Children find migraine relief through Botox

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- There is nothing worse than a bad headache, but now imagine living with debilitating migraines.

Turns out that's the reality for 5 to 10 percent of all children in the United States. But now there is hope and it's coming in the form of a very popular beauty treatment.

Valerie Portolano, 17, is no stranger to migraines.

"I'm not really a headache, I'm a chronic migraine," she said. "I have a headache every single day of my life."

Portolano has tried just about everything to relieve her pain but today she's trying something new. The treatment is Botox!

Portolano hopes, "I will have some less pain and also get to live a little."

Sixteen-year-old Delanie Mattson is proof of that.

"Yeah it's weird but it works," she said.

Mattson's had migraines since she was 13.

"It was sad," said her mother, Carrie Mattson. "She lost out on a lot of life because of her migraines."

Mattson was home-schooled and had to give up her passion for playing softball all because of her migraines. She was even taking Vicodin nightly just to sleep. That is until she started getting Botox injections last summer.

"It's a relief knowing I'm not going to get a migraine," she said.

Botox has been widely used to treat migraines in adults since 2010.

"This is definitely an off-label use," said Dr. Marcy Yonker, a pediatric neurologist headache specialist with Phoenix Children's Hospital. "There's no indication for this in treating children."

Yonker is one of only about 20 pediatric headache specialists in the nation.

"In children in whom I thought nothing would ever help them, headache free, so I was really shocked," she said.

The kids first have numbing cream applied that helps take the edge off the 31 shots of Botox they get in their forehead, scalp and shoulders.

"As the medicine goes in it sort of burns, so it does hurt but it's worth it," said 17-year-old Tatum Amato.

"It seems to change the activity of the pain fibers that tell people they have a migraine," Yonker explained.

But she points out this isn't necessarily a cure.

"We don't know whether it is stopping the migraine or if they are not feeling the migraine," she said.

Regardless, the Botox seems to be breathing new life into these kids' lives. Like Amato, who was once a competitive cheerleader but her migraines robbed her of that.

Now, just after one round of Botox, she said, "I don't get migraines as often and if I do they are not as severe."

The long-term effects of this headache treatment are still unknown, especially in children.

"Is there going to be muscle wasting for them? Are they going to develop some numbness? That's something we really need to look at," Yonker said.

To qualify for this treatment in the headache clinic at Phoenix Children's Hospital, kids must have chronic migraines, meaning they have headaches 15 days a month that last more than four hours a day.

For more information on the Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital and the headache clinic, go to