Miami-Dade County

After years of face pain, Florida firefighter finds relief

UHealth neurosurgeon Dr. Eric Peterson, right, explains how he performed surgery on Indian River County firefighter Lt. Daniel Brooks, left, at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
UHealth neurosurgeon Dr. Eric Peterson, right, explains how he performed surgery on Indian River County firefighter Lt. Daniel Brooks, left, at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Courtesy of UHealth - University of Miami Health System

Dan Brooks’ aching face often brought him to his knees.

The pain would come out of nowhere. A burning sensation. Then a piercing electric-like shock.

“I’d be on the job when it would happen, and you try to work through it and get past it, but you can’t,” said Brooks, a firefighter in Indian River County.

Brook’s painful face turned into a medical mystery for which his doctor and specialist didn’t have an answer.

The firefighter got an answer in Miami, where a neurosurgeon at UHealth — University of Miami Health System, diagnosed the condition as trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic neuropathic pain condition that affects the nerves that carry sensation from the face to the brain.

Many doctors are unfamiliar with the condition, neurosurgeon Eric Peterson said at Jackson this week, discussing the case with Brooks.

The doctor ordered an MRI looking “at that area for evidence of nerve compression.”

“That type of pain is almost always caused by this phenomenon where there’s a blood vessel ... pressing against a nerve,” Peterson said.

Last month, Peterson performed a three-hour microvascular decompression surgery behind Brooks’ ear.

Since then, Brooks said, the pain has not returned.

“There’s nothing that [Brooks] ate, smoked, drank or did that caused this,” Peterson said. Trigeminal neuralgia occurs most often in people over 50.

“As you get older, there’s a blood vessel near [facial nerves] that elongates. Sometimes you get unlucky and that elongation process bends an artery into the nerve.”

“It’s an unusual pain syndrome,” he said.

Peterson, who has done over 40 similar surgeries, said Brooks’ worst days are behind him.

The firefighter returned to work on April 6 and his face has been pain-free.

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