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updated: 6/29/2013 10:12 AM

Hoffman Estates, local doctor highlight PTSD

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After four decades of suffering from anxiety, nightmares and uncontrollable outbursts of anger, Raleigh Showens decided he'd rather be dead.

The McHenry man said he planned to commit suicide shortly after Christmas in 2010. Then he heard about an experimental treatment used to help veterans like him and others who are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I was skeptical to be honest," he said. "At the same time, I was in desperation."

Showens met with Dr. Eugene Lipov, a Hoffman Estates anesthesiologist who has treated more than 100 patients with PTSD through a procedure called stellate ganglion block.

Lipov injects bupivacaine -- a medication often used in epidurals for childbirth -- into a group of nerves in the neck called the stellate ganglion. He said applying the anesthetic reverses brain changes that are occurring because of PTSD.

"It's a biological problem," Lipov said of PTSD, adding that he compares it to having a broken leg. "We need to substantially change the thinking on it."

So far, he said, the results have been largely positive on men and women who have gone through a variety of traumatic events that have brought on PTSD, such as war or sexual assault.

"If it hadn't been for the treatment, you wouldn't be talking to me today," Showens said, adding that he had tried medications and therapy to fight PTSD since the early 1990s.

The results of Lipov's work have appeared in several publications, including a February 2013 article in "Psychiatric Annals" written by Dr. Anita Hickley, the director of pain medicine and integrative medicine at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan.

In the article, Hickley said because stellate ganglion block injections are a biological approach to treating PTSD it may help lower the stigma of seeking treatment.

She noted, however, that randomized controlled trials are still needed to establish whether stellate ganglion block is an effective therapeutic option.

While its efficacy hasn't been established through such research, Lipov's work in the field wins plaudits from the village, which declared June PTSD Awareness Month after he made a request to have the condition recognized. The village was following in the footsteps of Congress, which in 2010 declared June 27 as PTSD Awareness Day, and the National Center for PTSD, which has declared all of June an awareness month.

Algean Garner, director of the village's health and human services department, said having an awareness month is important so residents can both better understand PTSD and become aware of the free mental health screenings and other health services offered by the village.

"Unfortunately, it's one of those disorders that will go untreated until it's too late," he said. "A lot of people suffer in silence."

Often, residents who come to the village for mental health help are survivors of domestic violence or a childhood trauma who are presenting symptoms of depression or anxiety, Garner said. If they are diagnosed with PTSD, it is essential they get treatment, and he said it is helpful to have Lipov nearby.

"One of the barriers to getting treatment is access to care," Garner said. "Having someone in town who is basically a stone's throw away is a great resource."

Lipov said he has been unsuccessful in winning funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies for a comprehensive PTSD care institute in Hoffman Estates -- which he tried to open in 2010 -- or for a clinical study of his treatment.

Lipov said he has been told by multiple agencies that there are enough effective treatment options available. They include medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.

He disagrees, noting the suicide rates. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2010 an average of 22 veterans committed suicide daily, compared to an estimated 18 a day in 2007.

"The point is we need to do something today, and I think this could be the beginning," he said.

The stellate ganglion block treatments Lipov has done have been largely paid for by him, along with help from donations to his 501(c)(3) organization called Chicago Medical Innovations.

Eric Morrison, director of the National Center for Research and Practice in Military and Veteran Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, said he has seen psychological and psychiatric treatments effectively help relieve the symptoms of PTSD.

He said stellate ganglion block has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a form of acupuncture, but he said the treatment may pose some risks.

"There are some complications to (Lipov's) approach in terms of paralysis of certain areas, and there just needs to be more research done," he said.

Still, Morrison called Lipov's results "pretty significant." He feels even if more research shows it to be effective, treatment is best done in a comprehensive manner, with medical, psychiatric and psychological professionals.

"With those three professionals working together to address PTSD, I think we have a better chance at tackling this problem," he said.

As for Showens, he said the memories of war continue to surface at times, but the anxiety he used to feel from them disappeared after just two injections. He is hoping Lipov will get significant funding soon so more people with PTSD can get treated sooner than he did.

"I am so grateful to the man," Showens said. "He literally saved my life."

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