Clinic consultation

Excruciating pain in the face can be relieved thanks to a new clinic

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 put an abrupt end to most of life’s pleasurable moments.

About five years ago, James, a 60-year-old engineer, started feeling pain on the right side of his face. His dentist ruled out dental pain and sent James to his primary care physician. He was soon diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve condition that affects more than 200,000 people each year.

Some experts describe trigeminal neuralgia as one of the most painful conditions known to mankind. It causes extreme facial pain which may be a sporadic burning or shock-like pain along the branches of the trigeminal nerve: it is felt in the lips, eyes, nose, scalp, forehead and jaw upper and lower. The bouts of pain can come and go for hours. It is more common in adults over the age of 50.

Shortly after James’ diagnosis, the pain disappeared. It stayed that way for four years, until the spring of 2021.

“The pain came back all of a sudden, and it was worse than before,” he said.

James made an appointment with Brian M. Plato, DO, a headache specialist and neurologist at the Norton Neuroscience Institute. Dr. Plato prescribed medication. It helped at first, but then the pain came back. In October, the condition was almost unbearable.

“I couldn’t shower or shave without feeling extraordinary pain,” James said. “Even a slight breeze on my face – it felt like my forehead was split. I had kidney stones and these were easy compared to that.

Norton Neuroscience Institute Facial Pain Clinic Provides Relief

James returned to see Dr. Plato, who, along with other Norton Neuroscience Institute physicians, had recently started the Norton Neuroscience Institute Facial Pain Clinic. The clinic includes a team of neurologists, neurosurgeons, and other providers who collaborate on cases involving facial pain.

“By gathering perspectives from many disciplines, we help patients find a cause and get a comprehensive view of available options for treatment,” Dr. Plato said.

Dr. Plato partnered with Abigail J. Rao, MD, neurosurgeon at 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 that involves placing a pad between the blood vessel and the nerve.

“James was an excellent candidate for surgery, due to the nature of his pain and his overall 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 on December 23 at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.

“I woke up after surgery and the pain was gone,” he said. “It was like someone flipped a switch.”

It meant that James came home on Christmas Day with a very nice present.

“I’m so happy that he got a major benefit from the surgery and I think it’s a privilege to be a part of his care,” Dr Rao said.

live without pain

James has a 3 inch scar behind his ear, which is mostly covered by his hairline. He considers it a small price to pay to get his life back.

“I feel good,” he said. “After what I’ve been through, I’m glad I can be myself again.”

And he’s grateful for his care at the Norton Neuroscience Institute’s Facial Pain Clinic.

“My advice is that if your doctor diagnoses you with trigeminal neuralgia, don’t wait to seek treatment,” James said. “They took good care of me.”