What started out as a right eye twitching lead to a complete right-sided facial spasm, which caused distress for over three years. Spire Bristol hospital and Consultant Neurosurgeon, Mr Nik Patel managed to treat the condition with a surgical procedure called Microvascular decompression surgery (MVD).  Mrs Dickens travelled over 200 miles to have the surgery in Bristol, which she says changed her life and revived her confidence. This is her story and journey to getting the 'old Laura' back. 

"It started in 2013 when my right eye started twitching, within a few months the spasm had spread to the whole side of my face, and into the mouth area. If I smiled my eye would close completely, I looked like I had a stroke. I felt huge pressure on the side of my temple and above my brow. I lost all my confidence. I could not face people, even my friends. I was completely exhausted by the constant spasms day and night, I avoided everyone and hid behind my hair as much as I could. I discovered a Hemifacial spasm (HFS) support group on Facebook, I didn’t feel so alone anymore, there were lots of other people with this.

My first MRI scan did not show the compression of the nerve, although my neurologist at the time said that he was sure it was HFS, so he started me on routine Botox injections, I had these every 12 weeks and initially they did help. I him asked about the Microvascular decompression (MVD) operation and I was sent to Oxford to see a consultant, he did another MRI and could clearly see the compression of the seventh cranial nerve (facial nerve) by a blood vessel.

I did a lot of research myself and discovered Mr. Patel who has done many MVD procedures, the contact I had made on the support group highly recommended him so I made an appointment."

MVD procedure is an operation that will relieve the symptoms caused by compression of a nerve by an artery or vein (facial pain from trigeminal or glossopharyngeal neuralgia, or facial muscle twitching from hemifacial spasm). The MVD procedure involves surgically freeing the nerve (trigeminal, facial or glossopharyngeal nerves) from the compressing vessel by either moving the vessel away and sticking it elsewhere or by inserting a tiny Teflon sponge between the compressing vessel and the nerve. This separates the nerve from the pulsating effect and pressure of the blood vessel.

"I had a consultation with Mr. Patel in that February, he said he could see the problem. He explained the surgery in detail, such a lovely man, who has done many of these MVD surgeries. After a long chat about all the risks, he had put my mind at ease, I had complete confidence to go ahead.

We booked my surgery for the following month.

On the day of my operation I was so frightened and nervous but all the staff were so king and caring, they really looked after me, even going to theatre the nurse was holding my hand.

David Lockey the anaesthetist was brilliant, I have a few crowns on my teeth and I was worried, but he said he would look after my teeth and he did. When I woke up about five hours later in intensive care my spasm were gone, not even the slightest twitch, all the pressure I had felt gone.

The staff in ITU were amazing, the care was exceptional. The regular medication kept the pain at bay and I have to say it was not as bad as I thought it would be.

I stayed in ITU overnight and most of the second day, I can honestly say the care I received was fabulous. I was moved to my room in the evening of the second day, my room was lovey, and the staff very informative.

Mr. Patel came to see me and said he was very happy with how the surgery had gone.

I arrived on 24 March, and as discharged home on three days later. Just incredible, I had done it, surgery over and I felt fantastic, my face is calm for the first time in three and a half years.

My staples were removed at day 10 at my local hospital, my scar is tiny and very neat, I had only the minimal amount of hair taken.

My follow up consultation was by telephone as I am around 200 miles away from Bristol, six weeks after my surgery, Mr Patel very happy with my outcome.

Six months on, I have my life back and my confidence. I now realise just how low and depressed I had been, my family and friends all say the ‘old Laura’ is back and I am delighted to be able to smile again without trying to hid behind my hair.