For almost four years, Pastor George Snyder suffered with inexplicable and unexpected pain. “It was like a lightning bolt hit my head. The pain started in my tooth and shot through the left side of my face. It could happen at any time and would last for about 30 seconds.”
Trigeminal Neuralgias Podcast
In this interview, UMMC neurologist Dr. Neil Porter discusses some therapies for trigeminal neuralgia, which include medications and Gamma Knife treatment.
After countless visits to dentists and several root canals, Pastor Snyder was ultimately diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that affects one of the largest nerves in the head and is associated with sharp, piercing pain in the jaw or check. Oral medications helped control the problem, but the pills played havoc with Pastor Snyder’s brain. He could no longer remember the sermons he would write, and he could barely recall how to get to the grocery store.
Finally out of frustration he called a local hospital to find out what kind of treatment was available for trigeminal neuralgia. The person on the other end of the line told him to contact the Gamma Knife Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Pastor Snyder made the call and scheduled an appointment soon after.
The gamma knife has been used for decades to treat patients with brain tumors. In recent years, it has also been shown to be effective in treating patients with functional disorders like trigeminal neuralgia. “Our experience in treating more than 200 patients with this disorder shows that pain is significantly reduced and quality of life is improved by the gamma knife,” says Dr. Chin.
The procedure involves fitting a patient with a stereotactic frame, which attaches to the head using four pins that penetrate about 2 millimeters. Local anesthesia prevents discomfort. The patient is then given a MRI and placed into the gamma knife where the 201 gamma rays converge to target the trigeminal nerve.
When the day arrived for treatment, Pastor Snyder was concerned that he may become claustrophobic, but he was quickly calmed by the gamma knife team. “I felt fine. They explained everything to me, and the nurse practically held my hand throughout the procedure. I was only in the gamma knife for 45 minutes,” remembers Pastor Snyder.
“The process is unique because no surgical incision exposes the brain, which eliminates the risk of infection and hemorrhage,” points out Dr. Chin. “The procedure also eliminates side effects of general anesthesia,” adds Dr. Chin.
For three weeks after the treatment, Pastor Snyder had infrequent and less intense pain—and then all of a sudden, the pain was gone permanently. He could resume delivering sermons he had memorized, and he no longer had to take 30 second breaks during conversations when he would become silent and touch his face.
The gamma knife was a godsend for this Hagerstown man. So much so, that Pastor Snyder’s daughter has been known to refer people with trigeminal neuralgia to the University of Maryland Medical Center and its Gamma Knife Center.