ROCKVILLE CENTRE, NY – In 2003, Greenvale resident Irena Wojcik’s right eye started twitching. When it did not stop, she decided to see a neurologist. The doctor ran tests and confirmed that Ms. Wojcik had a debilitating condition that affects about 30,000 Americans: hemifacial spasm. Her ordeal didn’t end until 10 years later, when she was referred to neurosurgeon Michael H. Brisman, M.D., F.AC.S., of the Neurological Surgery, P.C. private practice. (Dr. Brisman specializes in treating this rare condition as well as trigeminal neuralgia, a type of intense facial pain, and brain tumors.)
Hemifacial spasm is a condition that affects half of the face. It usually starts with twitching around one eye, and may gradually start to involve the mouth. It can have a major impact on patients’ quality of life. One of the main causes of hemifacial spasm is a blood vessel at the base of the brain pressing on one of the facial nerves.
After learning in 2003 that she suffered from hemifacial spasm, Ms. Wojcik decided to live with the condition, but it got progressively worse. By 2007 it had gotten so bad that she decided to get botulinum toxin (Botox) injections, a standard treatment for this condition. This helped a little, but caused some of her facial muscles to freeze. She turned to acupuncture and facial massage, but nothing seemed to cure her problem.
Things changed dramatically for Ms. Wojcik in February 2013, when she went to see Dr. Nora Chan, neurologist at Winthrop University Hospital. “I had had more than enough at this point,” said Ms. Wojcik. Indicating that she was willing to try surgery, Dr. Chan referred Ms. Wojcik to Dr. Michael Brisman.
Dr. Brisman ordered an MRI to determine the cause of the condition. The test indicated that there may have been a blood vessel pressing on her cranial nerve.
“Because there appeared to be a blood vessel pressing on the nerve, I determined that the best course of action was to perform a microvascular decompression,” said Dr. Brisman. “This procedure generally proves highly effective in these cases.”
Dr. Brisman scheduled the surgery at Winthrop University Hospital for just a few weeks later, in March 2013.
In microvascular decompression, the surgeon performs an operation to see where the blood vessel is pressing on the nerve. He then gently moves the vessel away from the nerve, and places a soft pad between the vessel and nerve to relieve the pressure. The procedure is effective in about 90% of the hemifacial spasm cases in which it is used.
Ms. Wojcik noticed the change immediately. After a brief hospital stay, she returned to Dr. Brisman to get her stitches out, then returned for a three-month follow up visit. “I am really happy,” she said. “This is perfect.”
In addition to being happy about how much better she feels, she is pleased that she did not have to travel to Manhattan, and was able to receive such specialized care so close to home.
A year later, how does she feel? “I have no problem with this now, no twitching,” she said. “I recommend Dr. Brisman to everyone, and the hospital as well. He is the perfect doctor. I tell everyone to go see him.”
She has even taken brochures from Dr. Brisman’s practice, and given them to her other doctors, in case they have patients with similar problems.
“If you have this problem, don’t wait,” she said. “Go right away to see Dr. Brisman.”