My Brother Saved My Life by Anita Hill

My brother passed from a nine centimeter aneurysm of the left antrial cerebral artery. The coroner said Larry’s aneurysm did not rupture; it compressed and herniated his brain stem, such that he “passed out and passed away,” as the coroner phrased it.

What makes Larry’s situation utterly tragic is that he had every blessed symptom: headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light and partial vision loss. The first three were attributed to migraines and the last was attributed to “optic neuropathy.” For three years he suffered the headaches, the loss of his job (since he was losing his vision) and even the loss of his girlfriend. But no one knew enough about aneurysms to insist on second opinions.

And then… he was gone.

And then… my own doctor saw Larry’s death as evidence that my own headaches may have an alternate reason. I, too, had headaches, nausea and light sensitivity but I did not suffer from vision loss. Dr. Cooney said he’d seen too many cases where it appeared as if aneurysms ran in families – or, at least, some familial predisposition made it appear so.

Amidst my deep grief, I went for the MRI. The findings didn’t shock me, for I was too steeped in my grief.

I was originally diagnosed with four aneurysms but the one in the right MCA had every doctor deeply concerned. After several additional tests, the doctors determined the troubling aneurysm needed to be clipped. The neurosurgeon scheduled the surgery. Their offices called to let me know when: on Larry’s birthday.

As the anniversary of Larry’s death approaches, I mourn him still but I also am thankful I am here to honor him. What makes this narrative unique is twofold:

1. An unruptured aneurysm killed my brother and
2. Because he died, I am alive – all three doctors emphasized that I am indeed lucky to be alive.

I am very lucky my primary care doctor understood the importance of early detection of aneurysms. He knew that with a family history of aneurysms, I was at risk. How many primary care or even emergency department physicians would have made the same call? I support The Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s efforts to increase awareness of the symptoms of brain aneurysms in the medical community, so that other families will not have to lose a beloved family member.