Calgary Health Foundation

CHAMPions For Changing Lives

CHAMPions for CareFor most people headaches are a passing annoyance and though Calgarians seems to have more than their fair share of them - almost everyone has met someone who suffers from 'Chinook Head', migraines caused by the changing weather, for some, headaches are a daily part of life, filled with pain that interferes with careers, friendships and even families.

Nicole is one person whose migraines changed the direction of her life, "I had a migraine that lasted two days. I hadn't had one in 10 years and after that first one I started having one every single week for months."

The migraines made an immediate impact on her family. Married with a two year old, the couple had just moved into a new house. "Because of my migraines, my husband never knew what he was coming home to - if I would be making dinner or if I would be asleep at 4 p.m." The couple had also been talking about expanding their family, "We had more room and Riley was a good age. But then I started getting the migraines and there was no way I could handle the headaches, a baby and a preschooler."

After suffering for a while she saw her family doctor who prescribed Triptans, which are used to stop migraines and cluster headaches. Though they worked, the side effects resulted in severe dizziness. Nicole could only take them when she was home, and even then she had to go straight to bed.

With the medication she was still having two or three migraines a week.

"At that point my doctor put me on a preventative medication, Topamax, which is for epilepsy but works to prevent migraines as well. Right after I started taking it we saw on the news that it caused birth defects. I tried two or three times to go off of it and couldn't because the migraines would come back right away."

Though the Topamax helped it didn't stop the migraines. Nicole tried physiotherapy and saw a naturopath but nothing stopped the migraines. The therapies would only work for a week at a time and she still had to take the medication to keep the migraines in check.

Then she asked her family doctor about the headache clinic for the first time. He told her there was a year long waiting list because of the high demand. Discouraged she waited six months before deciding to go on the wait list.

"At this point I had given up on having a second child because it wasn't possible to get off the Tolpomax," said Nicole.

Just over a year later, while skiing with her son in January 2013 she got a call from the Calgary Headache Assessment & Management Program (CHAMP) saying there was an opening the next week..

"By the time you get to our clinic you've suffered from any one of 91 types of headache that are moderate to severe in intensity for at least half the month," said Dr. Jeptha Davenport, neurologist for CHAMP.

CHAMP focuses on patients experiencing difficult migraine and other headache disorders. The clinic specializes in medical management along with workshops, lectures and education sessions which teach skills in headache self management..

Patients like Nicole are seen by a multidisciplinary team made up of neurologists, nurses, occupational therapists, a psychologist and a Kinesiologist, so they can achieve optimal headache management.

"While I was on the wait list I took advantage of the information sessions and the bodyworks seminars that CHAMP hosts and I even saw an occupational therapist."

When she finally met her physician, Nicole explained that she originally wanted to come because she wanted to get pregnant but that she had accepted at this point that wouldn't happen.

Dr. Elott immediately changed her medication, switched from Tryptans to other pain killers with less severe side effects and a cefaly machine. She also attended a Self Management Workshop which is support group for people with headaches and is run by a psychologist. The workshop teaches pain management, how to live with your pain and be productive and pacing yourself.

"One of the best things I learned was pacing. When I had a migraine I knew not to do too much but on my good days I would try and do so much that I would cause myself to get another headache. I learned to say no. I also learned how to communicate to my loved ones about what I was going through and asking for the support I needed."

It took four months for the doctors to get everything in line. By June her migraines were under control. Now pregnant with her second child, her family is growing.

"The CHAMP Program has changed my life," she says.

Nicole is one of Calgary Health Trust's Champions for Health - She supports CHAMP as her way of saying thank you for everything that they have done for her family and for the help they will provide others.

Interested in becoming a Champion of Health? Follow this link and find out more about the program.