Surgery corrects woman's facial spasms

Houston woman suffering from hemi facial spasm

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - If you've ever had a facial twitch or spasm, you know how annoying it can be.

But imagine if it were relentless -- day and night -- preventing you from eating, talking, or even seeing.

A Houston woman suffered through this for years -- until she met a local doctor who cured her with an innovative new surgery.

Video shows Yolanda Johnson before surgery. The right side of her face twitched uncontrollably. She lived with this condition, called hemi facial spasm, for six years.

"Sometimes I would wake up in the morning, my face was sideways like I had a stroke," she said.

Johnson works in customer service. The spasms made it difficult for her to interact with people. She tried medications, even Botox.

"The twitching never stopped," said Johnson.

Hemi facial spasm affects just one in a million people.

Dr. Ajay Bindal with Memorial Hermann Southwest is one of the few neurosurgeons performing surgery to correct the problem.

"Hemi facial spasm occurs from compression of the nerve in the brain and this compression is from an artery," he said. "We go into the back of the skull. We make a little hole and we place a sponge between the artery and the nerve and that sponge protects the nerve and the symptoms go away."

Three days after surgery, the spasms stopped.

"When I wake up in the morning, I just (touch my face) or I start talking and I say, 'It's not going on anymore.' Even at night when I'm sleeping, I don't feel it fluttering, just fluttering and it's a big difference," said Johnson.

Patients can usually return to work a month or two after surgery.

The recurrence rate is very low: just 10 percent over 10 years.

In those cases, Bindal said the sponge likely shifted or needs to be replaced, so it can be corrected.

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