Story by: Joe Hall on February 15, 2022
James Wimsatt enjoys the occasional round of golf, attending sporting events and spending time with his four daughters. But a severe case of trigeminal neuralgia brought most of life’s enjoyable moments to a screeching halt.
About five years ago, James, a 60-year-old engineer, began feeling pain on the right side of his face. His dentist ruled out tooth pain and sent James to his primary care physician. He was diagnosed quickly with trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve condition that impacts more than 200,000 people each year.
Some experts describe trigeminal neuralgia as one of the most painful conditions known to humanity. It causes extreme facial pain that can be a sporadic burning or shock-like pain along the branches of the trigeminal nerve: It’s felt in the lips, eyes, nose, scalp, forehead, and upper and lower jaw. The bouts of pain can come and go for hours. It’s most common in adults over 50.
Not long after James’ diagnosis, the pain went away. It stayed that way for four years — until the spring of 2021.
“The pain all of a sudden came back, and it was worse than before,” he said.
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James scheduled an appointment with Brian M. Plato, D.O., headache specialist and neurologist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. Dr. Plato prescribed medication. It helped at first, but then the pain came back. By October, the condition was almost unbearable.
“I couldn’t shower or shave without being in extraordinary pain,” James said. “Even a slight breeze on my face — it felt like my forehead was split open. I’ve had kidney stones and those were easy compared to this.”
James returned to Dr. Plato, who, along with other physicians at Norton Neuroscience Institute, had recently launched the Norton Neuroscience Institute Face Pain Clinic. The clinic includes a team of neurologists, neurosurgeons and other providers who collaborate on cases involving face pain.
“By collecting viewpoints from many disciplines, we help patients find a cause and gain a complete view of the options available for treatment,” Dr. Plato said.
Dr. Plato teamed up with Abigail J. Rao, M.D., neurosurgeon with Norton Neuroscience Institute. In consultation with their patient, they determined that medication was no longer the best option. James would undergo microvascular decompression, a surgery which involves placing a pad in between blood vessel and nerve.
“James was an excellent candidate for surgery, due to the nature of his pain and general good health,” Dr. Rao said. “Talking with him, alongside his wife and Dr. Plato, we were all on the same page about a team plan.”
Dr. Rao performed James’ procedure Dec. 23 at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.
“I woke up from surgery and the pain was gone,” he said. “It was like someone turned on a light switch.”
That meant James came home Christmas Day with a very nice gift.
“I’m so happy that he has experienced major benefit from surgery, and feel it’s a privilege to be part of his care,” Dr. Rao said.
James has a 3-inch scar behind his ear, which is mostly covered by his hairline. He considers it a small price to pay for getting his life back.
“I feel great,” he said. “After what I went through, I’m glad I can be myself again.”
And he’s grateful for his care at the Norton Neuroscience Institute Face Pain Clinic.
“My advice is, if your doctor diagnoses you with trigeminal neuralgia, don’t wait to seek treatment,” James said. “They took good care of me.”
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