Chronic cluster headaches debilitated Kenneth Minicozzi for 10 years. Cluster headaches are less common than tension or migraine headaches. But they are more severe, causing sudden, intense and unpredictable pain that is usually centered around one eye.
At his worst point, Mr. Minicozzi, 44, had 15 severe headaches a day. To control his headaches, he tried numerous medications and treatments. Little worked, except very high doses of a drug that lowers blood pressure that left him extremely tired.
While Mr. Minicozzi and his wife, Rebekah, were snorkeling in the Dominican Republic, his heart rate became very slow and irregular, and he was unable to breathe due to the high doses of medication. “I thought we were going to have to say goodbye to Kenny,” Ms. Minicozzi said. Fortunately, local doctors were able to stabilize him until the Minicozzis returned home to Holtsville.
Back at home, the Minicozzis visited Robert Duarte, MD, a neurologist and headache and pain management expert, and director of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center Pain and Headache Treatment Center. Dr. Duarte suggested they consider peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) offered by a neurosurgeon at North Shore University Hospital.
“PNS is an innovative treatment that uses an implanted device to relieve pain,” said the neurosurgeon. “The device, which is about the size of a stopwatch, is placed in the chest. It works by sending mild electrical pulses via thin wires underneath the skin. These wires connect to the base of the head to stimulate the occipital nerve. This stimulation helps to interrupt abnormal pain signals.” A doctor programs the device to provide pain relief customized to meet the patient’s needs. Patients can turn the system on and off and adjust levels using a handheld wireless device. PNS is also being tested as a potential treatment for other types of headaches, including migraines.
Last August, Mr. Minicozzi had the device implanted and returned home the same day. He immediately felt improvement in his symptoms; it took a while to get used to the stimulation, which causes a mild vibration.
For the first time in 10 years, Mr. Minicozzi can combat the pain of his severe headaches without medicine. “I appreciate the compassionate care from the team at North Shore University Hospital,” he said.
“He still gets headaches every day, but the stimulator manages the pain,” Ms. Minicozzi said. “He is feeling great. Honestly, it has changed our lives. Before, we were afraid to go out because of complications if he got a headache. But we can do so much more now.” About a month after Mr. Minicozzi received the device, the couple took a road trip to visit the Grand Canyon. “He finally has energy now since he is off the medicines,” Ms. Minicozzi said. “It has changed him in every way and given him a better quality of life.”