Managing Migraine

Teri Robert and Dr. David Watson

The Patient

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Teri Robert has been living with migraines most of her life. Her first one, she says, happened when she was six years old.

Migraine, to be clear, is not the same thing as a bad headache. It's a genetic neurological disease characterized by "attacks." This often involves head pain, but symptoms can range from hiccups to physical numbness to vision loss. Migraine attacks can be incapacitating, lasting days at a time.

Through her mid-30s, Teri's migraines were episodic, coming and going with no discernible pattern. But then, they unexpectedly turned into a condition much more debilitating--chronic migraine, defined as 15 or more days per month with migraine and headache. Her medication no longer seemed to be effective and, to make matters worse, her doctor retired.

Her migraines became so frequent, so intense that she was essentially bedridden and had to quit her job.

Teri was so desperate for relief that for several years she made the eight-hour drive from her home in West Virginia to see specialists at the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia.

But Philadelphia was so far away, and when Teri worked to lose a lot of weight, her accomplishment had unexpected consequences. The dosage of her blood pressure medication--which also helped prevent her migraines--had to be cut in half. Within a month, her chronic migraine had come back.

Teri knew she needed to find a doctor who not only was closer, but also someone she felt she could trust. So she reached out to a doctor she had come to know as a friend--Dr. David Watson, director of the Headache Center at West Virginia University.

A Friend in Need

Teri had first met Dr. Watson several years earlier at Headache on the Hill, an annual lobbying event for migraine research in Washington, D.C. She attended as one of the founders of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy. He was there as a certified migraine and headache specialist.They hit it off and stayed in touch, often running into each other at migraine conferences.

Once her dreaded chronic migraine returned, Teri realized how crucial it was to have a doctor with whom she could work closely. It was time to see if her friendship could turn into a truly collaborative doctor-patient relationship.

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The Doctor

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Dr. David Watson is rare both in and outside of the exam room. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, he is one of only a few hundred certified migraine and headache specialists in the U.S--and one of only three in the entire state of West Virginia. His clinic at West Virginia University is often packed with patients, some from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Watson often sees as many as 40 to 50 people per week, all with migraine or headache-related conditions. He is known for working hard for his patients, whether it's to battle insurance companies on the phone or making personal appeals to Congress for more research funding.

He's become an advocate in other ways, too. Last year he founded a 5K race called "Runnin’ for Research" to help raise funds for migraine and headache research. He is also involved in the government relations committee for the American Academy of Neurology and its advocacy training program known as the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum (PALF).

For all his training and experience, though, he says he continues to learn from Teri and his other patients. And he has come to appreciate the value of working with patients as a team, especially when a particular treatment isn't working and a decision has to be made on what next step to take.

That, he says, is when a doctor really needs to listen to what a patient has to say, to understand their full story.

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The Partnership

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Today Teri, now 61, and Dr. Watson operate as a well-organized team. She visits him once every three months for checkups and treatments and the two remain in contact almost daily.

Teri’s migraines are back to being just episodic. She has about six a month.

A Mutual Commitment

Their commitment to advocacy and reform has sparked several collaborations. Dr. Watson serves on the board of Teri’s organization, the American Headache and Migraine Association (AHMA), and works with her on a weekly online Q&A column.

Through all of these activities, Teri and Dr. Watson have developed a strong trust and kinship, forging a treatment team that has been able to keep Teri's migraines in check.

As Teri says, that way of working together is not only what a patient wants. It's what a patient needs.

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Credits

Special thanks to Teri Robert, Dr. David Watson, West Virginia University and West Virginia State Parks for making the telling of this story possible.

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    Jens Bishop

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    Erica Sanderson

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    White Elm Photography

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    Brian Harris, David Panarelli, and James Canfield

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    Matt Lemieux

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    Robert Waymouth, Sri Moturu, Tuyen Le

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