Children’s Mercy doctor uses acupuncture in addition to standard medicine to treat young headache patients

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Headaches are one of the most common health complaints in kids. All of the conventional migraine treatments didn't help one teen from Riverton, Kan., but she had a doctor willing and able to do something else.

Katie Gandy could no longer take migraines lying down.

"Every time I woke up I had a headache, and every time I went to sleep I had a headache," she said.

The 15-year-old was missing two or three days of school a week even with treatment.

"From nerve blocks, Botox, DHE infusions, many different medication trials, pain psychology, we've really tried to have a comprehensive approach," said Dr. Jennifer Bickel, a neurologist who is a headache specialist at Children's Mercy.

Yet nothing helped Katie for more than a few days until she got stuck.

Acupuncture uses thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Katie didn't have to find an acupuncturist to do it. Dr. Bickel received training in the ancient Chinese practice last year, giving a whole new meaning to the term "integrative medicine". She is two practitioners in one.

"It's been really great being able to go back to more of a healing hands, hands-on approach to helping patients," Dr. Bickel said.

She used to think that acupuncture simply harnessed the power of placebo, but not anymore.

"As a physician, I actually don't have a great explanation for how it works, but I can't deny what I see," she said.

She said roughly 80 percent of her young headache patients report some benefit. With Katie?

"Her response has been just amazing," said the neurologist.

"I did it a month ago and I didn't have headaches until about two days ago," Katie said.

She had daily migraines before.

"I honestly enjoy life so much more," she said.

So Katie will continue to travel nearly 300 miles round trip from southeast Kansas for monthly acupuncture treatments.

Some insurers cover acupuncture treatment. Dr. Bickel said Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics see 16,000 kids with headaches each year.