Eliminating Pain: How a Piece of Felt Did What Painkillers Could Not

PHOTO: The CDC reports that deaths by prescription painkillers are on the rise.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Chronic Pain: Miracle Surgery?

Like millions of Americans, Linda Brown, suffering from a debilitating pain in her face, struggled against the quicksand of pain medication. The more pills she took, the more she needed.

"I was becoming an addict," she said. "I was no longer functioning at, what I considered, a life."

She was taking 20 to 30 pills every day, and even set her alarm clock for 2 a.m. so she could take more medication to avoid the pain, which she described it as a "bolt of lightning," a "bad electrical shock." A slight breeze or the simplest touch -- even smiling -- was excruciating. It all started in February 2002.

Tune in to World News Tonight to see the first part of our series, Take Back Your Life: Overcoming Pain

"I had just come home from vacation, and I had felt what I thought was this horrible toothache," she said. "It was a pain I had never experienced before."

Doctor after doctor had could not figure it out, and offered more prescription pills for her trigeminal neuralgia, an often undiagnosed condition in which even the gentlest pressure can feel like a hot poker to the nerve.

Brown became so overcome with pain that her life was starting to disappear before her eyes. Her relationships changed, it became hard to work, and because of her pain, she refused to be alone with her grandchildren, afraid she wouldn't be able to take care of them if they needed her.

Get Dr. Besser's 3 Tips For Tackling Your Pain Problems

"I couldn't risk them not getting the proper care if something happened," she said. "I ceased to be able to exist. I didn't like to be around people because I didn't like them to see me hurt. I just was not Linda Brown."

After a while, even the pills stopped working, and she could no longer function.

"I was out of options," she said. "I was taking the maximum medication I could take. We had tried every other medication."

Finally she saw a Neurosurgeon, Dr. Dong Kim at Memorial Hermann Hospital and UT Health, who said that he could cure her pain -- with only a tiny piece of felt. Kim operated, using the felt to cushion the trigeminal nerve, which was being squeezed between two blood vessels.

"He's my miracle man," said Brown.

Incredibly after years of mind-numbing medicines and bouts of debilitating anguish, Brown's pain was eliminated by the two hour surgery.

"From the very minute I woke up, I have not had another pain," she said. "I have not taken one pill."

Thanks to Kim's surgery, she has returned to being the Linda Brown her friends and family knew and loved.

"People who had not been around me for a while, they thought I was sad. They didn't know. They didn't understand. ... It hurt to smile."

She has all of her energy back -- enough to go fishing in the pond on her property or to ride her four-wheeler. But the best gift of all is that she now has the energy and strength to spend time with her grandkids.

"I have been able to take the kids on my own and have the quality time," she said, when ABC News spoke to her a month after the surgery on a trip with the kids to the zoo. "Luke running into my arms, that couldn't have happened. Picking up Sydney and holding her by the giraffes ... I couldn't have done that. Just them and gram."

Dr. Besser's 3 Tips for Tackling Your Pain Problems

1) If you are currently managing your pain by yourself, you need to get help from an expert. There are pain specialists to help you understand your pain triggers and find the best medications. You should look for the most relief with the fewest side effects and should always work with your doctor. Don't add medications on your own. That is when you can really get into trouble.

2) Make sure you have a doctor who you feel believes you. Nothing is worse than being in pain and feeling like your doctor doesn't understand your problem. If you are in that situation, it is time to get a new doctor. There is no quick fix for most conditions that cause chronic pain. You have to believe that your doctor is on your side.

3) Educate yourself. There are a number of drug and non-drug therapies (physical therapy, yoga, meditation, massage) that can help control pain. Be open to trying new approaches. Dealing with the stress that comes with having a chronic pain condition can actually help reduce the pain itself.

For even more pain tips click here to visit the American Pain Foundation's website