Finding Hope After Struggling with Severe Migraine Attacks

Headache Center
“I just felt so cared for. I have this whole group of caregivers dedicated to me. For a while, I forgot what hope felt like. Even though I’m not done healing, I feel like I have a lot of tools — now that gives me hope.”

The whole room was spinning but Sarah Dutcher was the only one who could feel it. “It was such a strong intensity — I grabbed onto the table and the waitress ran over and she asked if I was OK … I didn’t know what was going on.”

Filled with fear and uncertainty, Sarah was experiencing the beginning of what she would soon learn to be symptoms of her first migraine attack. It happened in April 2015 while she was out for lunch in Maple Grove with her children.

“My kids were little at the time, and I was secretly trying to show my oldest son how to dial 911 without scaring my kids.”

The waitress thought the mother of four might be suffering a low blood sugar attack. Sarah drank juice and waited at the restaurant until her condition improved.

“When I finally felt OK, I got up and drove my kids to my brother-in-law’s house about half a mile away.”

That’s when Sarah recalled suffering from one of the worst migraine attacks of her life, which she described as a full-body experience. After dealing with excruciating pain for two weeks, Sarah’s husband, Jacob Dutcher, MD, who is a cardiologist at CentraCare, referred her to a neurology colleague.

“I went in and was diagnosed with atypical migraines,” Sarah remembered.

Sarah was told that she’d likely have the migraine for weeks before it would slowly decrease in intensity and finally go away.

“What he said ended up happening. My migraine tapered down and went away,” Sarah recalled.

The migraine lasted for six weeks before life finally returned to normal. However, Sarah’s battle was far from over. The following spring she found herself back in the doctor’s office struggling with another migraine attack. Then, it happened again in 2016 and 2017. Her doctor noticed an interesting pattern.

“This happened the same two-week stretch in April. I hadn’t put that together. Knowing that, we were going to put me on preventative migraine medication the next year right before April.”

Unfortunately, her doctor couldn’t execute the plan because this time Sarah’s migraine never went away.

“I always thought a migraine was just a headache, but it’s a whole-body experience. It was always on the left side of my body. It would feel like there was a vice on my left eye ... one of the worst symptoms was this sensation where my entire body would feel like it was electrically charged.”

Consumed by her never-ending pain, Sarah started to notice it was significantly impacting her daily life.

“There was never a time when I didn’t feel it, or it wasn’t there for me to think about. It’s like a monster on my shoulder — constantly there and no one else can see it. I couldn’t drive anymore because it wasn’t safe. Sometimes when I was in that much pain, I’d start throwing up in a pail. We hired someone to help us drive our kids places because I couldn’t do it anymore.”

That’s when she knew she needed to seek out additional help.

“We decided to go to a clinic in Minneapolis and I got a bunch of medication. A layer of pain would get taken away, but it felt like throwing darts at a dart board. You have no idea what’s going to help.”

One of the medications she was on was prescribed at such a high dose that it caused her to have negative side effects. “I lost 30 pounds. I couldn’t eat. I was shaking all the time. My heart was having all these weird palpitations. It made me lose my memory and mental capacity even more.”

After ending up in the emergency room due to complications from her medication, Sarah and her husband decided it was time to try something different. She went to another clinic and received Botox along with a few other injectable treatments. That only seemed to take away some of the pain.

“I just felt hopeless.” Sarah remembers thinking, “I had gone through a lot of emotional struggles where I realized I’m not ever going back to normal. Eventually, you get to a point where you accept it’s going to be like this.”

Little did Sarah know that hope was in her own backyard. After having a conversation with her OB/GYN doctor regarding her migraines, she was referred to Leah Thronaum, DO, with CentraCare Neuroscience Headache Center.

Sarah transferred her care to St. Cloud and almost immediately started to notice a big difference in her treatment.

“I was encouraged by the way Dr. Thronaum was designing the Headache Center. I really liked the way she did Botox. She didn’t just inject Botox into my head, she started doing it in the area around my shoulder — that muscle that was my problem area.”

Sarah’s situation was severe, and one that Dr. Thronaum has seen several times before. “Some of those patients, like Sarah, are my favorites because it challenges me to the next level, and I like that. We can get them to the next level, but it’s going to take time,” Dr. Thronaum confirmed.

Sarah says she loves Dr. Thronaum’s approach to migraine headaches because it’s fully comprehensive and holistic. “We switched around some things and got me down on that medication I disliked. She gave me a different medication that took away that electricity feeling.”

Sarah tried acupuncture and even started seeing their massage therapist. “I was just doing special breathing while they touched certain areas inside my neck. And it really relieved a lot of the pressure. They were helping me relax the muscles inside my mouth,” Sarah marveled.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a cure for migraine headaches. However, medications and lifestyle changes can help improve a patient’s quality of life. “Setting expectations with patients is one of the biggest things we do,” Dr. Thonaum explained. “My goal is a 50 percent improvement from the baseline where we start. That can mean a lot of different things to people. Sarah has active kids so being able to attend her kids’ activities again is a huge improvement.”

Sarah credits her faith and the Headache Center for leading her out of a dark place. “I just felt so cared for. I have this whole group of caregivers dedicated to me. For a while, I forgot what hope felt like. Even though I’m not done healing, I feel like I have a lot of tools now — that gives me hope.”