FARGO — Nancy Saeger’s battle with depression became official with her diagnosis of major depressive disorder more than 30 years ago. Looking back, however, she believes depression has been a dark cloud over most of her life.
“I’ve spent a lot of time crying,” Saeger said. “Fortunately, I’ve never had suicidal ideation.”
A succession of antidepressants offered only partial relief, and she would soon have to rotate to a new drug. She has what her psychiatrist calls treatment-resistant depression.
About the only conventional treatment she hadn’t tried was electroconvulsive therapy, electrical stimulation of the brain while under anesthesia, which can cause memory loss. That’s not something she wants to risk.
Then, more than a year and a half ago, a friend told her that her son had found relief from his chronic pain and depression with a drug called ketamine.
“That’s when I started looking around,” Saeger said.
Since then, the Fargo woman has been receiving treatments at the Ketamine Care Center, which has an office at 3441 45th St. S., Suite B, Fargo. The treatments have helped ease her depression; her dose of Prozac was reduced by two-thirds and she has weaned herself off anti-anxiety medication.
“That’s a big deal,” Saeger said.
As a result, “I’m more involved with people,” she said. “I’m more outgoing than I used to be. I’m more comfortable with myself. I know that help is out there. I think it’s pretty wonderful.”
Jacqueline Materi, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, owns the clinic, which opened its first office in Bismarck in 2017. She works with four other nurse anesthetists to treat patients for a variety of ailments including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and migraines.
Materi decided to open her practice after reading about ketamine, which has been used as an anesthetic for decades, after reading about it in an anesthesia journal. Members of her own family struggle with mood disorders, and she readily saw the need.
“Since I’ve opened it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” Materi said. She and her fellow nurse anesthetists have authority to prescribe ketamine, but work closely with patient’s physicians.
She’s treated hundreds of patients, many from Fargo, which led her to open an office here in March.
Although ketamine’s efficacy for treating mood disorders, chronic pain and other ailments has been well documented, it is still considered experimental, so patients considering treatment should check with their health insurer, Materi said.
Insurance barriers likely explain why large health providers so far appear to not offer ketamine treatments, Materi said.
Treatments start at $450 and begin with a series of infusions that can range from four to 10, then booster treatments at intervals that vary by patient, she said. Half of her patients come back for booster infusions.
Saeger returns for booster infusions about every eight to 12 weeks.
Ketamine reduces symptoms, but doesn’t cure depression, Materi said. “I never claim it’s a cure for depression,” she said. “It can help manage the symptoms,” and can potentially put patients into remission, enabling them to develop coping strategies.
To assess patients, Materi uses mood monitoring. Each day, at 5 p.m., Saeger gets a text message asking her to rate her mood, with results charted for the patient and providers to evaluate.
Long used as an anesthesia for animals and children, ketamine has been used recreationally as a “club drug” for the euphoric effect it can have. When used in a clinical setting, under prescribed doses that are spaced apart, abuse or addiction risks are “low to nonexistent,” Materi said.
“People can’t come in here every day and get treatment,” she said. In fact, ketamine is in the early stages of research studying its ability to treat addiction.
After Materi’s patients receive an infusion, she doesn’t allow them to drive for 12 hours.
For many years, because of the stigma of mental illness, Saeger didn’t discuss her struggles with depression. Fortunately, she said, attitudes have changed in recent years.
“I was always embarrassed that I had to be on these medications,” she said. “When I was really low, I just stayed at home.”
Ketamine has caught on in recent years to treat mood disorders, chronic pain and other conditions, but was approved as an anesthetic in the 1970s.
“It’s been around for a long time,” Materi said. “It’s well understood. So it’s an old drug with a new use.”
For more about Ketamine Care Clinic, go online to ketaminecareclinic.com.