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Surgery for Migraine Headaches Transforms Life of New Jersey Mother

Mary Smiley, a Patient of The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction

Mary Smiley has suffered from debilitating migraine headaches since the age of 13. They began at a rate of two a year, and as she got older, they altered her life. The headaches became so severe that by middle age, even sneezing or coughing could give her a migraine.

The now 47-year-old Northfield, New Jersey mother of three, who, as a child, had missed significant school time with bouts of headache pain, was taking a series of medications, including oral for pain, as well as suppositories for nausea. As an adult, when she experienced numbness, one of the many doctors she sought out in desperation told her she was at stroke risk.

Mary escalated pain medication, discovered Botox injections (which did temporarily seem to help), and added, “I was getting nerve blocks every other week. I was really bad.” By the time she walked into Dr. Matthew Kaufman’s office, she was also on a daily dose of the narcotic pain medication, oxycodone.

Mary is far from alone. There are 28 million migraine sufferers in the United States, one-third of whom find little or no benefit from traditional medical therapies. Age 13 is a common timeframe for the onset of migraines in women since 60-70% experience migraines tied to their period, indicating a hormonal connection. Thus, these headaches are commonly referred to as “menstrual migraines”.

At her first appointment with Dr. Kaufman, an expert in cutting-edge migraine headache surgery who Mary found online, she requested the lights be turned low and that Dr. Kaufman and his staff speak softly as she was experiencing another migraine. She explained her dilemma to him through tears.

As part of the Institute for Advanced Reconstruction, Dr. Kaufman has been administering Botox treatments and performing migraine headache surgery, known as trigger point decompression surgery, in select patients for the relief of migraine headache pain and occipital neuralgia for the past decade.

Migraine headache surgery involves a minimally invasive approach to the nerves in the head and neck region that cause or contribute to the headache symptoms. The trigger point sites are “relieved” by meticulously removing muscle, fascia (tissue lining), and blood vessels from the areas in which the nerves travel. In doing so, the nerve is no longer “irritated,” and the trigger point is alleviated. Clinically, this may result in a reduction or elimination of the headache or tenderness in this area.

Following Mary’s surgery with Dr. Kaufman in April 2014, her life was transformed. “I felt better even right after the surgery. I’ve had Cesarean sections and other surgeries. I know the difference between migraine pain and healing pain. The pain of healing felt like nothing.”

The computer specialist at the Federal Aviation Administration was able to return to work on April 15th. She had previously missed so many days that, eventually, she feared for her job. As of the beginning of July, however, she had not missed a single day on the job. According to the National Headache Foundation, migraine sufferers lose more than 157 million work and school days annually because of headache pain.

In an afternoon following her first day in four years at the beach close to her home, she reported, “I’ve been able to get dental work. I haven’t had my teeth worked on in years since it would give me a migraine. I’m able to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work. That used to be unthinkable. And I’ve seen more movies in two months than I’ve seen over the past five years.”

“Getting the surgery has changed my life, and getting my life back has been priceless.”

“When I initially mentioned Dr. Kaufman’s name to my primary care physician, she said, “He’s fantastic. He’s a doctor who really wants to make a difference for people.” That’s how I felt talking to him and the staff. Technically they were fantastic, so caring, and so excited about making a difference for me.”

“It’s a whole new me,” says Mary Smiley, who adds, “Because of Dr. Kaufman, I can actually live up to my name!”