Leading Treatment Brings Back Artist's Joy


Artist Aaron Macsai in his studio

Aaron Macsai’s jewelry making demands precision, care and often hours of uninterrupted work. After suffering from chronic, debilitating pain for nine years, Macsai knows first hand how medical research can change a life. Eight years ago, pain from headaches became so bad that he could barely finish a sentence without grabbing an ice pack or excusing himself from a noisy or well-lit room.

“When most people think about a bad headache, they probably use ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, and that usually does the trick. For me, it is chronic, severe and often debilitating head pain. Every day, starting around noon or so, locked in across my forehead, it used to rule my life,” said Macsai, who is showcasing his work at the American Craft Exposition (ACE), a juried art show held annually in late August and presented by the Auxiliary of NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) at Evanston & Glenbrook Hospitals with proceeds benefitting ovarian cancer research.

Before finding treatment at NorthShore, Macsai sought treatment at some of the best chronic pain programs in the country. Unfortunately, most were drug oriented, and for years now, he has been dependent on narcotic pain medications for relief. Despite his constructive and helpful family, the pain was so intense that it affected his craft and his relationship with his wife and kids. He no longer attended art show openings and was constantly cancelling plans with family and friends. “Being a self-employed artist is already a very private life. Having debilitating and chronic pain isolated me,” said Macsai.

Macsai asked himself, ‘what if it doesn’t get better?’ Thanks to the new relationship between NorthShore and Mayo Clinic, which provides NorthShore patients like Macsai with access to leading medical resources and experts from both systems, Macsai’s NorthShore neurologist, Thomas Freedom, MD, was able to refer him to Mayo Clinic for an innovative pain treatment procedure quite high up in his neck, called cervical radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This procedure identifies damaged nerve endings and then applies heat through radio frequency waves so the nerve ending’s ability to transmit pain signals is destroyed.

“At this point, I consider the surgery a complete success. I have far fewer headaches, and when I do get them they are far less severe,” Macsai said. He also turned to NorthShore Neurological Institute for his chronic pain treatment and found Khalilah Brown, MD, whose approach to pain management is lifestyle change, including physical and occupational therapy. Macsai started to take breaks from his work, no longer staying in one position for an extended period of time. He began intensive physical therapy and continues to exercise on a regular basis.

The treatment allowed Macsai to enjoy his life again. He has always designed and fabricated extremely intricate one-of-a-kind jewelry, combining different alloys of gold, diamonds and a wide variety of colored gemstones. At ACE, Macsai will be showing his newest series of “Gold & Gemstone” bead necklaces that he has created since the RFA procedure, titled “Linear Grace.” They represent fluid movement, and they are the most delicate and technically challenging jewelry he has created since his headaches began. The necklaces combine the rich elegant colors of gemstones and subtle hues of the various handmade 18k gold beads. “These pieces are like a gift of new life. I could not have worked like this before the procedure,” he said.
Because there has not been a tremendous amount of research done on headaches, he feels strongly about medical research and because of this, he will be donating a piece of his art to ACE to raise funds and help find a cure. “I can’t afford to write a large check,” said Macsai, “but I can afford to give a piece of artwork.”
The 29th American Craft Exposition (ACE), held in August, featured the work of some of the premier craft artists in the country and supported critical ovarian cancer research at NorthShore. To learn more about the show and its philanthropic impact, visit americancraftexpo.org.

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