“As a patient, I want to feel that I’m in safe hands, and the entire time I knew I was.”
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) can appear without warning. Such was the case for Louis Ambrosio, who awoke in the middle of the night with what he described as extraordinary pain in his head and mouth. “The pain would go from my head into my mouth and felt like a knife in my tongue,” Louis described. This pain continued intermittently for approximately 18 months adversely affecting his speech and swallowing.
Like many TN patients, Louis first visited his dentist assuming it was associated with a tooth or nerve in his mouth. After learning it was not a dental issue, Louis saw a neurologist who quickly diagnosed his discomfort as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). TN is a chronic condition where pain is felt from trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sending information from the face to the brain. He was prescribed extra strength Tylenol, which unfortunately didn’t help with the pain. When he was prescribed synthetic opioids, Louis found the side-effects were almost worse than the pain itself. While the pain impeded his speech, the medications hindered walking and dexterity. On medication he walked bent over, lost coordination and fell a number of times. Looking for a natural option, he found some relief using cannabis oil, however, as time went on, he needed to increase the dosage to stay on top of the pain. “It provided very strong, but temporary relief,” Louis said. With severe pain, he needed relief, but with an aversion to drugs and surgery, he felt hopeless.
Louis learned about Gamma Knife Center Co-Director and Director of Neurosurgery Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., his expertise using the Gamma Knife for TN and was eager to explore further options. Upon visiting Dr. D’Ambrosio, he quickly felt at ease. Louis felt that Dr. D’Ambrosio was more than just a knowledgeable specialist, but that the team of staff members he built were equally knowledgeable and comforting.
According to his nurse navigator, Susan Visco, BSN, RN, CNRN, “Louis had what is considered classic right-sided TN.” Both Susan and Louis explained that he had explored different strong medications only to suffer from what is called ‘failing medical management.’ The prescription medications lessened the pain, but he still suffered from breakthrough pain. Louis was not interested in exploring surgical options, which made the Gamma Knife procedure, and its success rate treating TN appealing. “Once you make the decision to go to the doctor, you need to let it go. I don’t believe in debating doctors,” he said. The Gamma Knife procedure isn’t invasive surgery, and contrary to its name, does not involve a knife. Using a form of radiation therapy, it focuses radiation beams directly to the affected area, sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. Gamma Knife is particularly effective for areas of the head and neck and the entire procedure is short with very limited downtime necessary for recovery.
On the day of his procedure, Louis went in to the Center at 6:15 a.m. and was out by 10:30. During the procedure, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was playing on a loop, and he fondly recalled that the entire procedure took three loops of it.
Louis is home now and without pain. The team at the Gamma Knife Center prepared him with possibilities of rebound pain but with outcomes of 75-80% success and his immediate relief, he is hopeful that he won’t experience it. After his journey of finding reprieve from TN pain, he is optimistic. “Dr. D’Ambrosio is a great doctor. As a patient, I want to feel that I’m in safe hands, and the entire time I knew I was. They were all great,” Louis said.
* 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.