Nancy McDowell's Story
Nancy McDowell's eyes begin to sparkle and a smile spreads effortlessly across her face. But it hasn't always been that way. For a dozen years, McDowell, a Catlettsburg, Ky., resident, suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, a disorder that left her in unbearable pain, afraid to eat, smile, laugh or even brush her teeth.
The trigeminal nerve is the largest of the cranial nerves and is responsible for feeling and movement in the face, including the eyes and upper and lower jaw. Trigeminal neuralgia is often caused by an artery or vein pressing on the nerve. This pressure causes the nerve to fire and, as the disorder progresses, branches of the nerve also become affected.
The pain was intense, McDowell said. "It would come on unexpectedly, like a dull knife being pushed from your gum line through to your eye and ear.
"It was so severe, you just wished to die."
As her pain grew, and her body's tolerance for pain medication increased, she was in constant misery. In January 2011, McDowell traveled to Cincinnati and underwent a procedure to destroy part of the troublesome nerve. She got relief, but only for a few months. By summer, the pain was back.
McDowell believes the intense pain was responsible for a flare of her multiple sclerosis, which put her in the hospital for four weeks in September 2011. I was completely helpless. I couldn't move either leg or one of my arms. I was heavily medicated and could do nothing."
Fred, her husband of more than 45 years, was constantly at her side. On Fridays, they shared pizza and listened to Boyd County High School football games on the radio. She dreamed of the day she'd be able to see her grandson Jacob play in person.
It was during this time that McDowell saw a newspaper ad announcing a new neurosurgeon at King's Daughters - Ondrej Choutka, M.D. The ad noted that Dr. Ondrej treated trigeminal neuralgia.
"I've always been told in difficult times to seek God and in painful times to trust God," McDowell said. "I did a lot of seeking and a lot of trusting" which brought her to Dr. Ondrej.
In late September, McDowell went home. On Oct. 18, Dr. Ondrej performed a micro-vascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve. The procedure involved drilling a small hole in the skull, inserting a tiny pad between the compressing blood vessel and the nerve.
After the surgery, McDowell started to feel relief. It took awhile for the pain to go away completely, but every day was better. Eventually, she was pain free.
She is able to smile, laugh, eat and enjoy life in a way that was not possible before. "There has just been a tremendous transformation," McDowell said. "My whole family suffered with this. Now, they have the real me back."