Tourette's sufferer's new life

MARIA Keen frequently describes it as "the day that changed our lives".

The occasion the Mount Warrigal resident refers to was June 17 last year, when her basketball-loving daughter Lisa, 35, had surgery for Tourette syndrome.

The 10-hour operation - a deep brain stimulation performed at North Shore Private Hospital - was profiled on Today Tonight.

"Ten nerve-racking hours," her mother said.

"She waited 25 years to get it done and it hasn't been done much in Australia.

"Her head was jerking so much that she really needed to have it done.

"It's been a really hard life socially for Lisa, and emotionally for us."

Maria said the condition had made it difficult for Lisa to hold down a job.

"She's had a lot of seizures, which was hard to watch," she said.

"It was hard to see her not have lots of friends; watching her not being healthy and not being able to do anything about it.

"The surgery changed everything - Lisa is more independent now.

"Socially, she will go out and not have to worry about people staring at her.

"She could be head jerking and making involuntary noises; clubs and restaurants didn't like that."

Lisa took up basketball at 16; the sport has become a vital outlet.

"She never had friends until she started basketball; then it was like her whole life had changed," Maria said.

"No-one there would be, 'I'm better than you', or call you names," Lisa said.

"I couldn't ask for a better bunch of friends."

The extensive surgery recovery process included eight weeks off from basketball, which Lisa found excruciating.

"I've tried other sports - soccer, football - but I didn't have the passion," she said.

Aside from playing with a Wollongong-based team comprised of Special Olympics athletes, Lisa has represented the Illawarra, NSW and Australia.

She played for Australia at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai in 2007, and Athens in 2011, winning gold at both.

Recent NSW trials could qualify her for the nationals in October.

Lisa visited Newcastle in early December as part of the Illawarra team for the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games.

While physically unable to compete, she served as an event ambassador, giving a televised speech at the opening ceremony in front of 3000 people.

"I wouldn't have the confidence to do most things I do without the Special Olympics in my life," she said.

Maria said her daughter's post-operation outlook was far more positive.

"There's still a few tics, but we probably got 90 per cent [recovery].

"The cost holds a lot of people back, but if you can have it, by all means do it."

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