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KITTY DUKAKIS MAKES HER CASE FOR SHOCK THERAPY.

Byline: Carley Dryden

Staff Writer

"I'm Kitty Dukakis and I'm a drug addict and an alcoholic."

So reads the opening line of the former Massachusetts first lady's debut book, "Now You Know," published in 1992.

Dukakis, now 71, the wife of former governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, took her first diet pill at 19, after years of feeling inadequate, she says, due to her mother's push for perfectionism. She liked the way the pills made her feel. so she took them for 25 years.

"Any alcoholic or drug addict knows we fool the world," she said during a recent visit to Northridge Hospital Medical Center to discuss her latest book, "Shock," in which she details the electroconvulsive therapy she says saved her life. "I never escalated my use of diet pills so there was nothing different in my behavior from the time (Michael) met me until the time I decided to get help."

That time came in 1982, when she chose to end her dependency on amphetamines. The minute those pills stopped, the depression started, she said. Soon after, her husband lost his 1988 presidential bid and Kitty Dukakis turned to alcohol, which provided the only relief from her severe bouts of depression.

Over the next 20 years, she was in and out of drug-treatment and psychiatric centers and often, when home, ingested any form of self-remedy she could find: rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, even a bottle of hair spray. Seven years ago, she said, she lost hope and turned to the only treatment she felt was left for her depression -- electroconvulsive therapy.

"ECT was a miracle in our lives," she said to the hospital gathering, her coffee-colored eyes glowing as her lips crept into a smile.

For Dukakis, like many Americans, her only exposure to the therapy was in movies such as 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." She admitted she was apprehensive when she checked herself in for treatment.

"Tragically, (the movie) gave people a very negative view of this treatment," she said. "And it wasn't even ECT that was given to Jack Nicholson, it was a lobotomy. That's what is so frustrating."

During an ECT procedure, one or both sides of the patient's brain receive electrical currents, causing brief seizures.

Dukakis underwent her first ECT treatment June 20, 2001, her 38th wedding anniversary. When her husband walked into the hospital room 15 minutes after her treatment, she recalled, "I was smiling. I said, 'Let's go out for dinner. After all, it's our anniversary.' "

Though Dukakis still suffers from bouts of depression, often in nine or 10-month cycles, she has found a treatment that works.

"When I begin to feel a depression coming on, I don't wait very long, maybe a couple of days," she said.

The first ECT treatment will stop the downward cycle, she said, and with each succeeding treatment, the depression gets less intense and easier to handle.

Dukakis receives most of her treatments in Boston, arriving for the ECT at 7:30 a.m. Her temperature is taken, she is administered an electrocardiogram to test the electrical activity of her heart, and she is given a muscle relaxant and sodium pentothal as an anesthetic.

A seizure is induced for about 60 seconds -- the only visual sign being a slight twitch of a toe. Fifteen minutes later, Dukakis said, she wakes up, and in another 15 minutes she heads home.

There are proven side-effects to ECT treatment, including short-term confusion or memory disturbance in some patients. In rare cases, patients lose pieces of their memory that never come back, said Dr. Michael Frankel, executive director of ECT treatment at Northridge Hospital.

Dukakis argues that although there can be memory side effects, the alternative treatment, medication, also has "debilitating side effects" and doesn't work in many cases.

Electroconvulsive therapy has an 80 percent success rate, Frankel said. But Dukakis is one of only about 100,000 people who use ECT to treat clinical depression -- though more than 20 million people in the U.S. today suffer with the illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"It may not be for everyone, but shouldn't it be an option in cases that often end in tragedy?" she asked her Northridge Hospital audience.

Anne Marie, a four-year patient of Frankel's, chose ECT after years of battling impulse control, thoughts of suicide and a dependence on marijuana and alcohol.

"Before, every morning I would wake up and say, 'Damn, I'm alive,' " she says. "ECT gives me days that I'm happy."

Dukakis said it's impossible to measure her identity post-ECT, compared to who she was before she began treatments. But she provides one telling clue:

"I am an Obama nut," she said. "I have the TV on all the time. If I was still depressed, I wouldn't have those kinds of feelings for the (presidential) campaign."

Carley Dryden (310) 540-5511, Ext. 380; carley.dryden(at)dailybreeze.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) "It may not be for everyone, but shouldn't it be an option in cases that often end in tragedy?" Kitty Dukakis, pictured with husband Michael, asked a Northridge audience who came to hear her discuss her new book, "Shock," and her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy.

(2) Kitty Dukakis, who underwent her first ECT in 2001, is one of only about 100,000 people who use it to treat clinical depression.
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 24, 2008
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