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Tom Gonzalez/DRC

Two years after concussion, a chance at relief

Jackson Weatherford has told only a few people about the outcome of a new medical procedure that gave him partial relief from his post-concussion symptoms. Now he wants to tell everyone, with the understanding he still has a long way to go.

"My sister wants to know if I'm cured now," Weatherford said. "I got some relief -- it was a good first step."

In May 2015, Weatherford, then a senior at Guyer High School, took a 90-mph fastball to the left side of his head during a playoff game. He suffered a concussion and was told he could never play baseball again. He since has moved on with his life and is a student equipment manager for the University of North Texas football team. But nearly two years later, he battles lingering dizziness, blurred vision, headaches and anxiety.

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His story was introduced in an article by the Denton Record-Chronicle on Feb. 19. In that article, Dr. Chad Stephens said he can break the cycle of post-concussion symptoms thanks to a revolutionary device called the SphenoCath.

Stephens is the team doctor for Liberty Christian School in Argyle and a sports and pain board-certified physician who specializes in interventional concussion management and migraine treatment. He said the SphenoCath's success rate is 90 percent, and many concussion sufferers, including Weatherford, are candidates for the procedure.

But Weatherford hadn't heard of the treatment -- until now.

He allowed Stephens to perform the procedure on Feb. 27 and said the headache he had when he showed up to Stephens' office in Southlake was gone in a matter of minutes.

The procedure involves using a small catheter to deliver anesthetic through the nasal cavity to block a nerve complex just behind the nose. Those nerves long have been known to be a source of migraine pain, and by deadening those nerves, most patients feel immediate relief in as little as one visit, according to Stephens.

"After it was over, my headache was gone," Weatherford said. "I felt like [the pain level] was at a 10 when I walked in, and even though I was able to dial it back to about a 5 or 6 while I was sitting in the office, the procedure itself still subdued a large amount of pain."

Weatherford stopped short of saying he was completely cured. During the rest of that week, there were times when he noticed he wasn't experiencing much pain, but some of his other concussion-related symptoms continued to linger. He also had another headache pop up two days after the procedure.

He still gets headaches, and his vision can blur if he suffers a hit to the left side of his head. He is sensitive to camera flashes, even from a phone, so taking a picture with friends sometimes can be jarring in dim light. As a precaution, he takes only the minimum hours of classes at school to keep from being overloaded.

Weatherford is aware that further improvements could take more than one visit. In fact, he has a second appointment slated for today. He praised Stephens for creating the first steps toward giving him a new lease on life.

"I know one of the goals is to attack these symptoms early," Jackson said. "I'm different, though, because I've suffered for as long as I have. It's not going to clear up that easy. For me to have seen improvements, even just a little bit, two years later is a huge sign for other athletes."

Mike Weatherford, Jackson's father, also was there for the initial procedure.

"Dr. Stephens was fired up, and I was, too," said Mike Weatherford, who is an assistant baseball coach at Guyer. "I remember we walked in and all the nurses recognized Jackson from his picture in the article. They said he was a celebrity. This was a good first step."

The SphenoCath was created by Dolor Technologies, based in Salt Lake City. Over the past year, Stephens has aggressively pushed the SphenoCath to athletes in all sports at all levels. He had a meeting with the National Football League Players Association about the treatment. He also recently returned from Dubai, where he spoke to doctors from the Middle East about his innovative approach to migraine and concussion treatment.

Stephens said the first step with any concussion patient is to eliminate the headache, which is exactly what happened for Weatherford. But Jackson's lingering symptoms have created a more difficult cycle to break. He said repeated treatments and other forms of therapy may be necessary.

Stephens could see immediate benefits from Jackson's first visit.

"I see this every day, and it's inspiring each time," Stephens said. "There was a lot of pressure on me this time because I know Jackson came in expecting so much. When we were done, I could tell his eyes were brighter, he was talking louder and clearer. He's well on his way to improvement."

Within 24 hours of the Record-Chronicle article's publication last month, Stephens reported five new patient appointments. When Jackson and his father showed up for their appointment, Mike Weatherford bumped into a friend of his who came in from out of state for the procedure after seeing the article on social media.

For Jackson Weatherford, the latest developments provide more hope for the future.

"I haven't gone a single day since the injury without having some sort of pain -- I just don't always tell people," Weatherford said. "I would love to have one day without pain. There are times where I didn't notice the pain as much, and that's a good thing.

"Who knows what to expect? We will find out as we go."

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.