UHN helps Toronto musician living with Parkinson’s get back on stage

Fabio Dwyer got back to doing what he loves thanks to the team at UHN
Fabio Dwyer got back to doing what he loves thanks to the team at UHN.

Music was Fabio Dwyer’s passion and livelihood. Whether it was performing, composing or teaching, he shared his remarkable musical gifts through guitar. Fabio was a founding member of a local band and freelanced with a wide array of groups, playing everything from rock, blues, jazz and pop to Latin and Brazilian music throughout Ontario.

But then the symptoms began to creep in – not being able to move his right hand, trouble walking, talking, even swallowing. These deficits slowly began to separate him from his passions, including his ability to play guitar. With the fatigue and depression growing stronger, Fabio began to investigate the cause, culminating in a shocking diagnosis of early onset Parkinson’s disease. He was barely past 40.

A loss of livelihood

Fabio and his partner, Laura, had built their life around music. As the co-owner of the Mill House School of Music in Toronto’s east end, he felt his dream starting to crumble beneath him. Fabio wasn’t sure what the future held for his family, including his two young children.

His resilient spirit carried him forward, teaching and playing as much as he could, until 2019, when the tremors began to rob his fingers of their rhythm.

“For a musician, that’s like a death sentence,” says Fabio.

A glimmer of hope soon emerged when Fabio learned he was a candidate for a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS) at UHN’s Edmond J. Safra Program in Parkinson’s Disease and the Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Centre within the Krembil Brain Institute – one of the world’s top movement disorders research and treatment centres.

UHNITED through an unexpected connection

Sitting in a waiting room at Toronto Western Hospital, he came across an old acquaintance. To Fabio, he was Alfonso, the keyboard player. At UHN, the same man was Dr. Fasano, Krembil Brain Institute movement disorders specialist and neurologist. The same hands that danced across the keyboard on a shared stage with Fabio were now the ones who would be adjusting the surgically implanted device – like a pacemaker for the brain – that runs electrodes to the parts of the brain that caused Fabio’s tremors. The program is the largest in Canada, serving the highest volume of patients needing DBS treatment in the country.

Dr. Fasano’s transformative work helped elevate UHN’s DBS program to the next level –creating the world’s first integrated program and training more neurologists to continue this life-changing treatment.

Six months after surgery, performed by pioneering neurosurgeon Dr. Andres Lozano, and 11 sessions to adjust switches and dials to find the sweet spot in Fabio’s brain, Dr. Fasano and his team closed in on the settings allowing Fabio to manage his Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Trading in his exercise weights for the neck of a guitar, Fabio has now regained 95 percent of his guitar playing abilities. “Every day, I just continue to improve,” says Fabio.

From Taline, the nurse practitioner who monitored his DBS device adjustments, to Yu-Yan, the Movement Disorders Clinic coordinator who helped him manage daily challenges, to Gianluca, the kinesiologist who helped him regain muscle strength and coordination, TeamUHN formed the talented ensemble who helped Fabio with his remarkable recovery.

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