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Persistence Led Jill B. to Specialized Care - and Relief

May 31, 2024

Jill B. found herself at a loss. She’d been experiencing intense throat and ear pain for three years. The pain had worsened to the point of becoming unbearable, and the specialists she’d seen couldn’t find the cause — or an effective way to control it.

As a nurse, Jill wasn’t used to being a patient herself, but she quickly learned the importance of being her own advocate.

She decided to conduct her own research and discovered her symptoms matched those of glossopharyngeal neuralgia, a rare neurological condition that causes sudden, severe pain in the throat, tongue, ear and tonsils. It’s often triggered by a blood vessel compressing the nerve inside the skull. Jill’s neurologist agreed that her symptoms fit a glossopharyngeal neuralgia diagnosis, but couldn’t find anything concerning on her MRI.

Because of her medical background, Jill knew that different doctors could read MRIs differently, so she went looking for someone who regularly treated glossopharyngeal neuralgia. “I’m so glad I did,” she says, “because when I contacted a doctor at a major academic medical center, they saw the nerve compression and confirmed my diagnosis.”

Jill agreed to the surgery the doctor recommended, which, she was told, would fix the problem and provide relief. Five days after the surgery, though, the pain returned worse than ever.

“The months following my first surgery were very scary,” she says. “I was in limbo, desperately trying to find a solution, and in immense pain despite being on muscle relaxers and nerve medications.”

A Closer View

Finally, a friend referred Jill to Yaron Moshel, MD, PhD, director of Atlantic Health System’s Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center and chairman of neurosurgery at Morristown Medical Center. Dr. Moshel used robotic microscopes with integrated endoscopes to see around the corners of Jill’s brain. He also used a minuscule fiberoptic camera to visualize the front of Jill’s brainstem — a part of the brain typically difficult to reach — which allowed him to clearly see the nerve compression there.

“Jill’s previous surgery addressed one small part of a bigger issue,” Dr. Moshel explains. “Having that view was key in enabling us to treat the root cause of the pain.”

In December 2023, Dr. Moshel and his surgical team used advanced microsurgical techniques — and a sophisticated skull-based approach that allowed them to access the hard-to-reach area while limiting the impact on other areas of the brain — to move the artery pressing on Jill’s nerve and the entire arterial tree distorting the brainstem. They also insulated the nerves and brainstem with Teflon felt cushion, creating a buffer to prevent future symptoms.

After the surgery, Jill realized her pain was completely gone.

“I thought I was going to be in agonizing pain for the rest of my life,” she says. “After years of suffering, I was finally free. Dr. Moshel truly saved my life, and the care I received from the entire team at Morristown Medical Center was just incredible.”

Jill urges people with glossopharyngeal neuralgia or other forms of nerve pain to schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable surgical team. Although surgery can’t fix every condition, there are options.

“Keep looking for answers,” she says. “They’re out there.”

  • Patient Stories
  • Brain Health