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Occipital Neuralgia Patient Thanks Dr. Kaufman

February, 2013

Dear Dr. Kaufman,

Over the past several months, I’ve thought about and tried writing this on numerous occasions. It seemed nothing ever justified the gratitude I feel or how deeply indebted I am to you for saving my life. I say that because I was at a crossroads in life, and if we had never crossed paths, I know I wouldn’t be here today.

I was in a car accident on March 3, 2007, exactly six months before my wedding, and everything changed. I was rear-ended at a red light on Route 6 in Dickson City, PA. I went to Mercy Hospital in Scranton after the accident, where they checked me out, pushed some pills, and sent me on my way with scheduled follow-ups.

I slowly started getting better everywhere except my head. The left side of my head had a hyper-sensitivity that would bring me to tears instantaneously and included a pain much like fireworks going off in my head. That created a build-up of pressure, leaving me with the desire to drill holes in my head.

I came to appreciate the small things in life I previously took for granted. I realized for the first time you really can’t judge a book by its cover because, as normal as I looked on the outside, no one knew the damage that my nerve sustained, or the amount of pain I was in and how it would impact my life and daily activities. Everything became a struggle, but through it all, I tried masking my injuries as much as I could and tried to lead as much of a normal life without anyone knowing. My doctors and husband were the only people who really understood my daily struggles (maybe not fully, but they watched it firsthand) over the course of five years of treatments, whether oral or injectable. Certain treatment options helped, but nothing was ever long-term. After a time, it became very evident I was not improving in the least.

I truly hid my pain from the entire world except for my doctors and husband. I watched as my OB-GYN dropped me as a patient after the accident because I would be a high-risk pregnancy. I located a new one, and even he referred me out of the area for a one-time consult, only to be told that with my medications, pregnancy was not in my near future. Now, after five years of marriage and my surgery, things seem to be looking a little more optimistic.

Last year, I was let go from my job as the employer began to outsource many positions in an effort to save money during this economic downturn. This finally gave me the opportunity to seek out the help I needed while looking for a new job. In addition, my health was rapidly declining, and I was only hanging on by a string.

My occipital neuralgia* was taking over my life. The pain was consuming me, so much so that I can honestly say I debated at times if I actually wanted to live. I was losing perspective. I tried so hard to fight hypersensitivity and be a normal 23-year-old when the accident occurred, but as the years progressed, being in chronic pain took a toll on my body. I simply felt like I couldn’t possibly handle one more day or vomit one more time. I wanted my bedridden days to be a pastime, but they were very real and becoming more frequent as I was losing ground at holding onto my health. I researched occipital neuralgia and new treatments daily and things to try. One day, I happened upon your website.

I can remember reaching out to The Plastic Surgery Center and speaking to (nurse staff member) Barbara for the first time and feeling a glimmer of hope when she had me send over my medical history for you to review. Days later, I received a phone call from you. I had never had a doctor call me and give his time and expertise the way you did. From that phone call, I knew you would change my life forever. I laughed, I cried, I was so excited. You understood the emotional journey I had been on with my occipital neuralgia, and you respected me as a person enough to take the time and listen. You were completely honest with me, explaining that the surgery may or may not work. You never tried to give me false hope.

I can remember waking up from the surgery and instantaneously feeling room in the back of my head for the first time since the accident. It was the most incredible feeling ever!!! My pain was definitely different; it was now what I refer to as surgery pain. Slowly but surely, I hope to be able to get off all my medication. The surgery changed my life. You gave me a reason to live.

I was 23 years old when the accident happened, and I gave up so much of my social life, missing parties, trips, etc. Now, I look forward to transitioning back to the person I was, but at my own speed. I know it sounds silly, but I treasure things the normal person takes for granted– like going to see a movie in a movie theater, working an 8-hour day, and being able to go to the store afterward and cook dinner without wanting to put my head through a wall. For me, it’s all baby steps for now and simply enjoying the life you gave back to me.

People complain about pain every day. I hear it all the time, but I can’t say for sure anyone ever understood mine until I met you. Dr. Kaufman, I will forever treasure the gift you gave me of getting a second chance at life. I was at the lowest point in my life before my surgery. I am so grateful you took a chance on me.

Thank you for helping me when no one else could and believing me when so many people thought I was imagining things. You gave me a reason not to give up hope, and if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today.


Kristen Kuczenski

Click to read Kristen’s incredible story here. 

*Occipital neuralgia is chronic head pain in areas that correspond to the greater occipital nerves, which extend from the spine to the scalp.