releasing biochemicals that are in short supply in depression.

Patients undergo 20 minute sessions for six to nine weeks, Monday through Friday.

Despite the time commitment, many patients like Danny Pyka are willing to try anything to find healing.

“Suicidal thoughts were constant,” said Pyka. “It seemed I knew it would end all my problems, but also affect my wife and kids in a horrible way.”

Antidepressants were making things worse at one point, robbing him of hope.

“I had a lot to live for, and I do have a lot to live for. But the overwhelming thought of, suicidal thoughts was – I was afraid it was going to take my life.”

When Pyka heard about clinical trials for Deep TMS, he didn’t hesitate to sign up. After one week of treatment, he started seeing results.

“It changed my life. I was off all my depression medication, anywhere from seven to 10 medications per day to keep me from the ruminating thoughts, the suicidal thoughts.”

That was back in 2012. While the treatment lasted for nearly four years, Pyka started experiencing symptoms of depression. This year he started treatment again, and it has been successful.

“Once I knew I got happiness back, things just fell into place as days went on,” said Pyka.

He shares his story, hoping to lessen the stigma of depression. Something Dr. Winston also aims to do.

“It’s just another medical disorder, get it treated. And it’s treatable for the most part. The vast majority of patients get better,” said Dr. Winston.

He says results vary for patients. While some experience remission for years, others only a few months.

“About 60 percent of patients go into remission, in other words, depression totally gone,” said Dr. Winston. “About 70 percent of patients have a significant reduction in their level of depression, enough to make a big difference in how they function, how they live, even if they have some symptoms that are continuing.”

Unfortunately, he says there is a small percent that don’t respond to any treatment.

Most insurance companies cover the treatment, but typically require that the patient have tried several antidepressants that didn’t work.