Just like people with pacemakers, those with D.B.S. implants must be careful about getting diagnostic MRIs and spending time around devices that generate electromagnetic fields. These could set up a current in the implants and cause injury or other issues, said Dusan Flisar, a neurologist in Slovenia who is an author of the paper. For instance, one study reported a case where a patient sustained permanent neurological damage when an MRI scan heated up a D.B.S. electrode.
“There are also environmental causes that can affect the proper functioning of this device,” Dr. Flisar said — namely, it appears, lightning strikes.
The woman who came to see Dr. Flisar after the storm was lucky: She had not been charging her implanted battery at the time, nor had she had the charger pack plugged into the wall. If either had been in use, the device and its accessories could have met the same fate as her TV and air conditioner. “The charger would be destroyed like other appliances and the patient injured if she was charging the stimulator during the event,” said Dr. Flisar.
Dr. Flisar and his colleagues recommend in their paper that patients plug their chargers into surge protectors, which will help protect them, and suggest that doctors tell patients to avoid charging during storms.
Fortunately, when he and his colleagues checked the woman’s implant, they found that it had not been damaged. A safety function designed by the manufacturer had taken its cue from the sudden current running through the house and caused the device to switch itself off, pre-empting any interference from the lightning. The programming was intact; the battery still had plenty of charge.
When they fired up the device, it worked perfectly, none the worse for the storm.