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GP Couple Helped By News Of Alzheimer’s Misdiagnosis

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GRAND PRAIRIE (CBSDFW.COM) – More than 5 million Americans are right now facing a frightening diagnosis:  Alzheimer’s.  But, experts say as many as one percent of those cases—50,000 or more—could instead be the only curable form of dementia:  NPH—Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus.

Both diseases are marked by memory loss and personality changes.

“He was just really a bad grouch, just awful, very, very angry… and very confused on little things like the television, and the remote control… the cell phone”, says Emma Lee Trump of Grand Prairie.

Trump had noticed that Charlie, her husband of nearly 40 years, had started to change.  She says it was as if he was disappearing right in front of her.

“The neurologist that checked me out said, ‘oh, you got…what is it? Alzheimer’s’… yeah.”

Although Charlie says he followed his doctor’s orders, he was never fully convinced that he had Alzheimer’s.  Most would have dismissed his concerns as denial.  Then a CBS 11 medical story in October had them both hopping up from their seats.

MORE: Treatable Condition Can Be Misdiagnosed As Alzheimer’s

“I just broke out into chills,” said Emma.  “I could not believe this story… and he comes walking in here in attack mode saying: I’ve got those three things, I’ve got those three things!”

Along with memory loss, Charlie Trump was experiencing bladder control problems, and most notably, he shuffled when he walked… a classic and conspicuous symptom of NPH.

Arlington Neurosurgeon Dr. Sabatino Bianco says often Alzheimer’s patients are disoriented and forgetful; but, they walk normally.  “But, when I see that gait,” says Dr. Bianco, “I know that that patient has hope.”

Dr. Bianco was featured in the October story and the Trumps were convinced that he was based in New York or California.  Imagine their surprise—and delight—to learn that he was actually just in the next town—Arlington.

After seeing the story about NPH, the Trumps say their phone began to ring.  Friends heard about the story as well and wondered if perhaps there was something besides Alzheimer’s at work.

Mrs. Trump says she didn’t want to get her hopes up; but, was on the phone with Dr. Bianco’s office the very next morning.  More testing confirmed that Charlie had NPH and surgery was scheduled for the week before Christmas.

“I was scared,” said Charlie, “but, I knew I wasn’t getting better.”

Dr. Bianco says the 45 minute surgery to treat NPH is relatively simple.  A computer helps direct the surgeon to the portion of the brain where excess fluid is collecting, and “we make a tiny, tiny, hole” and insert a shunt… a small, plastic device which acts like a straw, draining the excess fluid into the abdomen.

According to Bianco, the devices are now much more sophisticated—and are computerized so that they can be adjusted to regulate the pressure post surgery.

“I asked him how soon would we see results, “ said Mrs. Trump, “and he said, ‘it’s immediate…it’s like flipping on the light switch’, and it was.”

She had her husband back.  “It’s a miracle… I tell you, it’s a miracle.  He was talking! I could hear him talking! Opening his mouth and speaking.  He was picking up his feet and walking… I’d heard his shuffling across the floor for so long… those are sounds and movements that we all take for granted.”

And when they think of the future they had been facing… Charlie reaches for her hand, and they both fight back tears.  “If I only help one person to be where I am.”

“This was a miracle for us,” said Mrs. Trump, “and if there are any other people out there, I would like for them to know this.  We thank Channel 11 for featuring this story… that’s how we want to end it, we thank you.”

MORE: Learn more about life with NPH

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