A Long Journey Ends in Pain Relief
Patient travels long distance for Headache Center treatment
Richard Rosenzweig says he’d always been a bit “headachey” throughout his life. But he never knew what a migraine was until 2005 when he was slammed with pain that felt like “jabs and jolts and lightning bolts through the brain.”
“I redefined what a 10 (on the pain scale) was when I started getting migraines,” Rosenzweig says. When the headaches became more frequent and more painful, he sought help from a series of doctors, including neurologists, but none were able to adequately diagnose or treat him.
Finally, in December of 2009, after suffering with intense migraines for 18 days in a row, he was determined to find help. He went online and found that all roads on the information superhighway led to Jefferson.
“One place constantly came up—Jefferson. And one name constantly came up—Dr. Stephen Silberstein,” he says. Silberstein is director of the Jefferson Headache Center at the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience, and a renowned researcher. “No matter what I looked at—new drugs, new treatments, different paradigms of how to look at diagnoses—Dr. Silberstein’s name kept coming up, so it was very clear to me that I needed to get in to see him.”
Rosenzweig was able to get an appointment immediately, traveling almost 100 miles from his Summit, New Jersey, home to the Headache Center. Silberstein put him in the hospital right away, and after ruling out any more serious conditions such as a brain tumor or aneurysm, diagnosed Rosenzweig with New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH).
The disorder is marked by headaches that suddenly occur on a daily basis, continue for more than three months, and often resemble migraines with light or sound sensitivity, nausea, and throbbing pain.
“Dr. Silberstein warned me that it might take several weeks to alleviate the pain, but he promised he was going to make me better—and he did,” Rosenzweig says. It took some experimentation with several different courses of treatment, but after six weeks, the fog lifted.
“I turned to my wife one day and said, ‘You know, I don’t think I have a headache today,’” he recalls. “From then on, I gradually got better.”
Rosenzweig continues to travel to Center City every three months for the ongoing treatment regimen, which is “tweaked” occasionally. One recent adjustment consisted of starting a newly approved migraine medication called Aimovig (erenumab-aooe). Aimovig prevents the headaches by targeting the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) receptor that plays an integral role in migraines. It was the first of the group of CGRP antagonists to be approved in 2018, and Silberstein was the principal investigator for the drug.
Rosenzweig has gone from 15 or 20 headache days a month at the onset of NDPH to approximately two to four headache days a month now.
“To say it’s life-changing would be a gross understatement,” he says.
But for many, life with headaches doesn’t change, says Rosenzweig, mostly because the field is underfunded in research and the available treatments are not widely known.
Even though the American Migraine Foundation estimates employers in the U.S. lose more than $13 billion each year as a result of 113 million lost work days due to migraine, “you just don’t see huge efforts to raise money for headache medicine and research,” Rosenzweig says. “CGRP is the first new class of drugs in decades.”
In fact, the CGRP class of drugs has been the first advancement in headache medicine since the introduction of triptans in the 1990s. Triptans offer relief from pain, but have no preventive properties.
“That’s why philanthropy is critical to research,” says Rosenzweig. “Without people like Dr. Silberstein, the people he trains in the field, and the research and developments he has made in headache management, I wouldn’t be here feeling as good as I do.”
Rosenzweig generously donates to Silberstein’s ongoing research because he believes in the doctor’s mission.
“The level of care that he provides, the passion that he has for improving patient outcomes, his commitment to developing more drugs with better capabilities and for training doctors to follow in his footsteps is just outstanding, and makes such a difference for people like me,” he says.