New Normal after Debilitating Migraines
Imagine being in excruciating pain. All the time. Imagine trying treatment after treatment after treatment and not one of them works. Imagine this pain lasts for more than a year. Now imagine finding a team of expert physicians willing to try every option, one by one, to relieve your pain. A team not willing to give up or to watch you lose hope. That is Erin Deuble’s experience at Barrow Neurological Institute.
In July 2016, Erin was working as a beer brewer in Phoenix when a 170-pound steel keg fell, hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious. Erin did not go to the hospital right away, but when her wife got home, they headed to Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center where she was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Under the direction of Javier Cárdenas, MD, director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center, Erin began an aggressive treatment regimen that included physical therapy for balance and coordination.
As her brain injury and resulting balance issues steadily improved, debilitating headaches weren’t getting any better. That challenge proved much more difficult to solve.
Erin tried multiple daily medications to reduce her headache frequency and intensity, but there was no improvement and some of the treatments caused intolerable side effects. She tried self-administered injections, with no success. Several other medications failed Erin. The process was laborious. Over the next year, sleep would be Erin’s only reprieve, however brief.
“Nearly a year after the accident, my symptoms from the brain injury were improving,” Erin says. “But we couldn’t get a handle on the headaches. I tried so many medications unsuccessfully. We tried nerve blocks in an area behind my face and another at the base of my neck which only dulled the pain.”
Since the TBI symptoms resolved, Dr. Cárdenas connected Erin with Kerry Knievel, DO, director of Barrow’s Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program. Dr. Knievel specializes helping patients with the most unmanageable headaches.
From May through November of 2017, Erin and Dr. Knievel worked together to find a solution for the headaches which included physical therapy for Erin’s neck and more aggressive nerve blocks which brought only temporary relief. More than a year had passed, and still nothing worked.
According to Dr. Knievel, injury to the nerves of the head can trigger chronic headaches, and in some cases, migraine. That meant there was one more treatment that might ease Erin’s pain.
“I had my first Botox treatment after Thanksgiving,” says Erin. “Those were my first weeks since the accident without any pain.”
Botox, or Botulinum toxin type A, works by entering nerve endings and blocking the activation of the brain’s pain networks. Knowing the source of her headaches and finding a successful treatment brought Erin peace of mind.
“I get the injections every 12 weeks,” says Erin. “They start to wear off about week 10 so I compensate with lifestyle adjustments.”
Erin is now working in marketing at a different brewery. She credits Dr. Knievel, Dr. Cárdenas and her entire care team at Barrow for giving her tools to live her “new normal” after the brain injury. Barrow experts never gave up on Erin, giving her the strength and confidence to keep going.
“I have strategies for a full life,” says Erin. “I move a little more slowly. I cut back on driving, loud concerts and beer. I plan my vacations around the Botox injections so I can really enjoy myself.”
June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Migraines affect 37 million Americans each year and are the most discussed type of headache but head pain had many sources. The neurologists at Barrow’s Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program specialize is finding relief for head pain regardless of the cause.
In addition to providing world-class clinical care, Dr. Knievel also is committed to building a robust headache research portfolio at the Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program. With your help, Dr. Knievel and her team can investigate better ways of diagnosing, preventing and treating these disorders and bring additional relief to people like Erin enduring headaches.
The Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program was established through a transformational gift made by the T.W. Lewis Foundation and Jan and Tom Lewis. The Lewis family has generously pledged to match all donations in support of migraine research, dollar for dollar, up to $500,000. To make a tax-deductible donation to the Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program and have your gift matched dollar for dollar, please visit give.supportbarrow.org/migraine or call Barrow Neurological Foundation at 602.406.3041.