Survivor Stories From Our Readers

Maria’s Story

Brain aneurysm? This was the first time I heard of it. It happened in November 2007. I was 47 years old. Went to work like always, had an amazing headache which my colleagues thought was due to a very stressful meeting we just had. We went out for lunch and the headache got stronger by the minute! My friends started to talk about taking me to the hospital, right across the street and I said “No, I just need to go home and sleep a little”. Thank God they didn’t listen!

As soon as I got to the hospital, an intake nurse looked at my eyes and called a neurologist immediately. Dr. Erwin happened to be at the hospital and came to see me immediately. I know now that because of him, I am alive today. No question in my mind!

I was diagnosed with a grade 5 aneurysm! I was in a coma for 31 days and had 5 brain surgeries in 9 days. My family went through hell and back! For the first 19 days, there was very little hope for me. After that, they thought if I made it, I would be in a nursing home for the rest of my life! My poor 17 and 20 year old children were devastated to see mom going through this! I am a single mom and they were so scared! I pulled through it though.

After I was taken from ICU to the rehab hospital, the brain aneurysm was not stopping me! I did every exercise, every task 3 or 4 times more than the times I was asked to! I wanted to get back home to my kids so badly!

I am now back to work full time, and doing pretty much everything as normal as before. I still have mixed feelings and mixed emotions about many things, but I am so happy to be back to life!

Steve’s Story

This story is a lesson in not ignoring the warning signs and in connecting with the right physicians.

Two years ago, the day after our family returned from working with the poor in the Dominican Republic, my husband called me to say he had the “worst headache of his life.” I told him to go to his doctor immediately. He listened! The doctor saw him right away and told him to go to the ER immediately. He listened!

Within a couple hours they knew he had blood in his spinal fluid, but two different angiograms showed nothing amiss. The radiologist said “no aneurysm.” The neurologist on call however was certain in his gut that my husband had an aneurysm lurking somewhere up there. He walked into the ER and said, “So, how do you feel about brain surgery?” He said he believed he should go in and find the thing and fix it. He said it looked to him like there was a “suspicious area” that he should investigate. We agreed to surgery, feeling that walking around with a possible “ticking time bomb” was no way to live.

The surgery went great, no complications. The doctor found the aneurysm lurking behind something, nestled down in the carotid artery on the left side of the brain, just where he suspected.

Listen to your body!! Listen to your spouse/family!! Listen to your doctor!! Be persistent!! Find a doctor who will be persistent!!

We thank God for this not happening in the Dominican Republic or on the long plane ride on the way back (what a nightmare that would have been), for giving my husband the “warning headache,” for leading us to the right doctors, and for his complete recovery. Life is fragile — handle with prayer.

Kelly B’s Story

I am less than one week away from my 45th birthday and counting the days until I get the staples removed from my head after the repair of a brain aneurysm.

Funny how things in life work out. I was 38 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I survived surgery, chemo, and radiation. However, during treatment and all of the scanning, my 6mm aneurysm was detected. At that time I was advised that the risk of correcting the problem was equal to the risk of doing nothing. I decided to continue with my chemo sessions and work with the doctors to monitor the aneurysm. After several years of scanning and seeing no change in size or experiencing no symptoms I had accepted that I was one of those individuals that would live my entire life with this and it would never cause any problem or risk to my health.

I was wrong. After several years of scanning we learned that growth and weakening of my aneurysm was suddenly to the point where immediate corrective actions were needed. Due to the shape of my aneurysm coiling was not an option. I feared the surgery but also knew that I was blessed to be at one of the best hospitals in the South- Emory and had the best doctor that not only had great skill, he had a great heart. Just like breast cancer, I had to let go and let God take over. As soon as I did, everything I have gone through has been “best case” and my recovery is proving to be quick and almost painless.

After 2 days in ICU and an additional 2 days in normal recovery at Emory, I was released from the hospital. My surgery was on February 26th and today it is the 9th of March, 2008. I am walking daily, cooking (my family is finally letting me use kitchen knives), reading, and remembered everything – good and bad! I am always asking my family if I walk, talk, or behave differently because I at times fear that I may not be able to determine if there is a difference. So far, so good.

I thank my family for their support, Dr. Barrow for his skill and great heart, the team of doctors that work with him, all the wonderful nurses at Emory in Atlanta, GA who cared for me and my family, every person in my life known to me and not known to me for the prayers, and of course God for his will.

I am confident that I will not experience any long term side effects. I am not able to make up my mind as to what was harder – breast cancer or this – I just know that without proper screening and careful treatment of one or the other, I may not be here today.

Missy M’s Story

I am a 26 year old woman who before all of what happened to me I worked a full time job, raised a 5 year old daughter, helped out with my daughter’s PTA at school, and enjoyed time with friends and others. I didn’t realize how life can change so quickly, for all that I remember from all of this is taking a bag of trash outside and then I came back into my apartment building, felt dizzy in the hallway and then I blacked out. Next thing I know is I am in a hospital ER being told that I am being air flown to a hospital in critical condition.

Five months later, I am trying to get over all the effects that this has had on my life and my body, and just being thankful that God has granted me another day with all my loved ones and a chance to make some decisions in life that weren’t the best of ones right.

Amy C’s Story

Ten years ago at age 22 I was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm. One night I couldn’t sleep because of a major headache (the worst headache of my life). The next day when I woke everything was normal and I went about life as usual. At work that evening at about 5:00pm, a co-worker asked what was wrong with my eye. I, feeling fine, said “nothing.” As it happened, there was a mirror right behind me and I turned to look at myself and my left pupil had dilated HUGE. I put in a call to be seen at urgent care that evening.

At 7:00pm that night I went to my appointment. The doctor thoroughly examined me and scheduled me for a later MRI/MRA. He told what symptoms to look for, and being a nurse myself, I kind of knew although I was young and fresh out of nursing school. Later that night I went to the ER with another headache, as instructed by the urgent care doctor. A CT scan with no dye was done in the ER and the ER doctor told me “go home, I’m inclined to believe you have something in your eye. If not better by Saturday (2 days later), call your regular doctor.” Thankfully my family doctor called me the next day and scheduled me for the MRI/MRA.

Anyway, to make a long story shorter, 4 days later I had the scan and 3 days after the scan I got the results on a Friday afternoon. On Monday morning I was in the hospital having a formal angiogram to find out more information about the aneurysm I had. It was small, 3mm by 4mm in size, near my cerebellum pushing on my optic nerve.

The next day I was a 22 year old, planning my wedding, having brain surgery and praying for the best. I had the embolization surgery after one day of education from the doctors, much thinking, and discussion with my family. I was so young, it definitely was the hardest decision in my life. I was eligible for either type of surgery, but the coil procedure was only a few years old at the time, and the long term effects were still unknown. My mom being more conservative was telling me to do the clipping surgery, because it was a more sure thing, even though the risks and recovery were way worse. My dad, being more of a risk-taker, was telling me to do the coiling, and my fiance was telling me “I don’t know it’s your decision that you need to make.” So I chose the coiling, because of it being less invasive and recovery being less. And this may sound funny, but with my upcoming wedding I didn’t want to have my head shaved. After I made the decision, I was very confident everything would be fine and I would make a complete recovery.

As it turned out that’s exactly what happened. Today, you would never guess that I went through brain aneurysm coiling surgery. My husband and I have been married since 1999 and are very happy, and we have two beautiful kids, who I had through natural birth. Every 5 years, I have to have another MRI/MRA to make sure things continue to be well, and at some point I may need another formal angiogram, but I remain very optimistic for I have no reason to be anything but. I am very lucky to have no side effects whatsoever, life is great and I am very happy!