Lulu Alvarado was a typical teenager enjoying a night out at the skating rink when she fell on ice and suffered a third-degree concussion.
That’s when the severe migraines started. Formerly a star student and varsity cheerleader, Lulu’s migraines lasted for 10 straight months, causing her to miss 100 days of school.
So Lulu, 17, and her Weatherford, Texas, family sought help from a neurologist, who warned the family that the migraines might be permanent. Hoping to lessen her symptoms, Lulu tried medications and even Botox injections, but nothing worked.
Eventually, the family decided to try a surgical treatment not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, called the Omega procedure.
Dr. Darren Schuhmacher, Lulu’s doctor at the Migraine Treatment Centers of America in Dallas, said the procedure can help 90 percent of participants get relief from migraines.
The procedure involves implanting a small battery in the lower back that charges tiny electrical wires. The wires, placed under the skin, are affixed to the forehead area and deliver gentle electric shocks to the nerves responsible for headache pain. By sending shocks to the nerves, pain signals do not reach the brain.
Lulu said the device helps to numb her headaches.
“It’s almost like when your hands or your feet goes to sleep,” Lulu said.
Dr. Joel Saper of the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor cautions that the procedure is invasive and should only be used as a last resort.
“Surgical procedures of this type, because of the risk and the cost, must be reserved for people who have failed even the most advanced … treatments well beyond just medicines alone,” Saper said.
The procedure, like all surgical procedures, is not without hazards. Implanting the device can result in a potentially dangerous infection and might not work for all recipients. In addition, the device costs roughly $100,000.
“We have to learn much more about how long such a treatment might work, if it works and what are the ultimate risks to long term treatment,” Saper said.
But for the roughly 12 percent of Americans suffering from migraines, the treatment could be key tool in combating debilitating migraines.
“A lot of people say I have more pep in my step,” Lulu said.