Migraine-plagued middle-school student returns to normal life

Courtesy of Stacey Williams description of photo

When eighth-grader Jaden Turner isn’t absorbed in his schoolwork, he enjoys playing basketball with his buddies, listening to music and — like most teenagers — playing video games.

But over a period of roughly four months earlier this year, such normal activities were often unendurable for the young San Franciscan: He suffered from migraine headaches so severe that on many days exposure to anything more than dim light or a soft voice was agonizingly painful. His head was so hypersensitive to touch that a haircut was intolerable.

But thanks to an ongoing collaboration between California Pacific Medical Center and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Jaden’s migraines are a thing of the past.

It started in January, when Jaden, then 12 years old, developed what seemed to be an ordinary headache. It passed, but soon he was afflicted with another headache. And another. And another. At times he would vomit when he was stricken.

As the headaches worsened, Jaden’s mother, Stacey Williams, took him to CPMC. The symptoms were awful: Once, Jaden’s school called Stacey because he had another headache, vomited and reported feeling tingling and numbness in his right arm and down his leg. His arms and legs also were shaking.

“What really worried me was that I didn’t really understand why my legs and arms would be shaking because of a headache,” Jaden said.

The diagnosis was migraines, but rest and ibuprofen didn’t help. That’s when the family was referred to Packard Children’s neurologists at CPMC. Since early 2012, physicians at both Packard Children’s and CPMC have been working together to enhance access to highly specialized medical care for San Francisco and North Bay children.

Packard Children’s pediatric neurologist Susy Jeng, MD, who is also a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the School of Medicine, conducted a battery of tests that ruled out possible causes such as tumors, blood vessel abnormalities or inflammation of the brain. She concluded that Jaden’s pain could be caused by irritated nerves, in which case he might benefit from receiving a nerve block for the pain.

Jeng referred Jaden to Packard Children’s Pain Management Service, where anesthesiologist Meredith Brooks, MD, evaluated him.

Brooks, who is also a clinical assistant professor of anesthesiology at the School of Medicine, agreed that some of his nerves were irritated, with the main culprit likely his occipital nerves, which rise out of the spinal column at the base of the neck and pass through the trapezius muscle onto the skull. She suspected Jaden’s trapezius muscle was tensing up, pressing on the occipital nerves and causing his pain.

On May 17, Brooks gave Jaden six nerve-block injections — four at the base of his skull and two in his forehead. “The needles Dr. Brooks used were so huge they looked like turkey basters,” Stacey said.

“Jaden was really brave,” Brooks said.

His mother agreed. “He received the injections on a Thursday, went to school the next day and he’s been fine ever since,” she said.

Exactly one week after the shots, Jaden and his friends celebrated his 13th birthday. “Not having headaches made that really special,” Jaden said.

Reflecting on the young patient’s saga and quick turnaround, Jeng said, “It was like this kid was hit by a bus, and now he’s back to normal.”

“Jaden’s case illustrates perfectly our collaboration with CPMC, which is helping kids and families have seamless access to more specialized care than they may have available otherwise,” said Claudia Mueller, MD, medical director of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at CPMC and assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine.

“Our collaborative effort with Packard Children’s has allowed CPMC to add expertise that might not otherwise be available, which provides for a broader array of pediatric specialties for patients who need these added services,” said Lorry Frankel, MD, chair of CPMC’s Department of Pediatrics and professor emeritus of pediatrics at the School of Medicine. “It is our hope that through these greater collaborative efforts, we can broaden pediatric services to the children in the San Francisco and Marin counties.”

Now a month into the eighth grade, Jaden, who, amazingly, never dropped off the honor roll last school year, said he is deeply thankful for the care and treatment he received. It was an experience that has given him some perspective that not many kids his age have.

“I understand that you need to not take life for granted,” said Jaden, who at times thought he’d never recover. “Do everything you can to be healthy and live long.”

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions – Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu/.