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Davis Rushes Past the
Pain of Migraine Headaches
middlesex news

A Boston Newspaper 

New drugs help him win Super Bowl MVP

By David Guarino MiddlesexNews Staff Writer

At least 11 million Americans have a new respect for Terrell Davis today.

Almost a quarter of the 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches have migraines. They know the debilitating pain, nausea and instability migraines cause most say they just want to curl up in the fetal position in a quiet, dark room.

They can't imagine trying to run through 300 pound linemen before 69,000 screaming fans and 100 million television viewers.


But Davis did Sunday, breaking a Super Bowl record for rushing touchdowns and becoming the game's Most Valuable Player in the meantime.

Migraine sufferers and doctors yesterday credited the running back's fortitude and the power of new drugs now helping thousands who suffer from the disease.

"Migraines can be a severely disabling kind of headache (and) the thought of anyone playing a full contact sport with a migraine is impressive to all of us," said Suzanne Simons, executive director of The National Headache Foundation.

According to doctors, migraines are especially painful headaches caused by a chemical change in the brain affecting blood vessels. Recent research shows they are often caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain chemical serotonin.

Migraines are not, as many think, simply bad headaches. Davis, a third year running back from Georgia, is largely credited with helping the Denver Broncos win the championship Sunday 31-24 over the defending champion Green Bay Packers.

In the first quarter, Davis took a kick to the head during a tackle and, after being helped from the field, realized he had a migraine which he has suffered occasionally for years.

"I got dazed and blacked out for a minute," he later recalled. "I couldn't see."

After one more play, Davis realized he couldn't continue. He left the game, missing the whole second quarter and taking the super long Super Bowl halftime to rest up.

Trainers gave him oxygen and medication, likely a shot of Imitrex according to doctors who know his history. He returned to the game and, despite a third quarter fumble, went on to have a career day rushing 157 yards and scoring three touchdowns, including the game winner with less than 2 minutes to play.

"Someone like Terrell Davis, a splendid man, a wonderful athlete, it just knocked him out," said Michael John Coleman, executive director of the Virginia based Migraine Awareness Group.

"The good news for Terrell and all of us is that, without the drugs, he would not have been back in the game and Denver would not have won the Super Bowl."

Migraines are debilitating, cause nausea, sensitivity to light and loud sounds, and occasional visual changes such as flashing lights, dark spots and zigzag lines, doctors said. They can also mimic strokes with focal, motor or sensory changes, said Dr. James Otis, a neurologist and director of the pain service at Boston Medical Center.

Some have migraines two or three times a year and, like the flu, don't do much about it beyond over-the-counter pain relievers. Others have them more frequently, up to three or more a month.

Drugs, most developed in the last 10 years, have taken the edge off migraines for habitual sufferers.

"With the new drugs, if you have the injection or nasal spray, you can abort the headache in minutes," Otis said. "I know a neurosurgeon who gets migraines during surgery. But he just takes the nasal spray and continues with his job. It could have ended his career."

Though the Broncos haven't said what drug Davis was given, the most common drug administered to people on the job is Imitrex, a serotonin inhibitor. With it, Davis could have been back on the field within minutes as he was.

Local doctors said Davis exhibited tell-tale signs of having a migraine: the inability to walk without help; the towel over his head in the first quarter showing the sensitivity to light and loud sounds; and the third quarter fumble showing some residual motor control problems.

"With migraines, though, there is the power of the spirit over the body and he was probably so determined to win he just went and did it," said Sue Dolan, who runs one of the state's only migraine support groups at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro.

"I know people who have sat through law boards and passed but it's not contact football. It's an amazing thing."

But many of the support and advocacy groups are worried about the newfound interest in migraines because of Davis. They were quick to say Davis is considered to be a mild sufferer or migraines and is not as bad off as many, some of whom can't even be helped by medication.

Coleman compared it to Olympic sprinter Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who won the gold medal despite having a mild case of asthma.

Even Davis said after the game that he knew he could overcome the migraine. "It's happened before," he said after taking the MVP trophy. "I knew I would get back into the game."

Boston's MiddlesexNews 1998