Survivor Stories 3

Carly’s Story – “The Miracle Man”

Let me first start out my saying that this story did not occur to me, it occurred to my father. I am a 20 year old woman trying to understand everything about brain aneurysms that I can. There is a reason for this. It all started on December 14th, 2005. I had just arrived back home from college, excited to be done with my first semester and thrilled to be home with my family. My father had suffered from a mini-stroke a month before and ever since he was suffering from reoccurring, horrible headaches. My family really didn’t think much of it, headaches are normal, or so we thought. It was so hard for me to continue with college after my dad’s mini-stroke. He came out of it fine with all of his senses back intact, however, I am the baby of the family and these events made me realize that my daddy was not as young as I thought he was. My father, 59 years old at the time, was having a good night. The night of December 14th, 2005 my mother had gone all out and made a delicious dinner. I had not had a decent meal in a long time, so it was great to eat a feast and talk with my family. After dinner ended, I was beat and decided it was time for bed. I felt so good, my father was doing a little bit better and I was less stressed. So I kissed my parents good night and called it a day.

I woke up at 9:17am on the morning of December, 15th, 2005 to hear my mother screaming for help. Before I could even ask myself what was going on, I got up and ran downstairs. What I saw as I entered my family room was beyond terrible. I saw my father having a seizure and unable to swallow. To this day, I can still hear the noises that were coming from him. My mother, who used to be a lifeguard when she was younger, knew that CPR could not be used to help my father. Neither my mother, nor my sister, nor I could do anything to help my dad. As I just stood there in complete shock crying, I could hear the noise of my mother screaming “Arnie, stay with me, stay with me”, my sister screaming at the operator of 911, and my dog barking in complete hysterics in the background. I remember at that time I collapsed and thought that the moment I feared most in my life, losing my father, was about to occur. I then started to cry. I remember just staring at my mother looking straight into my father’s eyes, which had rolled back into his head, and holding her hand over his hand, which was placed over his heart.

At one point I got up and ran to my room because I could not take looking at him like that. I called my oldest sister, who was working at the time and told her dad was in big trouble. Luckily, my sister only worked 5 minutes from the house. The ambulance finally arrived after what felt like a million years and they went to work on my father. Shortly after the paramedics arrived, my oldest sister ran into the house. My father had finally regained his consciousness, unaware of what just happened. The paramedics took him right away to Condell Hospital in Libertyville, Illinois, not knowing what happened to him, or how much time he had left.

My sisters, mother, and I drove to the hospital to find my dad sitting in an upright position talking and being close to normal. I was so confused. It was then that we met Dr. Doppenberg, a neurologist who was working that day. He said he wanted to get a Cat Scan/MRI on my father. When the results came back everyone started to cringe. Dr. Doppenberg stated that my father had suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm and he was bleeding in his brain. He then decided he wanted to start off with an angiogram. An angiogram is a procedure where they insert a catheter through the groin and thread it up into the brain. From there they insert dye into the brain to look at blood vessels in order to diagnose or treat lesions. This procedure allowed the doctors to see where the aneurysm was located and how much blood was in the brain, and moreover how to treat it. Dr. Doppenberg decided that surgery was necessary, the aneurysm needed to be clipped. The problem was that the neurologist who specialized in aneurysm’s, Dr. Jonathon Citow, was not working, not even on call. The doctors said they would call Dr. Citow and see if he would come in to perform the surgery, however, there was a chance that he would say no. If that was the case they would airlift my father to Wisconsin, and there was a great chance with the pressure involved that my father could die in the process. My family all prayed Dr. Citow would say yes.

The next thing we knew Dr. Citow was walking up to us informing us that he would perform the surgery. We were all beyond happy. Dr. Citow informed us what he would do during the surgery and what the risks were. Right after he stopped talking a nurse walked in with a piece of paper in which my father, and only my father, could sign which included all the risks of the surgery. The risks included everything from loss of memory, becoming brain-dead, to death. My father signed off on it and said it was his only chance. About one hour later my sisters, mother, and I were all hugging and kissing my father as they were wheeling him off to the surgery room. I had so many worries and uncertainties about the surgery but I knew it was my father’s only chance of survival.

It was 5 1/2 hours later when Dr. Citow came out to inform us that the surgery went beautifully and the aneurysm was clipped and corrected. Dr. Citow told my family that the next 4 days were crucial and critical. There was still a great chance that my father would die in the next 4 days. One can only imagine how difficult those days were, from the insane comments coming from father, to his wacky behavior. I was unsure if the father I knew for my entire life would come back.

My father survived the four days and 2 weeks after the surgery he was moved out of the ICU into another part of hospital. He stayed for 1 more week in the hospital and then we were able to take him home in early January. My dad attended Rehab for 1 week after he came home from the hospital and surprisingly he went back to work immediately.

My father has next to zero side effects from his ruptured brain aneurysm. One month after my father’s brain surgery he went into heart surgery to correct a small hole in his heart that he was born with. At the end of 2006, my father went into back surgery to correct a herniated disc. In just 1 year my father had gone through a mini-stroke, ruptured brain aneurysm, brain surgery, heart surgery, and back surgery, and battled Type 2 Diabetes. My family and I all call him the “Miracle Man”. I am happy to report that on May 22, 2008, my father celebrated his 61st birthday, and is doing as good as new. He goes into the doctor regularly and gets checked out. The doctors even tell my father every time he goes in for a visit that his story goes down in the books.

I am so grateful for every second that my dad is on this earth. I thank Dr. Citow and Dr. Doppenberg and the rest of the doctors and nurses at Condell Hospital for everything they did to save my father’s life. I luckily had a great ending to my story but some others can’t say the same. This event has made me want to reach out to those families and individuals who have been affected by brain aneurysms. I have a Brain Aneurysm Foundation red bracelet that I wear everyday now and it makes me realize what a blessing I have been given. Everyday I look down at that bracelet it gives me security and happiness. I give one of these bracelets to every individual I personally know who has been affected by a brain aneurysm.

I hope that by me telling my story it has given hope to those individuals suffering from a brain aneurysm. My father is a brave and strong man and I hope to one day possess those qualities in the way that he does everyday of his life. I truly appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read my story.

Patricia’s Story

My name is Patricia, a wife and a mother of 4. I am 39 yrs old and on October 13th, I felt a huge pain in my head and I immediately started to vomit. I couldn’t stop throwing up. I woke up my husband with the runs to the bathroom. I felt very dizzy and with great pain in my head. I told my husband something was wrong and I wasn’t sure what it was. I told him to rush me to the hospital. He wanted to call the ambulance but I was worried our insurance would not cover the ambulance. My husband is a police officer in our city. So he rushed me to the hospital. Of course we were pulled over by a police officer, but he immediately let us go on our way.

We arrived at the ER and I was still throwing up. I had nothing left. I remember sitting in the waiting room for about 1 hr while they took my vitals. I kept complaining about the pain in my head. Two hours later they took me to radiology for an MRI. They immediately saw some hemorrhaging in my head. I can’t remember much after that, but they told me I had 2 aneurysms. One on the right had already ruptured and was very dangerous. The one on the left was too small.

I was immediately admitted into ICU and my husband starts making the dreadful calls to my family (who all lived within 300 miles). My friends were notified. I was in so much pain I can’t remember, but I heard one of the aneurysms was 4 mm. I was then seen by Dr. Ward at Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, the best neurosurgeon. He didn’t say much but the breakdown was that I needed emergency surgery and he needed consent. Since it was ruptured, he would have to cut into my brain and clip the aneurysm. The smaller one could not be operated on because they didn’t have anything small enough to stint it.

At this point my heart dropped and I didn’t know what to think. I cried but I knew I had to remain strong for my family. I agreed to the surgery and I also signed my DNR orders. I did not want my family trying to revive me if for any reason I went brain dead. I did not want to be a brain dead and have my family sit there and wait. My husband was totally against my decision but they honored it in the end.
My friends were in and out of ICU. Not everyone came in because of the limited space and number of people in my room. My mom stayed in my room most of the time. I found out later that all my friends brought baskets of food, an ice chest with drinks, and blankets for my family. My father was in the waiting room but it was hard for him to see me, but I knew he was there.

A couple of hours before surgery, my family came in and prayed for me. I made it! I had 22 staples on the side of my face (pretty hidden)–luckily they only shaved the necessary area for my surgery. My face was not swollen immediately. The next day after surgery, it was so swollen I could not see out of my right eye. I never saw my face because I was afraid to look, but later my family and friends told me.

I am a survivor and I feel God gave me a 2nd chance at life. I am doing great! I have an MRI scheduled in Sept 2008 for the remaining aneurysm. I never had headaches before and never knew about migraine headaches. After surgery I have headaches, loud noises really bother me. My vision is okay but it has changed. My hair has grown back and you can’t even tell the difference. I did not have any symptoms before this happened. I asked Dr. Ward and he said I was born with weak arteries and I was a ticking time bomb. If I had had an MRI a couple of years ago, they would have seen them and monitored them. My aneurysm could have ruptured at any time, but luckily I was home and my hubby was available to rush me to the hospital.

Valerie’s Story

Hello to all who survived it, living with it, understanding, and families of patients with it.

My name is Valerie Plummer and I am a 25 year old female. I thought that sharing my story would be a good outlet for me. Sharing to the many and hopefully giving knowledge to the rest. Please after reading my story, feel free to email me at I hope my story of survival touches a life and inspires others to know there is power in the word Faith.

Like I said I am a 25 year old female and was diagnosed as an 18 year old with Arteriovenous Malformation or AVM. This is a congenital disorder of the connections between veins and arteries in the vascular system. The genetic transmission patterns of AVM (if any) are unknown, and AVM is not generally thought to be an inherited disorder–unless in the context of a specific hereditary syndrome.

It was a typical day for me when it happened. I had recently just turned 18 years old and was a high school senior. Two weeks prior I was celebrating with my friends and family my Elegant 18 when I got sick. To understand let me take you through the events that led to me being a survivor.

On October 20, 2000 I woke up bright and early as I always do and noticed I could not get out of bed. My whole right side was heavy lifting and my face felt low. I called my grandmother and she came to my room to see why I was yelling. She entered my room and asked me what happened? I told her I couldn’t move. She thought I was being dramatic, so she tested my reflexes and saw I was telling the truth. She then called my mother to come over to take me to the hospital.

When she finally reached my mother (who was on her way out to go shopping),she explained what was going on and my mother was on her way to my house. Within 15 minutes of the conversation ending, my mother was there ready to take me to the hospital. She tried to get me dressed but before that, she used my grandmother’s wheelchair to bring me to the bathroom and get me washed up and dressed. She and her boyfriend carried me out of the house and into the car. My grandmother stayed home with my little sister and my younger sister accompanied us to the hospital. My mother brought me to Albert Einstein Hospital in the Bronx.

When I entered the hospital (in a wheelchair), the triage nurse saw me right away and asked me what was wrong. I told her I was’t sure, all I knew is that I couldn’t walk. She got me situated and got me a doctor. The doctor entered my room and my mother, her boyfriend, and my sister were in there as well. The doctor said they had to run tests, starting with an MRI. I thought to myself, “What the heck is an MRI”? As I was preparing for this test, the doctor asked if I had any questions. I told him I do and then begin to ask if I was going to die, and I thought his reply was yes. I started to panic and decided to call my friends from school. I was crying at the same time telling her I was going to die. My mother took the phone from me and started to talk to my friend, calming her down, telling her they don’t know yet what is wrong, but will get back to her as soon as they know something. After that was done the doctored entered the room and told us that the MRI machine was not working and that I had to be transported to Montifiore Medical Center. Now it was about 12am and I was on my way to Montifiore in the ambulance.

I got to Montifiore and I was taken to the MRI right away. I get the MRI done and the doctors tell my mother I have an AVM. My mother has no clue what this was. They transferred me to P.I.C.U. where I spent a week. During that week, I had an external shunt placement. After having that shunt placement, the hospital felt that I can be transferred to a rehabilitation center.

The center they chose along with my family was Blythedale Children’s Hospital. This was in Valhalla, NY. There I had a Speech Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, and a Physical Therapist. They were my team to help me get better. Not even 2 full weeks had passed and I started to experience symptoms of the AVM again. They had a doctor check me out and she told me I had to go back to the hospital.

Back again at the hospital, I got an internal shunt placement. This is called a VP shunt placement. Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt insertion is an operation performed to place a catheter into a brain ventricle and drain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the ventricular system into the peritoneal space. Usually VP shunts are placed to treat hydrocephalus (hydro = water, cephalus = head) that can result from a number of diseases including: subarachnoid hemorrhage, meningitis, or tumors.

With the VP shunt placement, I was able to return back to the rehab facility. I stayed at the rehab facility for 6 months. So from October 2000 to April 2001, my life was the rehab hospital. While there I went to school and was able to go on home visits for the weekend and take part in special trips.

When I was released from rehab, I was told that I had to travel to Boston to have StereoTactic Radiosurgery sometime in July of 2001. When I traveled to Boston my family and I had to make 2 trips, 1 to get skull markers placement and 2 to actually have the radiosurgery done. After having the radiosurgery, I put myself in an online college. The school I attended is University Of Phoenix( I am currently enrolled in the Masters Program for Information Technology)and graduating in September.

In October of 2005, during my annual check up with the neurosurgeon, he told me that I no longer had the AVM and I now have a clean bill of health. I was so happy that I started to cry. He congratulated me and wish me luck in my endeavors. So from 2000 to now, I’ve been on a journey. A journey that help me have a better understanding of life and the road to good choice making.

Throughout this, all the power of prayers helped me. Not only did my family pray but my whole high school was praying for me. Mind you, while in the hospital my classmates and teachers were visiting me everyday and making posters and bringing gifts everyday to the hospital. Even when I was in rehab they continued to pray for me.

My story right now is about the fight for survival and overcoming the odds. I was told I had a 50-50 chance of living and you know what? I made it! I am encouraging others as well to keep praying and let’s make this more aware to the public. Let’s beat this, let fight this and win.