PTSD Breakthroughs

An LSVA member shares her story: New study tests an unusual approach to treating symptoms of PTSD.


My Name Is Patricia Aquino. I’m 37 years old, and I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress and Major Depressive Disorder.

Does that sound like an admission of guilt? Or, do you imagine me standing in a room surrounded by a roomful of people, while I proclaim my addiction? I have a mental disorder brought on by my combat experiences in Afghanistan. I’ve spent many a sleepless night, walking through my house, pacing the floor, checking doors and windows to make sure they are locked and waking each time a car drives by the house. Other times, when I do get a few moments of sleep, it’s a nightmare that wakes me; one that has replayed in my mind over and over again.

It was during one of my many sleepless nights, as I sat up watching TV, that I came across a segment on the show “The Doctors.” The hosts were discussing a treatment known as a “Stellate Ganglion block (SGV).” It involved injecting patients in the neck to block the nerve responsible for alerting the body of impending danger. The sympathetic ganglia (the nerve) is responsible for firing messages throughout the body in response to stress. The result is an endless list of symptoms that are all too familiar to those who suffer from the disorder; hyper-arousal, accelerated heart beat, startle response, etc.

The doctors introduced Dr. Eugene Lipov, an anesthesiologist who has been practicing medicine and performing the procedure for years. Dr. Lipov thought that the SGV would be an effective treatment to help those suffering from trauma. Dr. Lipov talked about the many patients he had helped and how his treatment is more effective than that currently provided by any other treatment facility or organization. According to Dr. Lipov and his researchers, an SGV has a success rate of 70%, which is a far higher percentage than the numbers currently reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is approximately 30%.

Regardless, I didn’t care about numbers; I wanted a cure. Unfortunately for me, Dr. Lipov practices medicine in Chicago. If I wanted him to perform the procedure, I would have to submit paperwork, wait for a response, and then have it approved by my insurance. I didn’t want or have time to wait. At this point, I have suffered the effects of this disorder for years, and it has wreaked havoc on me, my marriage, and my family. So the very next day, I got on my computer and started doing research. It didn’t take too long before I found a doctor willing to do the procedure. I met with him a couple days later, he performed a health review, and together we decided that the procedure would be done the following week.Patricia2.png

I won’t bore you with details of a long weekend and the anticipation that gripped me daily as I awaited this “miracle cure,” so I’ll get right to it. I went in for my procedure on a Tuesday morning, was brought into a preoperative room, put on a gown, had IV inserted, and they explained all the details of the procedure and risks. I signed my paperwork, giving the doctor permission to perform the procedure, and minutes later I was in an operating room. The procedure itself is not invasive or painful, but it must be done under general anesthesia and in sterile conditions. With the use of an X-ray machine, the needle is guided into place near the targeted nerve and the medication is injected. All of this takes less than 15 minutes.

One of the things touted about an SGV is the immediate relief of systems and visible effects. To be honest, I didn’t know if it worked; I was cautious, but optimistic. Over the next few days, the results of the procedure were obvious; it had worked. The constant feelings of arousal and vigilance that had lingered for years all of the sudden had lifted away, not completely, but enough that I didn’t feel like I was being crushed by the weight of my memories.

If you are thinking about getting an SGV done to help you reduce your symptoms of PTSD, there are a few things you must know. One, it doesn’t work for everyone: doctors don’t know why and more research has to be done to understand how it works. Two, sometimes the first procedure doesn’t work at all , but even if it does, you will probably have to undergo the procedure a few more times in order for it to have a lasting effect. In case you’re wondering, I felt the effects of the first procedure wear off within a couple of days. I had a second procedure performed with minimal results. I will probably have another procedure done soon.

Patricia Aquino
LSVA Community Leader