Migraine headaches are a debilitating condition, and Del Mar physician David Kaminskas has made it a focus of his career to combine both traditional medical treatments and holistic methods to provide relief to migraine sufferers.
Kaminskas' interest in the field of neurology was spurred 10 years ago when his brother, who was living in Santa Monica, was hit by a car while crossing the street. He was thrown 30 feet, sustaining serious head injuries. He was taken to the neuro-intensive-care unit at UCLA and remained in a coma for a month. Happily, he has since made a full recovery, although he still suffers from occasional seizures.
"For me it was sort of a wake-up call," said Kaminskas, "because at the time I had been practicing (medicine) in Hawaii. I'd been traveling, and all of a sudden I found myself back in what is an academic environment. I became very interested in his case in particular, but (also) neurology in general. As a result of spending a lot of time talking to the neurologists practicing intensive care medicine, the neurosurgeons … it really reminded me how much I liked working in that environment."
Kaminskas left his home in Hawaii to study neurology at UCSD Medical School, which he was "absolutely thrilled" to attend because they accept only three people a year to study the specialty. Prior to attending UCSD, he received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and attended medical school at the University of Southern California, where he treated the first victim of the Rodney King riots in L.A. He then did a general surgery residency at Dartmouth, but after deciding general surgery was not a good match for him, he moved to Hawaii, intending to stay for only a year. One year turned into 10 as his medical practice grew. He began teaching at local colleges and universities and did a great deal of charitable work in the South Pacific.
As a neurologist, Kaminskas became interested in treating migraines because he felt it was a large patient population that was not receiving serious enough attention. He said migraines are an extremely common ailment affecting 6 percent of the male population and 18 percent of the female population at some point in their lives.
"We have specialists in neurology and very esoteric things like ALS, or MS, dementia and things, but nobody had really taken on the challenge of headaches," he said. "And while I found that while this definitely is a challenging condition to treat, if one takes the time and is successful in treating it, it's incredibly satisfying."
Satisfying, he says, because generally "migrainers" are young people; they're otherwise healthy and productive people, but they're disabled because of the migraine.
"They might be missing two or three days a work a month or more, and if you can actually help control and effectively treat their migraine you can take them from a state of disability to a state of excellent health and productivity," said Kaminskas.
In the last 10 years there have been substantial changes in the way migraine patients are treated, says Kaminskas. He feels his being fresh out of the academic world is an advantage.
In addition to the slew of new medications being used to treat and prevent migraines, there is also the advent of drug-free ways to treat the headaches, such as diet, exercise, biofeedback, physical therapy techniques and vitamin supplements. By public demand, particularly here in California, Kaminskas said, holistic practices are becoming a part of mainstream medicine and are part of an overall shift in medicine from being disease-focused to treating the entire individual.
Kaminskas says the future of the field of neurology is exciting and San Diego has the advantage of being home to institutions such as UCSD and Scripps, which are doing a tremendous amount of research in the field of neurology.
"Every single day there is news, a new treatment, new ways of treating these conditions," he said. "We are in an incredibly rapidly evolving and changing field. It's really one of the reasons I chose to be a neurologist as opposed to perhaps another medical specialty where the ways of treating patients and the ways that they're doing things are fairly static … so it's an exciting time to be a neurologist."
The Torrey Pines Headache Center is located at 1349 Camino Del Mar and can be contacted at (858) 350-1004 or e-mail