Just two years removed from an attempt to end his own life, Roland “Rollie” Maynard is celebrating a rebirth — a true rebound from the darkness of severe depression.
Maynard, 61, lost eight years of his life to the illness in spite of treatment with 11 progressively more potent medications and treatments, even including electroshock therapy, which gave him no lasting improvement of his symptoms.
But he found new hope when a Veteran’s Administration doctor suggested a relatively new procedure that finally turned the tide, and saved his life.
Maynard was referred to Rapid City psychiatrist Dr. Steven Manlove about a year ago, and he finally found the treatment he was searching for — a non-invasive, out-patient procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.
The treatment, first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008, involves the use of electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve activity in the part of the brain where emotions are processed.
“TMS is something that literally saved my life. It gave me my life back. I had no life for 8-9 years. I had no hope for a future at all,” Maynard said.
Maynard was raised in Deadwood and graduated from Lead High School in 1973 and went on to earn a civil engineering degree from South Dakota State University.
He served four years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and earned a Master’s Degree in geo-technical engineering. He worked as an engineering consultant for many years, but the death of his father in 1992 triggered his first bout of depression.
“For many years I dealt with it with medication, and it really wasn’t much of a problem,” he said.
But in 2008, his depression suddenly deepened.
“Within a month’s time, it was just like my mind just shut down on me,” he said.
He suffered from anxiety attacks, and became unable to tolerate large crowds of people or loud music. He was no longer able to work.
Doctors at VA hospitals in Omaha prescribed antidepressant medications which only seemed to help for a short time.
“Every 6 to 8 months, I was in the mental health ward. I would basically bottom out,” he said.
His wife of 32 years eventually divorced him, and he moved back to western South Dakota to be closer to his family.
Doctors at the Fort Meade VA Hospital in Sturgis continued to search for an effective treatment, but there was nothing left to try.
The last medication he was prescribed was meant for severe bipolar disorder. Side-effects left him lethargic, with trembling hands and feet, blurred vision, dizziness and headaches. He sat in his apartment day after day doing little more than eating. His weight ballooned and he also suffered from diabetes.
“People at Fort Meade had no idea what else to do with me. I was pretty much a lost cause,” he said.
He reached his lowest point in 2014. He looked in the mirror one morning and saw lifeless eyes.
“It’s like falling into a hole, and the more you try to grab at the sides of the hole to pull yourself out, the further you slip down," he said. "You’re looking up and that hole is gradually getting smaller and smaller to where you look up and can hardly see any daylight at all. When that hole was finally closing up on me, that’s when I tried to commit suicide.”
He survived, and then received the referral that led to a regimen of TMS treatments.
In the treatment, a helmet is placed on the patient’s head, positioned to place the electromagnetic coil closest to the part of brain where nerve activity needs to be stimulated.
Maynard said his treatments lasted several months, starting with five per week and then gradually decreasing in frequency.
His only side effects at the start of treatment were a headache from the staccato tapping of the coil inside the helmet. Patients wear earplugs during treatment.
After about a month, Maynard gradually started feeling better.
He said he lost 85 pounds after starting an exercise and nutrition program. Frequent meals from fast-food restaurants or processed foods were replaced with fresh fruits and vegetables. "I can't stress enough the need to exercise," Maynard said.
Manlove said TMS has shown positive results in helping the 30 percent of depression sufferers who are unable to find relief from antidepressant medicines or other therapies.
Of the 15 patients Manlove has treated with TMS in his first year of offering the therapy, all have seen some improvement, with 10 shown strong improvement in their symptoms, he said.
“I’ve treated depression for about 30 years. You have this group of people we’ve never been able to treat, and now we can do something. It’s very exciting,” Manlove said.
Manlove said TMS may also show promise in treating other neuro-cognitive diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. TMS has not been approved for treatment of those illnesses, but research is ongoing, he said.
The therapy is not recommended for those with heart pacemakers or with metal plates or rods in their bodies. Side effects can include seizures, though only rarely.
“Anybody who can have an MRI scan can have TMS because it’s the same electromagnetic pulse used to produce that imaging,” he said.
Manlove said most patients don’t seem to regress once their treatment ends. Those who do see a return of symptoms respond well to follow-up treatments.
Leasing of the Israeli-made Brainsway Deep TMS machine costs between $100,000 and $120,000 per year. Manlove said most insurance companies are now covering the FDA-approved therapy.
“We always had the stance, that if somebody wants it, we’re going to do it. Cost isn’t going to be the issue. I don’t want to have something that really helps people and then hide it away from them,” he said.
Maynard completed his final TMS treatment on Sept. 23, then moved last week to the Seattle, Wash., area to be closer to his oldest son and four grandchildren.
His health has improved so much that he plans to open an engineering firm there again.
He wanted to tell the story of his experience in spite of the stigma attached to mental illness and to tell other sufferers not to give up.
“Don’t give up on life. There is a life after depression,” he said.
During an interview, Maynard chuckled over how far he has come and the turnaround that gave him a rejuvenated outlook on life.
“I laugh again. I didn’t laugh for 8 years. I laugh all the time now. I wake up looking forward to the day and looking forward to the people I can meet,” he said. “I was given a gift.”