Beating back depression: TMS East makes rapid expansion into Valley

  • Dr Brian Smith demonstrates how the Deep TMS machine works on Larissa Hayden, the Marketing Specialist at Achieve in Northampton.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — It looks like a scene out of “Star Trek” — a helmet that sends magnetic pulses to the brain with a sensation that feels like a woodpecker tapping on the skull.

But this isn’t science fiction. This is real life, and it’s a technology that is being used in new clinics in Northampton and Amherst that clinicans say is having success tackling depression.

“It’s a miracle for most people,” said Tom Bombardier, a Granby native who founded Achieve TMS East in western Massachusetts and now lives in California.

He said many patients who visit the company’s offices have tried other alternatives to treat major depressive disorder, and they don’t expect to get better. Many of these same patients are later pleased with the results, Bombardier said, noting that one patient told him it was like a “veil was lifted” and that how she sees the world has completely changed.

Within the past year, Achieve TMS East has opened six offices that offer the treatment using a Brainsway Deep TMS machine — deep TMS meaning transcranial magnetic stimulation. According to Achieve, the machine utilizes a magnetic stimulating coil that is placed on the patient’s head.

“The coil produces a magnetic field that pulses directly to the brain where mood is regulated,” according to Achieve’s website. “The stimulation activates the chemicals in the mood to produce the natural feeling of happiness and well-being.”

The company opened in Northampton last December, followed by an office in Amherst in April. Achieve’s other new locations are in Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Westborough next month. The practice is also looking to open offices in Leominster, Cape Cod, Boston, South Shore and Connecticut, according to the company’s website. The company has about 22 staff members and physicians, according to marketing director Anita Taylor.

About 75 people have completed treatments so far at Achieve TMS East, Taylor said, and she estimates that about a 75 percent have had a positive response.

Bombardier worked for years as an ophthalmologist in western Massachusetts before co-founding Ambulatory Surgical Centers of America, or ASCOA, in 1984.

He became associated with Achieve TMS Centers based in California, and decided to open a sister company in Massachusetts where he had done business before.

He said it’s the most interesting business venture he’s done.

The procedure is generally covered by insurance, but only after someone has gone through three drug trials. Without insurance, the treatment costs about $300 per session. A typical session is about 20 minutes five days a week, but it can vary depending on the patient, the company says.

As the business continues to grow, Bombardier expects TMS therapy to treat obsessive compulsive disorder and smoking cessation once those procedures are cleared through the federal Food and Drug Administration within two years.

‘A miracle’

Doreen Garde, 59, a horseback riding instructor, found the experience to be close to a miracle.

“It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” Garde said.

Garde said she tried a variety of drug “cocktails” to treat her depression and she’s been in therapy for over a decade.

A tattoo on her forearm hides scars from self-inflicted cuts, and Garde said she’s been hospitalized for a suicidal episode.

She didn’t think TMS would work, but gave it a shot because other alternatives were not working.

For six weeks, Garde would come in for her TMS treatment. Garde said she usually listened to music — either musicals or classic rock.

“You get used to it,” she said.

Although at times, the pulses made her unintentionally bite her tongue.

During the early weeks of her treatment, Garde didn’t notice the results, but she said her husband did. She recalled him saying, “you don’t walk around with your head down anymore.”

She spoke about her experience to a reporter just a few days after putting her 35-year-old horse down. Before the treatment, she said a life event like that would have been a major “trigger” that would have left her crying for a week.

Garde said when she’s depressed, she gets stuck in a dark space in her mind. But with the new treatment, she doesn’t stay there.

She still manages depression with medication and therapy, but the TMS treatment has significantly impacted her life.

“This is the only thing that has helped me,” she said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.