For as long as she can remember, 20-year-old Karlee Howard has had migraines. "It was like a stabbing, dull, all the time aching pain in the back of my head that would never go away," she said.
By 7th grade, Karlee was finally diagnosed with a birth defect called "chiari malformation," a condition where her brain could not fit inside her skull. "It could to the point that I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, I couldn't feed myself," she said. "I learned sign language to communicate with my mother."
Karlee had a piece of her skull cut out and a mesh patch put in the back of her skull to relieve the pressure. Her condition improved, but not the migraines. "Nobody could figure out what to do," she said, "nobody could really help me."
Karlee tried acupuncture, massages and prescription medicine - but still, nothing worked.
Interventional pain specialist Dr. Seth Billiodeaux with Memorial Medical Group was tasked with identifying the nerve causing Karlee's migraines. "I was able to numb up the third occipital nerve around her spine," he said, "she then reported her pain relief over a two to three day period."
Karlee's relief was significant, so Dr. Billiodeaux moved forward with a radiofrequency ablation, using heat and electricity to permanently numb the problematic nerve. "Once I place the needle in the identified region, we heat the tip of the needle, which is able to ablate or permanently numb this nerve," he said.
Three needles were used at the top, middle and bottom of the nerve. It took about 15 minutes to complete under mild anesthesia. Karlee had the radiofrequency ablation in July and cannot believe that she has not had one migraine since then. "I figured that I'd wake up and five days later I would have a headache again, but that hasn't happened," she said, "I've been 100 percent no headaches."
The size of the needle is about the size of a pencil point. There is a chance that there will be numbness on the head where the ablation happened.