Survivor Story: Joanne Payson

My name is Joanne Payson. I am 60 years old, married with children and grandchildren, and recently retired from the Malden, Massachusetts Public School System. I am also a survivor of two brain aneurysm surgeries. My husband Paul and I both serve as volunteers on the board of directors of The Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Boston.

In February 1994 I received the most horrific news. I had been concerned about a pain in the side of my face and in my jaw and expressed this to my primary care doctor who sent me for a CT Scan and an MRI. I was diagnosed with two brain aneurysms. The words, brain aneurysms, sounded very frightening but they were only words to me. I had absolutely no idea what an aneurysm was or any idea of the seriousness of the illness. There is a disturbing lack of information about brain aneurysms among the general public. Therefore, it is extremely important for primary care doctors and local physicians to be aware of the disease and have information available to their patients.

The news changed the lives of my family and friends. We were fighting something that we knew very little about. As a family, we had to make very serious decisions and could only pray that they were the right ones. My aneurysms had not ruptured. Even the pain in the side of my face was probably not related to the aneurysms. Should we do nothing and hope they never burst or should we risk two invasive operations? After several consultations with Dr. Christopher Ogilvy at Massachusetts General Hospital we weighed all the factors, calculated the odds as best we could, and finally opted to have the surgeries.

Since my first diagnosis, I have learned much about this disease. A cerebral aneurysm is a saccular outpouching of a cerebral artery. It resembles a small balloon filling with air. Sometimes the outpouching breaks, but more often it does not. Rupture of a cerebral aneurysm usually results in a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which is defined as bleeding into the subarachnoid space. Autopsy studies have shown that the overall frequency of unruptured intracranial aneurysms in the general population ranges from 2-5%. It is estimated that approximately 10 to 15 million Americans have a cerebral aneurysm, most of which are small, innocuous and do not bleed. Most studies have found an increased occurrence of aneurysms in women compared to men, although in childhood and adolescence the ratio appears to be opposite, with male to female ratio of 2:1. Multiple aneurysms occur in 10-20% of the population that has aneurysms.

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