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Yongie Lee: Hemifacial Spasm

A purple background with white text which reads "The journey changed my whole life," by Yongie Lee.

The Challenge

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.

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The Path to UPMC

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 the neurosurgical team at UPMC.

With the new belief that surgery was an option after all, Yongie made an appointment at UPMC 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 the neurosurgeon. Yongie was scheduled for surgery for the following morning.

The Solution

To eliminate her facial spasms, Yongie underwent a 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 makes 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.

The Results

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.

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.

Read More Cranial Nerve Disorder Stories