MT. WASHINGTON (KDKA) — It is a very magical Christmas Eve for one family on Mt. Washington.
After six years of excruciating pain, countless trips to the emergency room and doctors who could not pinpoint the problem, one young man is finally living pain-free.
For the first time in a long time, the Stefano family tells KDKA’s Meghan Schiller it is smiling and planning ahead.
“Every year, we had to take it one day at a time,” said Lynn Stefano.
Jimmy Stefano wants to get a job, a driver’s license and live a pain-free life. His family says it’s finally possible thanks to an angel who works at UPMC’s Presbyterian Hospital.
“He’s my angel and I told him that. And he’s like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I’m happy to help,” said Lynn.
The family is thankful for UPMC Dr. Raymond Sekula. He is the reason Lynn, Jim and 23-year-old Jimmy will celebrate this holiday season.
“It was a miracle that he was willing to take on Jimmy and be willing to do the surgery,” said Lynn.
Jimmy’s lived his entire life with osteogenesis imperfecta, known as brittle bone disease. So he is no stranger to hospital stays and surgeries.
But his life-long medical condition and countless surgeries paled in comparison to the sudden excruciating pain that bolted across his face six years ago.
“I just started getting a lot of pain on the right side of my face. … and I couldn’t eat or drink or talk or anything. It was real bad for a while,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy’s mom said he needed to drop out of high school. He only wanted to take his medication and lay in bed. He would sometimes try to go out with friends, only to return home shortly after in excruciating pain.
After several years of terrible pain and no answers, the family met in June with Dr. Sekula.
“It’s often considered to be the worst pain known to man,” said Dr. Sekula, a neurosurgeon at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. “Now what’s interesting about his case, in particular, is that it doesn’t generally happen in individuals as young as Jimmy.”
Dr. Sekula specializes in face pain and a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. As soon as he looked at the MRIs of Jimmy’s brain, he saw the problem.
“His skull is shaped differently than you and I, for instance, and that’s a set up that kind of stretched the nerve and pushed the blood vessel closer to the nerve,” the doctor said.
A blood vessel pressed against Jimmy’s trigeminal nerve was the reason he suffered face spasms for six years.
“He’s a really infrequent type of patient with osteogenesis imperfecta and trigeminal neuralgia. It’s probably been reported less than 20 times in the medical literature,” said Dr. Sekula.
But with surgery, he is now pain-free, a medical miracle in time for the holidays.
“When I went into surgery, I just wanted it to work and now I just feel great,” Jimmy said. “I have no more pain. I can actually eat and talk and do everything that I wish I could have done a while ago.”