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Teri’s story: ‘No pain’ after rare nerve surgery

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

By: Melissa Barth


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For 10 years, Teri Berg never knew when brushing her teeth, eating or simply talking would trigger pain in the left side of her face.

 

That pain was caused by trigeminal neuralgia, a rare, chronic condition that affects the face. It’s caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve, a nerve that carries sensation from the face to the brain. The pressure irritates the nerve, causing severe pain to one side of the face.

 

Teri’s condition is so rare that it went undiagnosed for five years. She first thought it was caused by nerve pain in a tooth, but her dentist found nothing.

 

“All of a sudden it hit me and it was really bad. I knew something wasn’t right,” she says. “I came in over a weekend, they took X-rays again, but they still didn’t see anything. I made them do a root canal on my tooth because I knew where it hurt. I figured that’s what it was.”

 

The root canal wasn’t the permanent solution Teri was hoping for. The severity of the pain lessened, but it didn’t go away.

 

“The pain wasn’t frequent and it wasn’t intense, but I was able to deal with it. But when it got bad, it was bad. I couldn’t eat, didn’t want to go out. It affected my social life, my work life,” she says. “I was afraid to talk because I thought it would trigger the pain.”

 

Desperate for a solution, Teri made an appointment five years ago with her family doctor, who referred her to a local neurologist.

 

“I got my diagnosis of the trigeminal neuralgia. They did an MRI and ruled out anything else. This was the first time I’ve ever heard of that,” she says. “They explained how they treat a patient and they put me on medication.”

 

Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia usually starts with medication to reduce symptoms by blocking pain signals sent to the brain. Surgery may be required if patients stop responding to medications or if they experience side effects. That happened to Teri.

 

“We kept increasing my dosage and they put me on a second medication. Nothing was working, and I had horrible side effects, but I had to choose between the pain and the side effects. I didn’t think I could function properly if I kept taking the meds. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like that,” she says.

 

Teri then was referred to Dr. Richard Harrison, a BayCare Clinic neurosurgeon. She hoped he could provide permanent relief.

 

“He did an MRI and saw what was going on. He knew exactly what he was looking at. He explained my options and his recommendation was surgery,” she says.

 

Harrison made a small incision behind Teri’s left ear and removed a small piece of bone to expose the trigeminal nerve. He created a cushion around the nerve so blood vessels no longer rubbed against it.

 

Teri recovered quickly after surgery. Now she’s living without pain for the first time in 10 years.

 

“I can’t even describe to you how you can go from being in so much pain, and then having this surgery done, and then having no pain,” she says. “I feel like I actually have my life back.”

 

Teri credits Harrison with restoring the quality of her life.

 

“I don’t know anyone else that has this condition and it made such a difference knowing there was someone in town who could help me,” Teri says. “I’m so grateful and I wish I’d known about him sooner.”

 

Dr. Richard Harrison sees patients in Green Bay and in Escanaba and Iron Mountain, Michigan. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8350 in Green Bay or 888-376-3876 in Michigan or request one online.

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Richard Harrison, MD, is a Board Certified neurosurgeon and has been with BayCare Clinic since its inception. Dr. Harrison received his medical degree from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. Outside of his practice, Dr. Harrison enjoys flying, skiing, biking, and spending time with his family. Learn more here.

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BayCare Clinic, baycare.net, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.