Donors raise thousands to cure man's headache

July 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The generosity of strangers is helping an Idaho man undergo an experimental treatment in the Bay Area. While the patient and his family have faced difficult hardships, this is now the second time people have stepped forward to help them.

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People across the country first learned of Ryan Stockdale and his family when they were featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.

The family was chosen to receive a new home, because mold in their old one was irritating a rare condition affecting all three of the family's children. But what wasn't included in the show were Ryan's own health problems.

Ryan suffers from cluster headaches so severe he often can't eat, walk or leave his room for days. And his wife says his cocktail of pain medications had begun taking a toll.

"I think his pain is so severe that I think he's really not aware of much," said Ryan's wife Karia Stockdale.

So this week, the family came to San Francisco where doctors are pioneering a new way to perform a procedure known as deep brain stimulation. A small electrode is implanted in the brain to control neurological symptoms of diseases like Parkinson's.

The surgery is experimental and Ryan will become just the ninth patient to receive the treatment for cluster headaches.

The family was advised of the risk associated with any brain surgery, especially since Ryan has suffered small aneurisms. But his wife Karia says Ryan believes the procedure is his only hope for a normal life.

"He said he was afraid that he'd get in today and he'd have to say no surgery. He doesn't feel we're adding any additional risk to him by doing surgery," said Stockdale.

The last hurdle for the family was cost, after their insurance refused to cover the procedure. But for a second time, the family was touched by generosity.

This time, instead of a home, a statewide fund raising campaign brought in more than $80,000 in just three days. It is money that will help pay for a treatment the Stockdale family hopes will ultimately relieve his crippling pain.

If the surgery is successful, doctors typically wait for the brain to heal before activating the electrode implanted in his brain.

UPDATE: Ryan's family say he is doing "better than expected" following the surgery.

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