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Meet Lee Peter, Vidant Medical Center's 1,000th Gamma Knife patient

November 19, 2015 by Heather Wilkerson

Imagine if breathing in cold air caused debilitating pain in your face. Or if brushing your teeth meant pain for the rest of the day, or week. That’s reality for Lee Peter of Goldsboro.

The first time it happened, Lee thought it was just a toothache. But it wasn’t, Lee’s dentist told her. Her teeth were perfectly fine. So Lee went home. The pain continued, and at times was unbearable, so she visited her dentist once more. This time, Lee begged – “I said ‘please, just pull my teeth.’”

Lee was desperate, and her dentist took her seriously. He had a hunch of what was causing Lee’s pain and sent her to a neurologist to confirm. In March 2012, Lee was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder in the face.

The neurologist put Lee on medication for the disorder. For years, she did very well. She would have an occasional flare-up, and it would usually subside within 48 hours.

But on Sept. 3, 2015, Lee had a flare-up that didn’t go away. It got worse and worse for six weeks. Her neurologist referred Lee to Dr. Stuart Lee, a neurosurgeon and medical director of the Gamma Knife facility at Vidant Medical Center.

Together, they went over Lee’s options. She could continue on the medication a while longer and see if the pain improved. They both agreed that was not the best option. “I work full time and I am a full-time mom,” Lee said. “I did not want to be in pain all the time.”

Then there was Gamma Knife, a non-invasive radiosurgery treatment, and a more invasive option. Dr. Lee and Lee agreed that Gamma Knife was the best course of action.

Lee’s treatment was on Oct. 27. She was the 1,000th case at Vidant Medical Center. “I was terrified,” she said. But her nerves were put at ease by the Gamma Knife team.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Lee said. “Nurse Ken (Jones) is phenomenal. He made me feel comfortable and treated me like I was the only patient they had ever had.”

Lee was in pain that day, and went home still in pain.

“Dr. Lee warned me that it was not instant relief,” Lee said. “He told me exactly what was going to happen, and he was right. There was nothing that I experienced that I was not told in advance about.”

There was minimal pain during the procedure, Lee said. She had some site soreness for several days afterwards.

It took almost three weeks, but Lee believes she has turned the corner. “The pain is starting to diminish,” she said. “I can tell a difference.”

Lee has been able to continue working through this whole ordeal, but before the Gamma Knife procedure, she was exhausted by the time she got home. The pain took its toll on her body and spirit.

“It stole time from my family,” she said. Since the Gamma Knife procedure, she’s not as exhausted and she’s been able to get back to the things that bring her joy.

Lee loves to work in her yard, and her favorite hobby is refinishing and repurposing furniture. She’s also an avid reader and enjoys spending time with her husband of almost 15 years and her sons, age 12 and 14.

There is not a tremendous amount known about Lee’s condition. Typically, it does not go away, but can only be managed.

She can only have Gamma Knife treatment twice, so that the nerve is not destroyed completely.

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