Georgia man discovers hidden cause of headache pain

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Ricky Wisniewsky is taking it easy these days, playing video games, and recovering from a surgery he never expected he'd need.   

Because the Braselton, Ga. golf pro turned audiovisual technician, says he had been living with crippling headache pain ever since he was about 13.

And, for more than a decade and a half, he thought it was normal.

"I just thought it was normal. I thought people had headaches all the time," Wisniewsky says.  "So, I'd just take ibuprofen or Tylenol and thought it would go away.  But it just got worse and worse over the years."

Picking up his 15-month-old daughter would be enough to leave the 30-year old dizzy with pain, that would set in across the back of his skull.

"It wasn't a migraine, per se," Wisniewsky explains.  "It was more pressure in my head, like condensing my head. I would have to stop whatever I was doing or I would pass out."

And his hands would tingle, and go numb, leading him from one doctor to another.

He saw a physical therapist, who sent him to a neurologist, who sent him to an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended a hand surgeon.

"It never got better," he says.  "And, I was still really concerned."

So, this spring, Wisniewsky went to a spine specialist and described his head pain.

"She sent me for an immediate MRI of my neck and upper back," 

That's when she saw it, diagnosing Wisniewsky with something known as a Chiari malformation.

"I had no idea what she was talking about," Wisniewsky remembers.  "I even asked her, 'Is this something serious I should be concerned about?'"

It was. 

And, when neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Stechison looked at the brain images, he could immediately see why Wisniewsky's head hurt constantly.

"He said, 'This is very impressive.," Wisniewsky recalls. "And, I said, Is that good?'  And, he said, 'In doctor terms, that's something we don't usually don't see when something is impressive.'"

Because the 30-year-old had a defect at the base of his skull, that was pushing his brain tissue down into his spinal canal, creating a huge amount of pressure.

"I have been doing this for 30 years," says Dr. Stechison.  "And I have to say this one stands out in terms of its size."

Wisniewsky was probably born with this defect, which Dr. Stechison says affects about 1-percent of the population, though typically not like this.

"A lot of patients may have this and be unaware of it because a lot of them are asymptomatic," Stechison says.  "And, simply because you have a Chiari malformation, doesn't mean you need to be treated. If you're feeling fine, you leave it alone."

Wisniewsky's defect was so severe, he had no choice but to undergo surgery if he wanted relief.

So, on May 2, 2017, in a 5-hour surgery, Dr. Stechison took out a piece of Wisniewsky's skull, released the pressure on his cerebellum and spinal canal, and placed a patch to hold the compressed space open.  

A few weeks later, Wisniewsky is recovering.

"I feel a lot better," he says. 

Feeling 100-percent will take time. 

So, for now, Ricky Wisniewsky is enjoying his family and looking forward to the idea of life without pain.