ROCKVILLE, Md (WUSA) --Karen Boyle is getting her face stretched out by a physical therapist to help her heal. The 49-year-old was diagnosed with Bells Palsy over a year ago.
"I could feel numbing in the right side of my face hour by hour it just got worst and worst. Then you can tell you can't whistle. And if you stick out your jaw you can now see how the symmetry is not there any longer," says.
Bells Palsy involves damage to a facial nerve that controls movements of muscles in the face. The exact cause isn't clear, but sometimes there is a viral trigger.
Karen says her condition started after she was fighting a virus and also got a flu shot. When the Bell's Palsy didn't go away after two months, doctors told her she might never smile again.
"It made me realize how many times you are just walking publicly. How you just grin, smile randomly at people passing by and I could not do that. It is devastating to not be able to share what you feel," Karen says.
But this 49-year-old mother of four from New Jersey wasn't ready to give up, and traveled to National Rehabilitation Hospital's Regional Rehab in Montrose for help.
At NRH is where physical therapist Jodi Barth introduced her to a technique she and her co-worker developed called "Mirrorbook."
Jodi says, "They can only see their normal or non-involved side. So when they are looking they see their full face it looks totally natural to them and they can just go through their facial expression with out having to think I can't move my face on that side I can't smile."
"It is tricking my brain into thinking ok it is smiling so I am sending messages down to this part of my face to say to smile. Now my brain looking into a full smile is thinking alright this is what's it's suppose to do," Karen says
Jodi says Mirrorbook is also a great psychological tool for patients and Karen couldn't agree more.
It has helped her want to go out in public again.
Karen says, "This really has been a saving grace to have found them to help me get my face back."
Bells Palsy effects people differently almost 85-percent of people their symptoms resolve on their own with little therapy in about 10 weeks. The other 15-percent are people like Karen who need more intense therapy. It can be a long and slow process.