Eighty-year-old Korean War veteran Gene Linck enjoys his life as a recent retiree. He is able to spend extra time with his family, and had taken a part-time job as a hearse driver.
However, about two years ago, Gene found retirement less than relaxing. Routine tasks such as brushing his teeth had begun triggering severe pain in his face. Even the heat from a morning shower would send sharp, stinging sparks through his face. “The first couple of times, it happened so severely I couldn’t help but scream,” says Gene.
As time went on, the bouts of pain became increasingly worse. Gene knew that if he didn’t act quickly, he might be stuck with this problem for the rest of his life.
Believing that a decaying tooth was the cause of his trouble, Gene went to his dentist. But after confirming the pain was unrelated to a dental issue, his dentist referred him to Dr. Raymond Sekula, director of the UPMC Cranial Nerve Disorders Program.
After the initial consultation, Dr. Sekula diagnosed Gene with trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that affects the trigeminal nerve in the face and can cause searing electrical pain. Dr. Sekula recommended surgery to correct the problem, and Gene agreed. Within a few days, the surgery was scheduled.
When Gene arrived on an early Monday morning, the medical team described the schedule and process. As he spoke with the team, he felt more and more at ease.
“The staff was very helpful and kind to me and my wife, and I was really impressed with the care and kindness they showed us,” says Gene. “And during my stay at the hospital, the security staff brought my wife to and from her hotel to the hospital every day. I could be more relaxed knowing she was in good hands.”
Using microvascular decompression, a minimally invasive surgical procedure that relieves abnormal compression of a cranial nerve, Dr. Sekula and his medical team detected the area where the blood vessel was affecting the nerve.
He then separated them, leaving a “pillow” of nonstick material in between to keep them apart. After the three-hour procedure, Gene was in good spirits, and was eager to see if everything went as planned.
Soon after the surgery, Gene pressed his fingers to his face, upper lip, and below his eye. “The pain was completely gone,” says Gene. After the surgery, the team offered Gene three flavors of ice cream. “I told them I liked all three flavors they had, and to my surprise, they brought me all three kinds. I have never witnessed a more professional and caring staff,” he says. After only two days, Gene was ready to return to work and hasn’t looked back since.
“I have never had a problem with pain since my surgery,” says Gene. “And Dr. Sekula was just really fantastic, about as personable as can be, and made me feel very relaxed.”
Gene says, “I will forever be grateful to Dr. Sekula, his talent, and caring ways to get me free of that awful pain that had plagued me for nearly two years.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Gene's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Dr. Raymond Sekula discusses treatment options for trigeminal neuralgia.