Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic
The Penn State Multidisciplinary Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic is dedicated to the treatment of patients with facial weakness and facial paralysis caused by injury, surgery or disease. The most common cause of facial weakness is Bell’s palsy, but it may be due to other disorders such as Lyme disease, tumors, stroke, trauma to the skull base or face, or from surgery to treat diseases. Some patients regain facial function but are left with abnormal nerve regrowth that may cause spasms or unintended movements of the muscles in the face.
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Facial weakness has a profoundly detrimental effect on quality-of-life. Patients often have difficulty communicating both verbally and non-verbally, which can be socially and physically debilitating. Due to asymmetries and unintended movements of various facial muscles, a patient’s inadvertent facial gestures may lead to misinterpretation of expressions. Vital functions such as eating, speaking and drinking may be limited for patients; common actions, such as blinking, brow lifting and smiling may lead to unpleasant facial movements. This can limit quality-of-life, decrease social interactions and, in some cases, cause social isolation.
Caring for patients with facial nerve disorders is complex and typically requires multiple specialists for optimum outcomes. Treatment options vary based on the degree of facial weakness and prognosis for recovery. Therapy ranges from physical therapy, minimally invasive therapies such as botulinum toxin to treat synkinesis, abnormal facial spasms and a wide range of surgical therapies. Some patients may benefit from advanced techniques to try to restore facial function.
The clinic offers a multidisciplinary and patient-centered approach to treat patients with facial nerve disorders, providing a full range of services to improve the appearance, function, and quality of life of patients. The team consists of medical and surgical specialists trained in the diagnosis and advanced management of facial nerve disorders.
The team includes a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and two plastic and reconstructive surgeons with expertise in treating facial nerve disorders, two therapists with advanced training in facial rehabilitation, and a nurse. Other specialists are involved as needed and may include:
- Head and neck surgery
- Adult neurology
- Pediatric neurology
- Infectious disease
As a multidisciplinary program, patients may also obtain any necessary laboratory, imaging and electrodiagnostic studies that may be requested as part of their care.
Facial paralysis or facial weakness due to many causes including:
- Bell’s Palsy
- Facial nerve palsy due to birth trauma
- Head and neck cancer
- Intracranial tumors
- Lyme disease
- Neurologic disorders
- Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
- Skull base or facial trauma
Meet the team
Jessyka Lighthall, MD
Founder and Co-Director, Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic
Director, Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery
Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
Dr. Jessyka Lighthall is a fellowship-trained surgeon in the field of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. She earned her medical degree and completed her residency training in otolaryngology – head and neck surgery in Portland, Oregon, and subsequently completed her fellowship training in facial plastic surgery at the University of Minnesota. She joined Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center as an assistant professor of Surgery in the Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Lighthall specializes in treating patients with aesthetic concerns related to aging, as well as reconstruction of head and neck cancer defects, facial skin cancer defects, traumatic facial injuries and congenital deformities. She has a special interest in the treatment of patients with facial weakness and a research focus on improving outcomes and quality-of-life in this patient population. This passion led her to start the Multidisciplinary Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic.
Donald R. Mackay, DDS, MD, FRCS, FACS, FAAP
Co-Director, Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic
Chief, Division of Plastic Surgery
Vice Chair, Department of Surgery
William P. Graham III Professor of Plastic Surgery
Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics
Dr. Donald Mackay is the William P. Graham III Professor and Chief of Plastic Surgery, Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics and Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Mackay earned a dental degree followed by a medical degree from the University of The Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He completed residency training in general surgery and plastic surgery in South Africa and plastic surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Mackay’s clinical practice is focused on pediatric plastic surgery and craniomaxillofacial surgery. He is the first vice president of the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons, the past chair of the Plastic Surgery Residency Review Committee and is chair of the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Christopher Weller, MD
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology
Upon completion of ophthalmology residency, Dr. Weller completed two additional years of specialized training in Oculoplastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive surgery at Duke University, as well as James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FLA.
Dr. Weller's clinical practice focuses on providing medical, surgical, and reconstructive care for functional and aesthetic disorders of the eyelids, forehead, orbit, lacrimal system, and face.
As part of the multidisciplinary team in the Facial Nerve Disorders Clinic, Dr. Weller’s role is focused on preserving and optimizing ocular health and function in this vulnerable population. Additionally, Dr. Weller offers nerve transfer procedures to help improve the healing and long term ocular health in patients with concurrent sensory loss to the eye and cornea.
Cathy Henry, MD
Assistant Professor, Surgery
Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Dr. Cathy Henry has a passion for caring for patients of all ages who suffer from congenital and acquired facial deformities. She is a board-certified plastic surgeon, completing her residency at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center with fellowship training in craniofacial surgery through the Medical College of Wisconsin. She is an active member of the cleft lip and palate and craniofacial multidisciplinary teams and is excited to participate in the facial nerve disorders team.
Nicole Fisher, CCC /SLP, MS
Facial Rehabilitation Specialist and Speech Language Pathologist
Nicole graduated from Bloomsburg University with a Bachelor's degree in speech pathology and audiology and earned her Master's degree from Emerson College in communication disorders. She started her career as an outpatient therapist treating both children and adults. Nicole has worked in acute care, inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient therapy. She is currently an outpatient speech pathologist specializing in treating neurological disorders at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Nicole has various trainings including VitalStim for dysphagia and LSVT LOUD for patients with hypokinetic dysarthria. Her special areas of interest are dysphagia, facial nerve rehabilitation, aphasia and treating patients with Parkinson's Disease. Nicole earned her advanced training in facial nerve rehabilitation at the Facial Nerve Center of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School.
Sue Keener, PT, BS, MBA
Facial Rehabilitation Specialist and Supervisor, Outpatient Physical Therapy
Sue graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor's degree in physical therapy and earned her MBA from Penn State. She started her career as a pediatric therapist, eventually also treating adults. She has worked in inpatient rehabilitation, acute care and outpatient treatment. She is currently the outpatient physical therapy supervisor at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Sue currently treats patients with a variety of orthopaedic and neurologic disorders. She is trained in McKenzie spine care, Jones Strain-Counterstrain and myofascial release techniques. Her special areas of interest are fibrosis and dysphagia resulting from neck surgery or radiation therapy, facial nerve rehabilitation, chronic pain conditions and headache management. Sue fulfilled her advanced training in facial nerve rehabilitation at the Facial Nerve Center of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School.