Meet Tammy. Air travel is not high on most people’s list of favorite activities, but for Tammy, it meant more than just a fear of flying. Debilitating neuropathic pain in her hip made it impossible to sit still for any length of time.
“I couldn’t sit through a flight without constantly fidgeting due to the pain radiating throughout my lower back and legs,” she explains. “I absolutely dreaded flying. I couldn’t even watch an entire movie without pain. It truly affected my whole life.”
And sitting wasn’t the only issue. As a pharmacy technician, Tammy was required to be on her feet for much of the day, a task that was becoming increasingly challenging. She couldn’t even comfortably take a short walk to unwind after a long day.
Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to nerves that share information between the brain and the body. It generally presents as a dull, chronic pain.
For Tammy, symptoms began in 2010 but were easily managed for about three years with periodic cortisone shots. Once those became less effective, doctors diagnosed Tammy with spondylosis – a degenerative condition affecting the spine – and cerebral dysrhythmia – an irregularity in the brain wave rhythm commonly seen in neuropathic pain patients. Since 2012, Tammy tried various medications and underwent a number of procedures to try to manage her pain including two spinal fusions and two nerve stimulator implants. Nothing seemed to alleviate the pain long-term.
When doctors began discussing the possibility of treating Tammy’s pain with radiation therapy that wouldn’t be covered by her insurance, she sought other options online.
“I came across the focused ultrasound therapy being done by Dr. Daniel Jeanmonod in Switzerland and found that he had had a lot of success treating neuropathic pain. I even considered traveling abroad for the treatment – that’s how badly I needed to find a cure. But then I learned about a similar study at the University of Maryland.”
In September, Tammy endured the flight from her home in Missouri to Maryland and became the first patient treated as part of that clinical trial led by Dheeraj Gandhi, MD.
“Waking up on the morning of treatment, I was excited but also nervous. They aren’t cutting the skin, but it is brain surgery, and there’s always a chance it won’t work. But I felt confident in the success rates experienced by the Swiss team. Dr. Gandhi had established a good relationship with Dr. Jeanmonod to learn about the procedure, so that put me at ease.”
During treatment, Tammy was rolled into the MRI machine while clinicians in an adjacent room delivered the focused ultrasound therapy. After each sonication, they would pull her out and assess her pain level. She knew it had worked the minute she stood up.
“During the pre-treatment CT scan and MRI, I had to be helped up off the table. After treatment, I was able to stand up on my own. It was then that I knew it had been a success. I was wiggling and dancing around in the MR suite.”
“On my flight home, I was able to just relax. The day after I returned, I was able to go back to work. I worked three long shifts with absolutely no problem." She soon walked a full mile and made plans to get back on her treadmill. "It’s been life changing!”
“I can’t thank the clinical team at Maryland enough for pioneering this therapy and for treating me with such care throughout this experience. I also want to thank the Focused Ultrasound Foundation for funding this trial. Without them, I’d still be in pain.”
Today, it's been more than nine months since Tammy's procedure, and she reports that she is "still pain free and loving it!"