Prior to 2015, Bonnie was an avid traveler and busy professional working as a construction manager. Life was hectic, but good.
“I was very, very active. I was traveling 70% of the time nationwide and working 60 to 80 hours in any given week. I was just go, go, go, go, go all the time. Which is the way I had been all my life,” said Bonnie. “It was during that time, truly at the height of my career when my health failed.”
The sudden onset of pain
One morning that all changed. Bonnie woke up with a terrible headache—one that never went away. Instead, it only continued to intensify.
“The thing is at first it was just a bad headache. And I just don’t get headaches.” But that headache lasted for nearly five years. Unrelenting pain took over every aspect of her life. She couldn’t work or even perform mundane tasks like unloading the dishwasher or checking the mail. The pain was often so bad, she could barely open her eyes.
“It’s not like I just gave up. I tried twice to go back to work, but I ended up in the ER seven times with migraine pain, but they couldn’t help,” Bonnie said. “I lost my career and as a result we lost two thirds of our income. We had to sell our home. We had to move into small apartments, some not very nice ones.”
A loss of independence
With all this pain, Bonnie lost her sense of independence, which is very difficult for someone who’s been independent all her life.
“It made me feel very vulnerable. [Suddenly, I was] dependent on someone else, regardless of whether that’s my spouse, a friend, whomever to help take care of me, or whether that be financially, or driving me somewhere to doctor’s appointments, or sitting with me after I’ve had one of my procedures. You feel vulnerable to the world.”
Having family and friends around helped Bonnie to feel support, but her emotional support animals pulled her through dark times when she was by herself. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t get up and cook lunch. It doesn’t matter if you can wash clothes, they love you anyway. I didn’t have to feel vulnerable around them. I didn’t have to feel less-than around them because I couldn’t do the things that I’d always done in my life.”
Even more important, was the love and patience from her wife, Jody. “She sacrificed an inordinate amount of her life while she took care of me and everything else. She has stayed by my side and helped me during the toughest times, those times when I felt so helpless and hopeless. She was always there to catch me, both literally and figuratively… and always reminding me not to give up. I’m honestly, not sure I could have gotten to this point without her.”
Taking matters into her own hands
For five years, Bonnie bounced from doctor to doctor. She underwent scans, procedures and was prescribed dozens of drugs, including several addictive narcotics. She spent months in physical therapy. Nothing helped.
Most days she was barely able to walk and the doctors she visited started to dismiss her as a person just seeking more pain medication. “We all have that moment where we just yank ourselves up by the bootstraps and jump right back into it. And when I realized I was, I was killing myself with narcotics [I didn’t even want to take], that’s what I did.”
Realizing she had no hope other than to find help on her own, Bonnie decided to start looking for different answers. And that’s the advice Bonnie has for others experiencing chronic pain. “Don’t give up hope, keep trying. And if [one] doctor can’t help you, just take that file, stick it in the pile of the files you have, and go on and try and find another one. That’s what I kept doing.”
Bonnie’s search led her to Dr. Ivan Ducic at the Washington Nerve Institute. After reviewing her history and symptoms, he explained that the source of her pain was likely neuromas (tangled mass of scar tissue) that had formed in her occipital nerves as the result of several earlier surgeries Bonnie had undergone to her cervical spine. Bonnie couldn’t believe it, but it made so much sense.
A life-changing procedure
In November 2020, Dr. Ducic performed nerve surgery on Bonnie to remove the neuromas and scar tissue on Bonnie’s occipital nerves that were the source of her pain. The goal of the procedure was to restore normal signals to the brain and allow Bonnie to regain her quality of life.
Once Dr. Ducic removed the neuroma, he used a nerve cap to protect the nerve end and minimize the risk of the neuromas reforming.
Returning to normal
Today, Bonnie has her life back and is pain free.
“I had to fight and scratch and cry and bloody my knees on the crawl to get here. But I was not going to give up on the chance of having my life back.”
Bonnie is back to some of her old hobbies, tending to a growing collection of plants, as well as enjoying outdoor photography. Her life might not look the same as it did five years ago, but that’s okay she says. “My life is different, [but] my life is beautiful.”
Each patient outcome is dependent upon the nature and extent of nerve loss or damage, the timing between nerve loss and repair, and the natural course of the patient’s recovery. These testimonials reflect the experience of the particular individual and may not represent typical results.