U.S. researchers implant a neurostimulator in a patient's cheek to provide relief from painful cluster headaches. This is the first time the device is being tested in the U.S, and hopes are high that the neurostimulator can short circuit the nerves that cause the debilitating headaches. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: Paul Alterio has tried everything to help with his cluster headaches, but the 39-year-old says the pain has been paralysing. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAUL ALTERIO, PATIENT, SAYING: "They just hit really hard, they hit exactly right around the temple area and it actually feels like someone just basically stabbing behind my pupils." Cluster headaches are more severe than migraines and even more painful. There's currently no cure - but there is hope. An new device called a "neurostimulator" has been implanted beneath Paul's cheekbone to block the pain. He's the first patient in the U.S. to undergo the experimental surgery. Dr. Bradley Otto of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center inserted the device through a small incision in Paul's gum. The neurostimulator has a wire that feeds directly into the nerves associated with the pain. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. BRADLEY OTTO, OHIO STATE WEXNER MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "The nerve control center that sits behind the cheek sinus is involved in the pathway of cluster headaches. So by short circuiting that involvement we think it will help to treat cluster headache." The device is operated with an external remote control that enables patients to block communication between the nerves when they feel a headache coming on. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. BRADLEY OTTO, OHIO STATE WEXNER MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "The patient then has the opportunity to treat their headaches by placing this device up to their cheek, almost like you're talking on a cellular phone, and to stimulate the device that's inside the cheek to treat the headache." As for Paul Alterio, he says the technology has given him a sense of control, knowing that his Life is back on the right path.