Clearing Her Mind. Eliminating Her Pain



At first, Michelle Breen attributed her headaches and excessive fatigue to stress, something many do. It began three years ago, and the Oxbow, North Dakota, resident says her only regret is not getting treated sooner.

“When you’re tired or having migraines, it’s easy to excuse it away,” she says. “So instead of getting help and relief when I first began experiencing symptoms, I waited until the pain was quite severe. I could have saved myself a lot of pain.”

About one year ago, Michelle’s symptoms took a significant turn. What started as one migraine a month, turned into sometimes six within the same time period. It was difficult for her to be in bright light without pain, and her eyes were swollen and puffy.

“I couldn’t bend over without immense pain in my head and pressure in my eyes,” the wife and mother of two says. “It felt like fire crackers were going off in my brain.”

It was then she went to her nurse practitioner at Sanford and explained her symptoms. A CT scan was ordered in May 2013, which explained why she had been feeling so much pain and discomfort.

“My nurse practitioner told me the scan showed enlarged lateral ventricles in my brain, and also something else – she saw something deep within my brain,” Michelle says. “My mind immediately thought about cancer.”

What her nurse practitioner saw wasn’t cancerous, but it was a benign cyst deep within her brain, and the source of her pain. The cyst was causing a deformation of her brain and also preventing her spinal fluid from draining.

Michelle was referred to the Sanford’s Brain and Spine Center for her treatment. Dr. Timothy Lindley, neurosurgeon, explained the minimally invasive procedure that would be performed by the center’s newest addition, Dr. Adam Jackson.

Dr. Jackson brings specialized experience in the technique, known as endoscopic intracranial cyst fenestration, used to treat Michelle’s cyst. With an endoscope, Dr. Jackson was able to drain her cyst and relieve her pain and pressure.

“Because of the location of the cyst, removing it completely wasn’t a good option,” says Dr. Jackson. “Michelle’s cyst was so deep seeded that it could have been more damaging to remove it instead of reducing its size.”

Through a small burr hole, Dr. Jackson traversed Michelle’s brain tissue until he reached the cyst. No large incisions means less potential damage to healthy brain tissue and a quicker recovery for Michelle.

“When you think about brain surgery, you imagine getting your whole head shaved,” Michelle says. “But in reality, it was just a small portion of my head because only two small incisions were made.”

Michelle was grateful she didn’t need to leave her own community to receive exceptional care.

“I was so relieved to be able to stay here with my family and have them close during this time,” she says. “I had the option of going to Minneapolis or Rochester, but I wanted to stay right here in Fargo, right here at home.”

What may seem like an extensive procedure, in reality, was fairly simple from Michelle’s perspective. Dr. Jackson performed the procedure on a Friday, and she was back home Monday afternoon.

“What’s better yet, is that I felt relief immediately,” she says. “My concentration improved, my pain was gone. My friends and family said I looked and acted like myself again.”

Approximately one month after her surgery, Michelle had another CT scan. The cyst remained dramatically smaller. She will require periodic scans to keep tabs on the cyst, but as long as she remains symptom free, the checks will become fewer and fewer.

Dr. Jackson said that if she had left the cyst untreated, it eventually could have been fatal. But it would have been highly unlikely that she could have endured the pain to reach that point.

“If she ignored the cyst, eventually what would have happened is such unrelenting pain that she would have immediately gone to the emergency room, or she would have lost consciousness and someone else would have brought her to the hospital,” Dr. Jackson says. “Because of how much pain is involved, it’s highly unlikely that this type of cyst would lead to a fatal outcome.”

Michelle is now working part time and back to keeping an active, fit lifestyle. This was something the 50 year old has always wanted, but couldn’t accomplish because of the previous pain she felt.

“My whole experience at Sanford was wonderful,” says Michelle. “The doctors, nurses, technicians – every single one of them were great to me. Everything was explained to me in a way I could understand, and I felt comfortable from the beginning to the end.”

For more information about Sanford Brain & Spine Center, call (701) 234-2225.

Posted Date: November 2013

Clearing Her Mind. Eliminating Her Pain

Michelle Breen was experiencing excruciating headaches which led to a discovery of a benign cyst deep within her brain. She is now living a healthy, pain-free life thanks to a minimally invasive brain surgery at Sanford Health Brain and Spine Center.