Heather Fraser



Ice skating demands very precise control of every part of your body.

This is Canadian skater Heather Fraser’s story.

For Heather, what’s known as ‘essential tremor’ started when she was quite young.


So I started skating at nine.

It progressed very well.

I won the Junior Canadian Championships in 1967

And a fabulous, but also stressful year.

And that was the tipping point.

And so in ’69, which was an Olympic qualifying year,

I felt quite confident until doing figures in the competition.

The goal of the figure is to make up a circle.

It will leave a mark on the ice.

And then you have to go over that line

that you’ve already made.

And you’re trying to balance on that one edge.

And I could hardly keep my balance.

It was a disaster.

I don’t know how this will be, but this is pretty…pretty average.

If I hold tight, push my elbows tight in, then it will stay steadier.

If I take the elbows out a bit, you’ll see that it gets a little bit worse.

The symptoms are at times very frustrating.

My head will quite often get involved.

Mostly you can’t read anything that I write.

It’s like little lightning bolts, because of the tremor.

Generally speaking every few years you see some area of the body that is affected.


Dr Michael Schwartz and the team at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto are going to use focused ultrasound today to see if they can improve the tremor in Heather’s right hand.


Tomorrow I get my hair shaved.  So I will be bald.

And Dr Schwartz will do my ultrasound treatment that will hopefully calm one side of the body.

So I’m going for the right side and I’m hoping sincerely that it does improve.


They’ll be using one thousand ultrasound beams

to penetrate Heather’s skull without cutting into it at all.


Hi Heather.   Can you hear me OK?


Yes, thank you.


We’ll start at the low power and once we’re able to increase the power enough that it will have an effect then we’ll be testing her to see how the tremor’s doing.

We’re starting to get a decent temperature that may be effective.

So I just reassured her and we’re going to do it again.


High intensity focused ultrasound beams when aimed at a small target raise the temperature high enough to ablate it so providing a therapeutic effect.


  1. So if it’s in the right place that’ll be good.

We’ll examine her.

We must be in the right place.

We haven’t achieved such a high temperature, But we’ve got a significant effect.


The team now find they must increase the heat to the upper safety limit to be able to get through Heather’s skull to ablate the exact part of the brain,

the Vim Nucleus of the Thalamus, which causes the essential tremor in her right arm.


She was instructed to write before the treatment ‘this is a sample of my best handwriting’.

If you know what she’s written you can almost make out the words but if you didn’t have that prior knowledge you wouldn’t be able to read this.

We’re going to take you out now. OK? You were great.


Good.  That’s amazing…


Is it better Heather?


Oh God, you have no idea.

I don’t even have my glasses on and I’m writing.


Pretty good eh?


You are awesome!  Thank you.

It’s so much better.  I couldn’t really write that yesterday.

Best day ever!  Worth it, worth it, worth it, worth it.


My goal was to do a calendrical cell double toe.

Then the best ones were the fifth one and the sixth one.


Funny isn’t it… that works for you.

You stand up and show me.


Heather will not skate again in competition but she can now continue to advise new skaters and to certify coaches for Skate Canada.

And with her right arm functioning, she’ll be able to go back to living a normal life.


Yes. Good. Baby steps, and work consistently on that focus that you have and things will get better permanently.


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