GREAT FALLS — According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about six percent of the U.S. population will have post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives.
About 15 million adults have PTSD during a given year. About 8% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives, compared with about 4% of men.
Dr. Katrina Lewis of Advanced PTSD Solutions in Great Falls has made lowering those numbers her mission, and her treatment method is being met with amazing success.
“A year ago if you had seen me at the Vet center, I would be sitting in the corner, all by myself, having people stay away from me,” said Air Force veteran Frank Morazan.
“I was in the hospital many times, I was having severe panic attacks, I couldn’t function,” said Air Force veteran Jeremiah Scott.
Morazan and Scott are among the millions of Americans diagnosed with PTSD. Like a growing number of people, they are benefiting from a treatment called Stellate Ganglion Block, or SGB.
“Your stellate ganglion block is otherwise known as your cervical sympathetic plexus, and it’s a driver of your fight and flight system,” said Lewis.
Using ultrasound guidance, Lewis injects the medicine into the stellate ganglion, a procedure that sounds a lot worse than it is.
“Genetically, some people have a predisposition for that system. Instead of switching on in the appropriate time when there’s danger, and then resetting to normal, I always describe the system as becoming locked.”
The procedure has been featured on national news programs. Lewis has treated more than 400 patients with SGB therapy since 2017.
For most patients, the results are immediate.
“My first block, I realized that I had a lot of noise going on in my head maybe racing thoughts, ideas, things that were constantly moving,” said Scott. “Once I had the block, everything just stopped and everything came down to where I could focus on everything.”
Scott, a veteran of more than 21 years who witnessed combat in Afghanistan, has had six shots plus a booster.
Lewis says the treatment for everyone is different depending on the trauma.
It is not just military personnel who suffer from PTSD. Jennifer Banks is Lewis’ assistant - and she is also a patient who endured a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.
“After just my second injection, I was on three medications, for anxiety and after second I came off all of the medications and I was able to speak to my therapist and actually open up about things that I didn’t realize were buried,” said Banks.
Lewis believes in the science and stands behind the results.
“My nurse and I would often burst into tears because it was so amazing to see a patient with tears of joy streaming down the face or just smiling from ear to ear and yet that person initially coming in the room was just completely flat, depressed,” said Lewis. “It’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done as a physician.”
For Frank, an indigenous American who spent two years in Thailand during the Vietnam War before sustaining a brain injury in a motorcycle crash, the treatments have been a lifesaver.
“I’ve been suffering with this for 44 years and there’s been a couple times where I thought I couldn’t go any further,” said Morazan. “She has saved my life.”
Lewis says the procedure itself is covered by insurances, but when combined with the psychological diagnosis, most insurances consider it an experimental treatment. She says about half the VA facilities across the U.S. are paying for it, but not yet in Montana.
Click here to learn more on Lewis' website; her practice is located in the Columbus Center at 1601 2nd Avenue North.
Extended interview with Lewis:
Extended interview with Jeremiah and Frank: