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Discover Hope

Lou's Story: Finding Relief After Constant Headaches for Years

Nov. 20, 2021

Thirty years of headache pain relieved by UC Health specialists. Thanks to targeted diagnosis and treatment, Lou Izor can function normally without constant, debilitating headaches.


After constant headaches for years, Lou Izor finds relief at UC Health

For decades, Mary Lou Izor doubted that any medical team could give her hope for her severe headache pain. Every doctor she saw and every treatment she received failed. At 75 years old, she wondered if she would live in misery from her headaches for the rest of her life.

This all changed after seeing UC Health’s team of headache and facial pain specialists.

Today, you’ll find Mary Lou, or “Lou” as she is known to many of her close friends and family, enjoying her life at the fullest, without having to worry when her next headache would come on. It doesn’t take much time around her to notice her natural humor and outgoing personality. “I have joy without having to work on it,” she said.

Dealing with Chronic Daily Headaches

Lou has had a life full of great stories and interesting experiences. From working in night clubs, doing police work, working as a paramedic, to being in the ministry, she has enjoyed life as much as she can. She is even a reverend and a doctor.

However, Lou’s life has always been dragged down because of her constant, debilitating headaches. In 1988, Lou was diagnosed with a severe form of cancer, which she thankfully overcame. Several years later, she was Christmas shopping at a local mall in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, when she suffered a bad fall. The worst of the damage was to her knees and right arm, but she started having bad headaches.

Although the headaches were unrelated to Lou’s cancer, a neurologist did a brain scan and found an arachnoid cyst on the left side of her head, which had not been present before her fall. Rather than perform a procedure to drain the cyst, which would have caused Lou deafness in her ear, the neurologist gave her medication to control the headaches. Unfortunately, however, the headaches persisted.

The headaches became so sharp and so uncontrollable that she couldn’t function normally. She tried different treatments, including meditation, which helped but only a little bit.

“I always had a headache. You woke up with it, you slept with it, you took a shower with it. It was always there, and that can make you a really grumpy person,” Lou explained. “It was hard to find even a reason to smile.”

As the years wore on, the headaches relentlessly continued. She consulted with her local neurologist who gave her medication that was marginally effective. She was constantly tired, frustrated and felt miserable.

After her neurologist retired, Lou struggled to find a new one and cycled through multiple specialists. Finally, one day, she was referred to Saad Kanaan, MD, UC Health headache specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, at his Dayton office.

The Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute offers hope to patients through thorough, thoughtful diagnosis of headaches and facial pain, and a wide range of treatment options backed by research. UC Health is also the No. 1 preferred provider for neuroscience care in the region and is home to many specialists in a variety of neurological conditions.

With four convenient locations in Clifton, West Chester, Dayton and Florence, Kentucky, the Headache and Facial Pain Center provides care to more than 10,000 patients on an annual basis and treats more than 50% of the headache patients in the region.

While other specialists thought that Lou was simply suffering from migraine headaches, Dr. Kanaan found that it might be something else.

“Lou had seen many providers before for her headaches, and knowing that migraine is the most common type of headache, oftentimes, we find that occipital neuralgia is misdiagnosed as migraine, and people get migraine treatments that just don’t work,” Dr. Kanaan said.

Occipital Neuralgia Explained

Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache that causes chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head and behind the ears. The pain is piercing, throbbing or electric-shock-like, similar to the pain Lou had.

After years with no answers, Lou was hesitant to trust another medical provider. But her experience with Dr. Kanaan was different. “He treated me as a whole person and respects me as a human being,” Lou said. “He listens and participates in the conversation.”

Dr. Kanaan used his expertise to lay out a targeted treatment plan for Lou, prescribing her gabapentin for her headaches. He knew she was conservative when it came to pain medications but persuaded her this would be her best option and could also be adjusted over time.

“This person (Dr. Kanaan) listens to me and believes what I am telling him,” Lou said. “His expertise is just amazing.”

Finding Relief Through a Targeted and Effective Treatment

The medical plan has been successful and effective. For the first time in three decades, Lou feels only mild pain from her headaches. She can function normally, including driving without issues. She can now enjoy life with her husband without having to worry about crippling headache pain.

Lou can’t speak highly enough of the staff at UC Health’s neurology outpatient clinic in Dayton. “The staff is wonderful and so professional,” she said.

She also walks every day with a grateful heart, appreciative for Dr. Kanaan and his team for changing her life in a way that she never thought was possible.

“Dr. Kanaan took away 30 years of pain for me,” Lou said. “He took away the pain and gave me hope. Hope is a word that shows that things will get better. Hope is knowledge that something good is going to happen.”

Lou spent much of her life looking for a solution, and during much of that time, she was unsuccessful. But she never gave up. She remained determined and perseverant. Despite the challenges, she always believed she would find hope.

“There is always an answer, no matter how long you have to wait,” Lou said.

With her headache pain under control, Lou’s spirit can be seen more and more, bringing joy to everyone around her. You can find Lou spending time outside, enjoying life with her husband and telling stories of her past career experiences. Her spirit is contagious. It doesn’t take long around her to laugh and smile.

Thanks to UC Health’s specialists, Lou can also smile, and smile often.