NBC - HEMIFACIAL SPASM
Announcer: Live from NBC 4. This is the Channel 4 news at 6.
TV Anchor: A 36-year-old Mission Viejo woman is getting a second chance at life this Thanksgiving. Tonight she is recovering from a delicate surgery to correct a painful facial tic. And in the spirit of this holiday season, the operation was performed for free by a local surgeon. Channel 4's Laurel Erickson has the story.
Laurel: Surgery is hardly anyone's idea of a Thanksgiving gift, but for 36-year-old Jennifer Fitter, surgery was just what the doctor ordered - free of charge.
Jennifer: Feels like your whole face is just contracting all the time.
Laurel: Ten years ago, Fitter discovered her face twitching. As time went on, the twitching became pulling, pinching, dozens of facial tics in a short time - eyes blinking, squinting, grimacing. Finally, this Mission Viejo mother says she felt better just staying at home to avoid embarrassing stares from strangers.
Jennifer: It's just so uncomfortable, 'cause you're fighting this all the time. It's a constant battle with your muscles.
Laurel: Fitter says doctors blamed the tics on everything from her eyes to a mental problem. A quick search on the Internet led Fitter to other individuals who suffer from this disorder and they led her to Dr. Hrayr Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute of Beverly Hills. He says Fitter's problem is a tangle of a vessel and a nerve. The vessel is like a garden hose beating against the nerve.
Dr. Shahinian: This is the brain stem and this is the nerve coming off, so there is that crotch there, and that vessel gets trapped underneath in that crotch. And after a while it forms adhesions between itself and the nerve.
Laurel: Fitter scheduled surgery to fix the problem, even though she says her insurance did not cover Dr. Shahinian. A fire at home forced Fitter and her family into a hotel, and Dr. Shahinian volunteered his services.
Dr. Shahinian: The traditional procedure is an open-brain procedure. What we do instead is that we make an incision about this long. We put the fiber-optic in and we'll do the whole procedure by watching a flat screen. I'm happy to tell you that the face is moving and it is not twitching.
Laurel: Jennifer Fitter says she's spending Thanksgiving in bed today. The tic is gone. She says she did lose some hearing in the surgery, but has been told it will return in several weeks. Laurel Erickson, Channel 4 News.
TV Anchor: Well, congratulations to her.