Life after a ruptured brain aneurysm

Identifying symptoms quickly can make the difference for survival.

While jogging on a gym treadmill, Stacy Allen, 41, began to feel intense head and neck pain. She assumed it was a migraine and headed to her East Islip home, where her three sons were relaxing during the Christmas 2015 break. When she arrived, Ms. Allen asked for pain medicine and ice, and then laid on her bathroom floor.

“The last thing I remember is closing my eyes,” Ms. Allen said, “but apparently I coached my son through the next steps, informing him I needed an ambulance — and to let my husband, Tommy, my parents and my in-laws know what was happening.”

An ambulance took Ms. Allen to Southside Hospital, where a computerized tomography (CT) scan indicated bleeding in her skull. Northwell’s SkyHealth helicopter airlifted her to the Brain Aneurysm Center at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH), where doctors used noninvasive CT angiography to determine that a malformed blood vessel burst and bled into the space near the surface of her brain — she had a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Aneurysm coiling: her best option

By mapping the blood vessels of Ms. Allen’s head and neck with a cerebral angiogram, Avi Setton, MD, NSUH’s chief of interventional neuroradiology, and David Chalif, MD, NSUH’s chief of vascular neurosurgery, discovered the location, size and shape of the ruptured brain aneurysm.

“We studied these results before deciding between clipping the aneurysm during open surgery or fixing it from the inside with endovascular coiling,” Dr. Setton said. “Stacy’s aneurysm sat in a high-risk area for surgery, making coiling a safer option.”

The minimally invasive, complex process can take up to four hours. After endovascular coiling, the patient usually remains hospitalized for up to 14 days in NSUH’s Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit. The team manages medical issues that can often follow the original hemorrhage, such as widened ventricles and narrowed blood vessels.

A new circle of support

During an unusually long, 24-day hospitalization that began January 1, 2016, Ms. Allen’s multidisciplinary medical team and brain aneurysm support group helped her through a challenging recovery.

“My doctors and nurses are family to me,” Ms. Allen said. “I feel better now than I have ever felt in my life, and I attribute that to my medical team.”

Ms. Allen returned to her job as a paralegal in March 2016. Once her doctors confirmed her blood vessel health via a magnetic resonance angiogram, they cleared her to transition slowly back to light exercise a month later. By June, Ms. Allen added running to her routine. She now exercises seven days a week.

“Stacy is a good example of someone who was proactive about treatment and spent considerable time with our brain aneurysm support group,” Dr. Setton said. “It had a substantial impact on her recovery.”

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