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September 26, 2023

Overcoming Trigeminal Neuralgia: Agnes’s Journey to Pain-Free Living

by Brianna Rauchman

Follow Agnes’s courageous journey with trigeminal neuralgia, from a simple toothache to a life-changing diagnosis. Explore her journey through treatment options, culminating in a successful surgery at the Facial Pain Center within Pacific Neuroscience Institute® (PNI). 

Agnes’s Diagnostic Journey

Agnes’s journey started with a seemingly simple toothache that quickly morphed into an enigmatic and agonizing facial pain. As her pain grew increasingly unbearable, she began to suspect a deeper issue. Her suspicions were confirmed during a visit to a neurologist who delivered the life-altering diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia. From that moment on, Agnes embarked on an unyielding quest for relief. 

Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia

Woman holding side of her face, in pain

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a severe neurological condition characterized by sudden, excruciating facial pain. It arises when the trigeminal nerve, a vital cranial nerve responsible for transmitting sensory signals from the face to the brain, becomes compressed. This compression typically occurs due to the presence of a blood vessel adjacent to the brainstem. 

The resultant pain is commonly described as intermittent electrical shocks radiating throughout the face and jaw. Regarded as one of the most agonizing sensations, it is frequently triggered by activities such as chewing, eating, talking, and exposure to cold air. 

A Surgical Cure at Pacific Neuroscience Institute

Agnes sought relief through various medical interventions. She tried different medications and found temporary relief with Oxcarbazepine. However, her pain eventually returned. Because her symptoms were persistent and debilitating, Agnes desired more conclusive solutions. 

One night, Agnes found herself unable to bear the excruciating pain any longer. Recalling the ordeal, she said, “I had shocks every hour that lasted for at least 10 minutes with the longest one lasting 28 minutes. I was running around the house screaming as the pain was so unbearable.” In desperation, she hurried to the emergency room. After a failure of 4 powerful medications to relieve her pain, she was subsequently referred to specialists at Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Facial Pain Center

Upon her arrival at PNI’s Facial Pain Center at PNI-South Bay in Torrance, California, Agnes was introduced to Walavan Sivakumar, MD, a distinguished neurosurgeon. Without hesitation, he ordered specialized MRIs to precisely locate the compression of the affected nerve. 

That night the neurosurgeon, Dr Sivakumar, came to see me because something had shown up on this MRI.  I was so relieved! He went over my options and very clearly explained the process.


Under the direction of Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, the Facial Pain Center at PNI is comprised of a collaborative, multidisciplinary team of expert neurosurgeons, neurologists, pain specialists, ENT surgeons, radiation oncologists and TMJ expert dentists. Our dedicated providers offer a comprehensive approach to the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm, glossopharyngeal neuralgia and other facial pain diagnoses. Utilizing a range of treatments, including medical management, minimally invasive operations, rhizotomies and target radiation therapy (radiosurgery), the team develops tailored treatment plans for each patient. 

Shortly thereafter, Agnes underwent microvascular decompression surgery (MVD) under the care of Dr. Sivakumar and a medical team at the Facial Pain Center. MVD aims to treat the underlying cause of pain or symptoms by repositioning the problematic blood vessel away from the cranial nerve. This is achieved by inserting a small cushion or pad such as Teflon between the nerve and the vessel. The procedure lasts for approximately 3 hours, and patients typically stay in the hospital for two nights following the surgery.

Pain-Free Living After a Successful Operation

Fortunately, Agnes’s surgery was an unequivocal success. Within hours, she was on the path to a full recovery. Two months post-surgery, she enjoys a life free from the torment of trigeminal neuralgia.  

Dr Sivakumar gave me my life back and I will be forever grateful to him and his team for their compassion, caring and loving manner. I was so lucky to be in the right place at the right time to meet this brilliant surgeon!


Agnes’s triumphant journey underscores the importance of swift diagnosis, expert medical care, and the courage to consider surgical solutions when necessary. She holds profound gratitude for her compassionate providers at Pacific Neuroscience Institute who provided her with a second lease on a pain-free life. 

Schedule a Consultation at the PNI Clinics:

  • Santa Monica: 310-582-7450
  • Torrance: 424-212-5361
  • Burbank: 818-847-6049

About Dr. Sivakumar

Walavan Sivakumar MD

Walavan Sivakumar, MD, is a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon with a focus on skull base and minimally invasive and endoscopic neursosurgery. A multiple Super Doctor award recipient, Dr. Sivakumar has a particular interest and expertise in brain tumors, skull base tumors, pituitary/parasellar tumors, and intraventricular brain tumors, and he applies the keyhole concept, utilizing advanced neuroimaging and microsurgical techniques to minimize collateral damage to the brain. 

About Dr. Barkhoudarian

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, is an expert neurosurgeon and director of the Facial Pain and Adult Hydrocephalus Centers, and Co-director of the Pituitary Disorders Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. His philosophy for virtually all intracranial procedures is to apply the keyhole concept of minimizing disturbance to the brain and its supporting structures. 

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About the Author

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman, BA, is the Communications Coordinator for the Lifestyle Program, where she helps develop outreach strategies to connect with an expanding audience. Her responsibilities include providing launch support, developing content, assisting with collateral design, and planning social media strategies.

Last updated: October 13th, 2023