Danielle Byron Henry’s Story
Danielle was born in 1981. At the age of eight, she began experiencing migraine headaches. One of the most common sources of pain, migraines are three times more common in women than in men. For most people with migraines, the pain is manageable with minimal medication, control of sleep, and a good diet. Yet, in about 10 percent of cases, the pain resists treatment. Danielle, unfortunately, fell into the latter category.
She was a healthy young woman except for her almost daily excruciating headaches. Every day, it was a challenge for Danielle to conceal the magnitude of her pain, but she did the best she could. Few around her knew of her suffering, only noting her absence from school or a sporting event.
She did not want her life defined by pain. When Danielle spoke of her future, she expressed the desire to become a stand-up comedian, FBI agent, or stockbroker. The only limitation for her future goals was her health.
How Migraines Feel: One Teenager’s Experience
At age sixteen, Danielle expressed her feelings about her experience in a school paper. “Having had migraines for five and a half years,” she wrote, “has extremely changed the person that I am. When I was younger, I thought I knew what it meant to live, but I had never had the pain, I had never stood at the bottom looking up. But throughout my struggle with migraines, I have now hit lows I would never have thought possible in my life before.
“I’ve gone through pain and depression that was so hard on me that I felt I could not go on. However, each of these times I have been pulled through by the strength of my family, friends, and other loved ones. It is through these experiences that now I know that, yes, I have encountered Jesus in my life through the eyes, hearts, and minds of those around me who care for me.”
Seeking Help for Migraines
Danielle had the best possible parents to help her with her migraines. They had the discipline and knowledge to create as supportive an environment as possible, and they helped her to follow the most recommended regimens. But the pain persisted, and as time went on, the migraines began to interfere with her friendships, sports and schoolwork. Her hope and strength were failing.
Her parents, Dan and Diane, made sure that Danielle saw some of the Utah’s top neurologists who specialized in headaches. Dan, a family physician himself, was becoming an expert in headaches, and he pursued every angle that could possibly provide Danielle relief. He had more resources at his disposal than most fathers would, and he used them all on his daughter’s behalf. He consulted with many of the nation’s top neurologists. When he first read that Botox might be helpful, he flew with her to California to see a physician who was treating headache patients with Botox.
One Story Closes, and Another Begins
None of the specialists they consulted could help Danielle.
Her migraines kept getting worse, occurring more frequently and lasting longer, giving her shorter reprieves in between—reprieves filled with the dread of a return of the fatigue, depression, and disruption to her vision that presaged another invasion of throbbing pain inside her skull. When she was in the middle of a headache, the pain absorbed virtually all her attention, making it impossible to carry on sustained conversations at home or to focus at school. In addition, her hands and feet would grow clammy. She would become lightheaded and nauseous. She began losing weight and spent much of her time in her bedroom with a cold cloth covering her eyes—unbelievably, that was just about all that twenty-first-century medical science could offer her.
I knew Danielle because my wife and I were blessed with the friendship of her parents. It was Danielle who taught me that pain can be as malignant as any cancer. Intractable pain exacts a physical cost by causing nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weight loss. More importantly, pain can metastasize, eating away the soul, and obliterating hope and the will to live.
The body has enormous physical resilience, but it cannot exist without a meaningful life experience. To my everlasting sorrow, no one was able to reduce Danielle’s pain enough so that she could thrive with migraines.
Danielle took her life when she was 17 years old. She had suffered the agony of migraine headaches for 9 years, and she no longer had capacity to fight or continue the suffering. Her parents, and everyone else who loved her — including my wife and me — were devastated.
The Danielle Byron Henry Migraine Foundation Brings Hope
Dan’s practice has evolved and is now limited to headache patients, especially children and young adults. He treats patients who travel to see him from every part of the country.
Dan and Diane and their daughter, Elizabeth have formed a foundation with the purpose of providing access to comprehensive treatment and support for those living with migraine disease, especially young adults and children. The Danielle Byron Henry Migraine Foundation will hold a fundraiser June 16th with proceeds going to support programs, including Headache School cosponsored with the University of Utah and an outside Support Group for Adolescents. I invite everyone to visit the website, if you have migraines or want to learn more about them. You can share your experiences or (until June 14) bid on the online auction items. Any gracious contribution no matter how small would be enormously welcomed.
When other young people with migraines make the pilgrimage to Dr. Henry’s door, holding onto a desperate hope that he might be able to help relieve their pain, little do they know that a little bit of an extraordinary young woman named Danielle smiles up at them from the brightness of the blooms outside his office entry. Even better, her spirit lives on through the foundation that she inspired.