Physical Therapist

Many people experience recurring headaches. But, very few endure them to the extent that Susana Escalante Carpenter did. Her headaches were constant, to the point that they interfered considerably with her day-to-day quality of life.

"For 30 years, debilitating migraines controlled my life," Susana says. "I tried many medications, saw many neurologists and tried to practice a healthier lifestyle. But, nothing worked." She gave up on finding relief and simply tried to cope with the pain.

Vacation plans take detour

The turning point came in December 2007, when Susana, 55, and her husband planned to visit her family in Mexico. "The morning we were to leave, my pain was so severe my husband drove us to Methodist Hospital's Emergency Center instead of the airport," she says.

Susana had been to various emergency rooms in the past, but this time she was determined not to leave until she found relief - and answers. During her three-day hospital stay, Susana met Drahomira Sencakova, MD, a neurologist practicing at Methodist Hospital. Besides treating her pain, Dr. Sencakova encouraged Susana to participate in a program to learn new strategies to manage headache pain. In January 2008, Susana met again with Dr. Sencakova and began to learn the anatomy of migraine headaches, and how she could help herself by modifying her diet and changing her exercise routine, among other things.

Little steps help

"I've made lots of progress - because I've taken many little steps," she says. At first, Susana learned to assess her pain and become more aware of how certain environmental conditions triggered this pain. Since then, she has adjusted her lifestyle to avoid her triggers.

"I've learned I shouldn't eat toxic foods, including those that are processed or contain high amounts of preservatives. I also learned to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are major headache triggers for me," Susana says. "In the past, I ate lots of white bread and refined sugars. Now I'm a vegetarian and eat mostly fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains," she adds.

Susana's approach to exercise also changed. "I used to think the more you pushed yourself, the better. Now, I practice Qigong and Kundalini Yoga. Qigong focuses on using gentle breathing techniques to direct simple movements to help the body relax. Kundalini Yoga helps boost brain function and detoxify the hypothalamus and limbic and endocrine systems, allowing these glands to work properly."

Susana also worked with a physical therapist, who helped her understand how the body stores tension and stress. The therapist also taught her how to make necessary changes to relieve stress before it becomes pain. In working with an occupational therapist, Susana learned how incorrect body mechanics can aggravate pain if done repeatedly over time.

The greatest reward Susana received from the program is that she has been able to avoid taking headache medications for the last four months. "This is something that had not happened in 30 years!" Susana says. By following her new lifestyle, Susans knows she holds the keys to her continued recovery. "I'm ready to pursue my career as a professional resume writer without being continuously assaulted by excruciating headaches. Now, I can live life fully," she adds.