From ‘Shocking’ Pain to Successful Treatment

“I was at the Gamma Center at 6 a.m., out by noon, and relaxing at home that afternoon.”

For more than 12 years, H. Paul Brush experienced what he describes as sporadic “electric shocks” down the right side of his face. Wondering if the pain was from a cracked tooth, the Garnerville, N.Y., resident visited his dentist, only to learn that his teeth were fine and not the cause of his discomfort.

As time passed, Paul began to notice changes in his vision and random dizziness. As a board member of the Service Employees International Union and superintendent of a large condo complex in Valley Cottage, N.Y., he made weekly trips to New York City. Eventually the “electric shocks” became more common and increasingly more painful, making his commute on the New York Thruway nearly impossible. Following his retirement in 2006 at age 65, he sought the medical advice of an ophthalmologist, neurologist, and oral surgeon, who pulled a tooth and diagnosed minor inflammation.

“Nothing helped; I felt as if someone was sticking a hot pick into the side of my face,” says Paul. “My nostrils clogged up, my tongue went numb, and I could hardly breathe. Then one hour later, I was fine. Every time we had a change of seasons, I would have flare-ups. It even hurt to brush my teeth.”

Under the care of a neurologist, Paul took several medications and simply withstood the pain. By 2014, he had reached his breaking point. Serendipitously, while shopping in Paramus, Paul saw a copy of Valley magazine featuring the Gamma Knife Center at Valley’s Robert and Audrey Luckow Pavilion. After researching the center – and noticing how a description of trigeminal neuralgia matched some of the symptoms he was experiencing – he discussed Gamma Knife treatment with his neurologist.

“We had a meeting of the minds,” he recalls. “He knew Dr. D’Ambrosio and his practice at Valley and concluded that I should see him.”

Classic Trigeminal Neuralgia

Mr. Brush, explains Gamma Knife Center Co-Director and Director of Neurosurgery Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., was suffering from a “classic case” of trigeminal neuralgia, a rare, chronic condition that affects the fifth cranial nerve in the head (called the trigeminal nerve) which carries sensations from the face to the brain.

“There is an artery in the brain that normally pulsates on the trigeminal nerve next to the brain stem,” says Dr. D’Ambrosio. “Normal heat and pressure within that artery or within a nearby vein can break down cells in the trigeminal nerve and cause it to ‘short out’ and cause the ‘electric shocks’ that Mr. Brush and other patients experience.“

Pain from these ‘shocks’ affects the eye, cheek and lower portion of the face. With time, the pain can occur more frequently, often triggered by touch, sounds, cold air, brushing teeth, chewing, drinking or eating. Sometimes called “suicide pain” by patients, the stabbing, radiating pain often incapacitates patients, affecting their ability to drive, function in their jobs and maintain successful personal relationships.

Paul and his wife, Eunice, met with Dr. D’Ambrosio, and Paul underwent gamma knife treatment in July 2016.

No Surgery, No Knife

Performed as a same-day procedure, Gamma Knife treatment is a type of stereotactic radiosurgery that is not traditional surgery at all, but a non-invasive procedure that utilizes precise beams of radiation that come together to create a powerful, targeted dose of concentrated radiation. Gamma Knife treatment does not require general anesthesia, and patients do not need to stop any of their regular medications for the procedure. The Gamma Knife’s 192 individual beams of radiation cause no damage to tissues they pass through, but where all 192 beams converge, a lethal dose of radiation is delivered very quickly, often in less than 45 minutes.

“I was at the Gamma Center at 6 a.m., out by noon, and relaxing at home that afternoon,” says Paul of his outpatient gamma knife treatment. “Within two months, 96 percent of my pain was gone. One year later, I am completely pain-free.”

Gamma Knife technology is ideal for treating trigeminal neuralgia, notes Dr. D’Ambrosio, because the radiation used in the procedure does not harm nearby normal tissue in the face and neck. Because of its ability to spare healthy tissue, patients can be re-treated since a small number of them experience pain or numbness that returns.

Every six months, Paul returns for a follow-up check-up with Dr. D’Ambrosio.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful everyone at the Gamma Knife Center was to me and my wife,” says Paul. “They were so attentive to our concerns and didn’t rush us when we had questions. I am now experiencing a quality of life that I didn’t think was ever possible again.”

* This procedure may not be suitable for every patient. All patients must be evaluated by a physician as to the appropriateness of performing the procedure. The above testimonial represents the individual’s response and reaction to the procedure; however, no medical procedure is risk-free. Associated potential risks and complications should be discussed with the physician rendering this procedure.