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Surgery improves lives of patients with chronic facial pain

Surgeons address the source of the pain, focusing on an artery which is pressing on a nerve that supplies sensation to the face.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Imagine suddenly, and without warning, being struck with shock-like pain in the face, a pain that for many never goes away.

When it happened to Vidal Garcia seven years ago, he thought it was a dental problem.

“So I went to my dentist and then he referred me to a specialist and then after that the specialist said ‘no, no, no, no, this is this, you have to go to a neurologist,” Garcia said.

He was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that affects about 150,000 people per year.

“It’s interesting. It’s one of those diseases where you can always ask a patient if they remember exactly where it started, so it starts, it’s like and on and off switch and usually it doesn’t go away on its own,” Dr. Simon Buttrick, a neurosurgeon with Memorial Healthcare.

Buttrick said initially most patients respond to treatment with medication.

“And about 90% of people get relief with that, but usually over the course of years either they can’t tolerate the side effects or they need additional drugs or it just stops working,” Buttrick said.

So it was for Garcia, making him a candidate for a surgical procedure called a microvascular decompression, which now can be done with a minimally invasive approach.

Surgeons address the source of the pain, focusing on an artery which is pressing on a nerve that supplies sensation to the face.

“You find the nerve you find the artery, you separate them and you put a little spacer between them,” Buttrick said.

Instead of taking several medications every day, Garcia is now down to one pill and living pain free.

“I’m so grateful for the doctor for this procedure, it really changed my life,” he said.

While the pain relief isn’t one hundred percent guaranteed, follow up data shows that five to ten years after surgery, 75 percent of patients remain symptom free.


About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.