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Parkinson’s surgery unlocks Predators’ Peterson

Image of Brent Peterson
Image: Mark Humphrey, AP

Brent Peterson, shown in April 2012, had deep brain stimulation surgery in December.

NASHVILLE -- The first noticeable difference in the Brent Peterson of 2012 in comparison to Peterson at this point in 2011 is his eyes. They look wider, more open and more awake.

Peterson, who had deep brain stimulation surgery in December to ease his Parkinson's disease symptoms, now gets six to eight hours of sleep per night. A year ago, the Nashville Predators' former associate coach, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2003, got close to four hours per night.

"You feel 10 times better," Peterson said with an impish smile.

Monday night at Bridgestone Arena, Peterson will host his Petey's Preds Party dinner and auction for his charity, the Peterson Foundation for Parkinson's. On Tuesday, he will host his second annual golf tournament.

Peterson's surgery has enabled him to unlock his body and move more freely. Although he still can't coach -- he gave up his role after the 2011 season and is now a hockey operations adviser -- he can live a more normal life.

"People say, 'You don't have it,' " Peterson said. "There are some days that are not so good. When I get stressed out and tired, it affects me a lot. So far it has been good, and I've been able to get back to work here."

Although the surgery was successful, the past year has been a challenge for Peterson.

Deep brain stimulation surgery places electrodes in the brain and a pacemaker near the collarbone. The pacemaker is supposed to control the electrodes, which slow the symptoms of Parkinson's. Overall, the treatment took close to a month.

The day after the pacemaker was turned on, Peterson jumped on a treadmill in the Predators' practice facility at Centennial Sportsplex, much to the amazement of his co-workers.

"I remember him doing that, and we were like, 'What are you doing?' " Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "As he describes to us, he said, 'I've been in a straitjacket for eight years, and I feel like I'm out of the straitjacket now.' He really looked like he was full of energy."

In some ways, Peterson felt too much of a surge. The electrodes caused him to become overly emotional. He said he would cry watching a football team score a touchdown. Or he would laugh at a joke that wasn't funny. He also went on a spending spree, including buying a $3,000 necklace for his wife, Tami.

"I was crazy. I emptied out our checking account," Peterson said. "It was too much energy in my head."

Once Peterson got the problem rectified, he was able to fully continue his duties with the Predators. During home games, he would watch from the sky box of general manager David Poile and then give assessments between periods.

He went on scouting trips, including to potential playoff opponents in anticipation of the 2012 postseason.

Before the surgery, he had trouble going through airport security because after removing his belt, he couldn't get it back through the loops on his pants.

"When I was going on those trips for scouting before I had the DBS, I sat down and cried because I couldn't get my belt back on," he said.

Now, Peterson plans to do a lot of traveling. He will provide reports on Nashville's prospects in junior leagues and colleges and handle other, undetermined assignments.

"If I'm unlocked, I can do anything," he said.

There are still reminders of his problem. Peterson needs to take medication daily -- though not as much medication as in the past -- and he struggles with his balance. He can't get on the ice and skate, and he says when he puts a golf tee in the ground, he sometimes feels like he will fall over.

"There's times I think I can get back and play and do the job and go back," Peterson said, "but I can't (because of the balance problem)."

However, his improvement has lifted the spirits of those around him.

"He goes through it like a champ and doesn't have a bad word to say," Predators associate coach Peter Horachek said. "He's a champion from that standpoint."


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