More Than a Headache

To see Maria Lane Wells is to see a picture of health. A lifelong fitness nut, Wells has worked out daily since she was 18 years old. If the gym door was open, Wells was walking through it. She not only worked out for her benefit but spent a great deal of her adult life as a personal trainer to others. If there was ever walking, talking testimonial of the benefits of daily exercise, it was Wells.

But sometimes, even looks can be deceiving on what lurks on the inside, which for Wells is a harsh reminder that no matter how hard we may try to stay healthy, our bodies can some times play tricks on us.

In the summer of 2018, Wells began having headaches, which got worse by the day, until the pain became severe enough for Wells to see a doctor. Thinking that she was experiencing migraine headaches, she visited with a local doctor in her hometown of Tifton, where they told her the pain she was having seemed to be more than a migraine headache.

A CT scan was ordered, and Wells was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia, a rare condition affecting fewer than 200,000 people annually nationwide. It affects the nerves in the face that carry sensation to the brain. There is no known cure, but treatment can help to alleviate the condition. She was referred to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where she saw a neurologist, who prescribed Wells a variety of different medications to begin treating the Neuralgia.

After nine months of taking the medication, Wells started to develop complications, including weight gain, dizziness, nausea, and sleeplessness. That’s when doctors at Shands decided to perform surgery on Wells. On April 12, 2018, she underwent a type of brain surgery known as microvascular decompression surgery. The operation required Wells to remain hospitalized for 37 days.

The procedure was both positive and problematic. On one hand, it revealed the core issue that was causing Wells’ headaches: a blood vessel had been sitting on a nerve in her brain, and with every pulse, was slowly wearing down the thin, protective covering of the nerve. Ultimately, after decades of stripping away that protection surrounding,
the nerve was finally left exposed, thus causing the excruciating pain inside Wells’ brain.

While the surgery did finally provide answers to the cause of the headaches, the procedure, like any delicate surgery-especially involving the brain- unfortunately caused several related problems. Wells developed a vestibular disorder due to damage to the vestibular nerve during the surgery, as well as water on the brain, better known as hydrocephalus.

This has resulted in many additional surgical procedures, including four other brain surgeries, from the first surgery in July 2018 until the fifth and -for now-final brain surgery in September, plus nine lumbar punctures (spinal taps) to alleviate the cerebrospinal fluid, and/or to test the fluid pressure on her spine. Wells’ condition has also required her to have four artificial medical device implants, including a titanium plate to protect her brain from the point of entry area of the surgery, and a lumbar shunt, that drains the spinal fluid as well as the water on the brain.

Despite everything she’s been through,Wells continues to work hard at maintaining as close to a normal lifestyle as she can with her husband, Jim Wells, and raising their houseful of kids (both Wells and Jim have children from previous marriages.)

“We’re the Brady bunch,” Wells said of her large extended family.

They are Christian, Cole, and Candler Glisson, along with Jessi, Josh, and Justin Wells. Incredibly, Wells remains as active as she can, although some of the stress of lifting weights and running can bring on problems. She also may begin personal training again but is fully aware that she most likely can’t go back to the once busy schedule she once kept before her diagnosis in 2018.

She still struggles daily with various issues and side effects from both the Trigeminal Neuralgia and the impact of the numerous procedures.

“I can’t go to higher elevations,” she said. “I also can’t drive, except for short distances around town.” Speaking of her husband, Wells said Jim has been her rock through it all. “My husband has stood by my side through all of this. He has never wavered, and I’m so grateful for him.”

Wells feels it’s import ant to bring attention to Trigeminal Neuralgia, mainly because it is so rare.

“No one knows any thing about this disease, but if I can help get the word out and help educate people about this dreaded condition, hopefully, they can get ahead of it,” she said.

For more information on Trigeminal Neuralgia, please visit the site for Facial Pain Association at http://www.fpa-support.org.

Written by: Phil Jones
Photography by: Eric Vinson

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