Cindy Esch thought the pain in her lower jaw was a bad toothache. After a root canal failed to stop it, the Bay City resident learned she had trigeminal neuralgia, also known as TN.
“It’s the worst pain anyone could ever have,” Cindy said. “It was like a cattle prod being stuck on my face, right on my jaw. I found out it used to be called the suicide disease. People would kill themselves rather than live with it.”
TN is a disorder of a nerve that emerges directly from the brain. Difficult to diagnose, it causes stabbing, radiating face pain. Over time attacks often become worse and closer together. That’s what happened to Cindy. “I would cringe and cry and hold my face,” she said.
A busy wife and mom, Cindy was also pursuing an accounting degree. She needed to be mentally and physically “on” for her family and her future. Neurologist Gregory Dardas, M.D., was able to stop her pain with medication, but only for a while.
“We had to keep upping my doses, and within a year I was feeling out of it from medication,” she said. “Dr. Dardas said it was time to talk about Gamma Knife® treatment.”
He referred her to Neurosurgeon Mark W. Jones, M.D., and Gamma Knife Nurse Coordinator Dennis Ouillette, R.N.
“Dennis met with us and made us feel comfortable instantly,” Cindy said. “We toured the facility, and he answered all our questions, including those about other options.” Her online research had turned up alternative treatments. “One involved shaving my head, pulling back the skin from my scalp, and wrapping the nerve. I wanted the pain gone, but didn’t want to endure that, plus recovery time,” she said.
Cindy learned that the Gamma Knife used high-energy radiation to desensitize the nerve causing TN symptoms. Three-dimensional, computer-assisted treatment planning would enable precise targeting of the treatment beams for submillimeter accuracy while minimizing the dose to surrounding tissue. According to the International Radiosurgery Association (www.irsa.org) other types of radiosurgery machines, such as the Cyberknife®, have not been proven safe and effective in treatment for trigeminal neuralgia and are not recommended.
After an exam, Dr. Jones and Radiologist Rajnikant Mehta, M.D., confirmed that Gamma Knife treatment was a good choice for Cindy, and she decided to have the procedure.
“When it was time for the surgery, my husband, my parents and my mother-in-law wanted to be with me. The team made us all feel so welcome,” Cindy said. “The Gamma Knife suite is not like a hospital environment. Once you’re there, you don’t have to leave. That’s really nice. We were comfortable and together whole time.”
Cindy was given IV medication to relax. To keep her head perfectly still during treatment, a light metal frame was attached to her head with four small pins. An hour or so after having an MRI for treatment planning, she received the Gamma Knife treatment.
“I lay down, closed my eyes and it was done. It was absolutely not painful, even putting on the halo. Nothing. They told me I was going to lie there and have 192 beams shoot at my nerve and that it was going to take away my pain. It worked! It’s just amazing that you can fix something like this with this technology. I feel very, very lucky to have had it done.”
Recovery time was minimal. “I was there for an hour after surgery. They made sure I was fully awake and ready to go home. The next day I got myself up and was ready to go to work and go on with my life,” she said.
Cindy said anyone with symptoms like hers should see a neurologist, and she would also like to see dentists better informed about TN symptoms.
More than three years after her surgery Cindy remains free of pain. “I have no numbness and no scars, and I’m pain free,” she said. “If your medicine for trigeminal neuralgia is not working, or it’s making you like a zombie, definitely look into Gamma Knife surgery,” she said. “My kids and my family are happy because they knew how much pain I was in. Not having that pain now is a phenomenal feeling. I’m just joyous!”
Is Gamma Knife Right for You?
Let us review your case. Contact our Gamma Knife Coordinator for more information, or to arrange for a no-obligation review of your records and films by one of our neurosurgeons.
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