It was June of 2009; I was 25 years old. It was two months before I was getting married to my high school sweetheart. We had planned a very festive five day extravaganza with 650 guests from all over the world. In the months leading up to the wedding, I began getting unusual headaches. At first I figured it would heal itself, but it persisted so I made an appointment to see my doctor. My primary care doctor wasn’t in, so I saw one of his partners and she chalked it off to stress of the wedding. As I was leaving, I asked her if it could be anything more serious, but she was confident it was just a bit of stress and anxiety. She simply sent me home with a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. As I walked out, I wanted to believe what she said, but there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t so. A week passed and the headaches remained, so I went back to see my primary care doctor. It was this curiosity and the need to advocate for my own health that saved my life.
My doctor knew me well and took a more serious look at my symptoms. After trying another medication, I ended up getting an MRI and MRA. A few days later, on a Friday at 4:45 p.m., I got a call while out shopping with my mom, “Hi! This is the triage nurse. We got your results. Your MRI came back normal, but your MRA shows that you may have a brain aneurysm.” She continued to tell me that I needed a referral for further testing that she could give me the following Monday. Hysterically, I drove to my brothers and then my family took me to the ER.
At the hospital, they did an angiogram which confirmed the brain aneurysm and my life was turned upside down. The next week was very emotional as we went back and forth between canceling the wedding, meeting with doctors and determining when and how to operate. We decided to have surgery right after the wedding and get all my pre-surgical clearance testing done prior. One of the tests was a chest CT. The day before my henna party, I got a call telling me to immediately go to the hospital, as they found a blood clot in my lungs.
I went from being healthy and looking forward to the best day of my life to wondering if I was going to even live. As any girl could probably relate to, this wedding meant the world to me. I had spent many years envisioning this moment after having dated the same guy for eleven years! This wasn’t what I imagined but in a strange way, it gave me hope. I thought, “If I could just get married, life would be okay.” At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would, but it gave me some light at the end of the tunnel.
In the end, someone was watching over me and love prevailed. We got married, maybe not with the most ideal turn of events, but we made it and it was certainly the best day of my life. The next year was full of fear, hope and lots of doctor’s visits. I had to treat the clot first and then the aneurysm which I got coiled with a stent in March of 2010. This was a non-invasive procedure by which doctors can go up through the groin into the femoral artery and guide platinum coils into the aneurysm and thus preventing a rupture by re-directing the blood flow. I feel very lucky to have survived this and make the best of each day because life is certainly full of surprises.
As all this happened, I struggled with why this was happening to me. I learned some valuable lessons along the way and realized that this happened to me because I had the strength to handle it and the support team who carried me through my wedding and beyond. I am grateful for all the incredible people who have supported me along the way from family, friends, co-workers, caring medical staff and The Brain Aneurysm Foundation for their unconditional love and guidance.
If it wasn’t for advocating for my health or getting these life threatening illnesses detected early, I may not be here today. I hope that you will be your own health advocate too and never ignore your body’s symptoms.
Today, I am back to work as a third grade teacher, enjoying life with my incredible husband, supporting other survivors so that they may never feel alone and raising awareness in hopes that more people can survive brain aneurysms. In August of 2011, I was able to launch the first support group at Central DuPage Hospital with Diane Broadley, RN. Another incredible survivor and I also teamed up to organize the first annual Step for Hope 5k Run in September of 2011 which brought together over 250 participants and rose over $21,000. This will fund vital research and grants to help learn more about brain aneurysms and promote early detection so that more lives can be saved. Too many people know too little about this disease and so it is my mission to help bring about that awareness and support.