A Life Changing Procedure

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful chronic condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, a complex cranial nerve that transmits sensation from the face to the brain. It is comprised of three branches and is responsible for motor functions such as biting and chewing. Oftentimes patients who have trigeminal neuralgia believe the pain they are experiencing is in their jaw or teeth. Patients who experience trigeminal neuralgia describe the pain as debilitating.

That was the case for Theresa Nanius. At the age of 37, Theresa experienced intense pain she described as “electric bolts” in her jaw that she believed was related to her wisdom teeth on the right side. After visiting her dentist and several specialists, she learned she had trigeminal neuralgia. Theresa was younger than typical for patients who develop this condition, as it usually affects people over the age of 50, but her symptoms were classic. She saw a neurologist who prescribed medications to help quell the painful nerve twitches, and she found some relief. But over time, her body became accustomed to the medications and the side effects included fatigue and confusion, and as the mother of a toddler, she needed to stay focused and aware.  

Theresa underwent a surgical technique called microvascular decompression (twice) but the procedures did not yield lasting relief, as is sometimes the case. Her son was now an active child, and she wanted to be an active mother again. She also wanted to be medication and pain-free so she could focus on her family.

Through Anthony D’Ambrosio, MD, Co-Medical Director of The Valley Hospital Gamma Knife Center, Theresa learned about Gamma Knife and was interested in understanding her options. At an initial consultation, Theresa immediately felt comfortable.

gamma knife

 “Everyone at the Gamma Center, including Dr. D’Ambrosio and the nurses, go above and beyond. I was scared and in pain, but they made me feel at ease,” she said.

She learned that Gamma Knife doesn’t make incisions, no anesthesia is required, and it is a same-day procedure. Having spent much time in and out of the ER in pain over the past few years, these benefits of Gamma Knife were appealing. Dr. D’Ambrosio showed her on a computer exactly how her procedure would be performed, and how it could relieve her pain.

In 2015, Theresa underwent the Gamma Knife procedure. Her recovery was vastly different from when she had microvascular decompression. There was no hospital stay, no staples in her head, and little downtime. And she felt relief immediately. It takes time for the radiation from the Gamma Knife to completely heal trigeminal neuralgia, so she took small doses of medication as needed, but weaned herself off. Within the first year, Theresa was medication-free.

“More than just the success of the procedure, I’ve never met staff as wonderful as the staff at the Gamma Knife Center. They call me every year on the anniversary of my procedure to see how I’m doing. I consider them my friends,” she said. “If I had to, I would do it again tomorrow.”

After years of living with pain that at times caused severe depression, Theresa attributes this procedure to changing her life.

“The Gamma Knife Center saved my life.”