Bob Dienst has always been a man of many talents. That is until essential tremor sidelined him from the activities he enjoyed.
After leaving the Army as a helicopter pilot, Bob began a career in law enforcement in 1972 in New Jersey. He first noticed symptoms of essential tremor a year later when his marksmanship scores declined.
“We were required to requalify twice a year, and it started with missing the target – or what they call ‘throwing a bullet’ – occasionally. It became a joke among my fellow officers, but it wasn’t anything concerning at that time.”
Since then, Bob has owned a painting business and restored a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair. His favorite pastimes include fly fishing, creating copper sculptures, and competitively shooting Civil War-style firearms.
But as his tremors increased over time, he was forced to abandon these hobbies.
“I wasn’t able to cut-in and do the precision trim painting anymore. I also noticed that I couldn’t manipulate the tools as well as I used to, and I couldn’t tie a fly because of the tremors. More frighteningly, when I was soldering a sculpture, I burned the back of my hand with the torch because I couldn’t hold it still. But the shooting was probably the most difficult thing to give up.”
In 2006, the same year that Bob closed up his painting business, he tried five different medications to manage the symptoms. Nothing worked.
“The only other treatment that was offered was deep brain stimulation, and I was hesitant about that. The tremor didn’t seem serious enough to warrant invasive surgery. I would rather just give up my hobbies.”
Still an active volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, Bob made accommodations for his tremors while on duty. But that would soon change.
In late 2019, Bob learned of focused ultrasound therapy from a friend.
“I called my insurance agency right away and found that they would cover the treatment. It was during that conversation that I first heard of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. They were my next call.”
Bob spoke with the Foundation’s Chief Medical Officer, Tim Meakem, MD, about locating a treatment site and was treated at the New York University Langone Medical Center in early January.
“The treatment day was exciting. The doctor kept pulling me out of the MR machine after each sonication to test my steadiness. At one point, I thought it was a fantastic outcome. He said, ‘Let’s do one more.’ After that, it was just rock solid.”
Just weeks after the treatment, Bob says the experience was amazing.
“In the days after the treatment, my wife and I went out to dinner, and I held a wine glass perfectly still. We just grinned at each other.”
In fact, he is confident that he could pilot a helicopter – and hover – as steadily as he did before his symptoms began.
He is now ready to get back to his volunteer duties and has already started a new sculpture. He is also eager to get back into competitive shooting.
“I can’t say enough about how helpful the Foundation has been and how fantastic NYU has been throughout this experience. It has truly been life changing.”