MANHATTAN — Danielle Mills struggled to keep a smile on her face as she struggled down the aisle, suffering from an intense migraine that almost kept her in bed for her wedding day.
Mills, who experienced a 72-hour migraine episode on the weekend of her wedding three years ago, smiled through the brain-searing agony that threatened to derail her nuptials.
Now, the 34-year-old Upper East Sider is getting a chance to do it all over after being picked as one of the 15 winners of a contest for chronic migraine sufferers designed to raise awareness about the problem.
"Just to be able to relive that moment when I won’t have a hint of pain is going to be wonderful,” said Mills, an advertising executive, who has since gotten treatment to better manage the 15 or so migraines she gets each month.
Some 30 million Americans suffer from migraines and 3.2 million of them have chronic migraines, according to Dr. Susan W. Broner, a neurologist and director of the Manhattan Headache Center and associate clinical professor of neurology at Columbia University. It’s the 12th most disabling condition for women and ranked 19th overall, according to the World Health Organization, she noted.
"A migraine is not just any headache," Broner said.
But many don't even know they have migraines, thinking it’s sinus-related or something else, she said, citing a study that found 80 percent of 500 people were not diagnosed correctly.
"Many of my patients don’t tell people they’re suffering from migraines, and they march on," Broner said. "There are treatments out there and people don’t need to suffer."
Weddings are a perfect storm for migraine sufferers, with a host of potential triggers ranging from stress to wine to flashing cameras. Weather changes, monthly hormonal cycles, certain foods and odors such as perfume are can also be triggers.
Mills said she's spent the past three years learning how to reduce her vulnerability to triggers, like the stress she felt in the runup to the big day.
“I woke up the morning before the wedding and just burst into tears," Mills recalled. “I was crying because I was in so much pain and also because it was such an important day for me.”
Her tears made the pain even worse, she added, saying the pain typically lasts for several hours and feels like “a sharp object” hitting her head.
Instead of returning to the country club near Syracuse where she got married, her more intimate March 27 celebration will be closer to home, at Park Avenue Spring, an upscale restaurant on East 63rd Street. Mills and her husband will get a second shot at their first dance to Tim McGraw’s “When the Stars Go Blue."
Her wedding, like those of her co-winners, will be sponsored by the National Headache Foundation, among others, and will be organized by celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss.
"It’s about redoing the experience. We have a photographer there validating a better memory," Weiss said.
Weiss, who has worked with famous couples including Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi and Heidi Klum and Seal, said she feels the pain of the clients whose weddings she's planning. She also suffers from migraines at least once a month.
"I can't imagine having that 15 times a month," Weiss said.
Mills has learned to recognize the onset of her migraines more quickly and takes medication right away. She’s also learned how to manage her stress — like the kind that plagued her on her wedding weekend — since stress is one of her migraine triggers.
Mills, who has suffered from migraines for more than a decade, said that many of her friends and colleagues don’t even know about her condition.
"I will push through the pain. I do things like dim the lights in my office or the computer screen,” Mills admitted. “I’m not migraine-free but I am better at managing them."