Yongie Lee’s facial spasms began as a twitch in her left eye. A resident of New Hampshire, Yongie visited a doctor in Boston who administered injections to solve the problem. But Yongie saw no effects from repeated injection treatments. The twitch got worse until the she was having spasms in the left side of her face and experiencing nerve issues in her neck.
Youngie would, at times, hide at home because social interactions made her self-conscious. Her left eye, out of her control, would blink and close randomly, and it sometimes affected her right eye and other facial muscles. The spasms hindered her ability to drive and do her work as a computer programmer.
After being told that surgical options were too risky, Yongie abandoned efforts to treat her condition.
For five years, Yongie endured the spasms. But her condition kept getting worse, so she began doing Internet research to put a name to what she was suffering from: hemifacial spasm, or HFS. She found an HFS blog, which led her to Raymond Sekula Jr., MD, director of the Cranial Nerve Disorders Program at UPMC. Yongie discovered that Dr. Sekula was regarded as one of the most experienced surgeons in treating HFS in the United States.
With the new belief that surgery was an option after all, Yongie made an appointment with Dr. Sekula and traveled from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh. UPMC’s efficiency made Yongie very happy. All of her tests were completed the same day she saw Dr. Sekula, and he told her he could easily treat her and scheduled surgery for the following morning.
Dr. Sekula has extensive experience treating HFS. To eliminate Yongie’s facial spasms, he performed microvascular decompression (MVD), a minimally invasive surgery. HFS is often caused by a blood vessel pressing on a facial nerve. MVD alleviates this pressure when the surgeon make a small incision behind the ear and inserts a non-stick “pillow” between the vessel and nerve to separate them. Microvascular decompression was first developed at UPMC more than 25 years ago. Today, UPMC is one of the highest volume centers for the treatment of cranial nerve disorders in the U.S.
Yongie noticed the change as soon as she woke up from surgery. The twitching was gone immediately, and though she experienced some headaches after her surgery, they stopped within a month. She went from being uncomfortable talking to or looking at others to returning to life as usual before HFS.
“The journey changed my whole life,” says Yongie, who is confident she made the right decision to come to UPMC. “Dr. Sekula just makes patients feel very comfortable and very relaxed."
Yongie’s daughter is preparing to begin college, and Yongie is entering a new phase of life as a parent. Thanks to UPMC, she has the confidence to move forward with an enriching life.
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.
Yongie's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Dr. Raymond Sekula discusses treatment options for hemifacial spasm.