My Husband's Survival Story

My husband suffered a rupture brain aneurysm on 2/7/2010. He was at the gym working out when he experienced the thunderclap headache. He almost passed out and vomited twice. At the time he thought it was a really bad migraine.

Although the headache was not gone the next day, it was much better. He went to work as if nothing happened. That evening the headache came back. He stayed home like this for several days.

On the fourth day I forced him to go to the ER. I didn't have to force too much, he felt like he was dying. His skin was a different color, his pulse was about 43 bmp, he was losing his eyesight, and he wasn't able to go to the bathroom correctly.

I took him to the best hospital in our area (NY Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center- ranked 4th in the nation for Neurology). He was taken to the back. His blood pressure was really high. The nurse got him ready for a CAT Scan. I waited outside the room. When he was done and he was being wheeled to his curtain area, there were 4 doctors waiting for us. I immediately knew something was wrong, but I wasn't even prepared for what was to come. All I remember is hearing the words "blood in the brain" "aneurysm" "subharracnoid hemorrhage" and "BRAIN SURGERY." Those last words made me burst into tears right then and there. When we were left alone, then came the realization of what was happening. His family was all over the country, so he and I were alone to dealing with this. Luckily my mother and brother rushed to the hospital to be by my side.

The next day they prepared him to have an angiogram in the morning and the plan was to coil if possible. After 3 hours of waiting, I was told that the aneurysm (located in the Middle Cerebral Artery) was too large to coil and therefore brain surgery was scheduled for that afternoon to clip it. In a matter of hours, our lives had unraveled.

Brain surgery was 5 hours long. I can't even remember if it felt long, because I laid down in a couch in the waiting area and cried the entire time. Finally the neurosurgeon came out and said things went great. I was able to go see him in NICU in about 15 minutes. When I walked in, Ken had the biggest smile in his face. After he said how much he loved me, he asked for food!

Everything was going great. I thought the worst was behind us. Little did I know this was just the beginning. The next day during lunch time, Ken was feeding himself when he lost control of his right arm and it was paralyzed. I immediately ran out to find a doctor. After examination I was told that he was probably having vasospasms, and later a CAT Scan confirmed the diagnosis.

What came after I will summarized because otherwise this post will be a book. In the next few days Ken had:

19 angiograms to inject medication to relive the vasaspams.

2 angioplasties

3 additional craniotomies to remove repeated blood clots that were pressing down his brain

3 strokes

2 dissections on his artery. One near his neck, and one near his stomach area

Lost ability to speak

Paralyzed on his right side

After the 4th craniotomies, Ken's brain was too swollen and the blood clot kept reoccuring, so the neurosurgeon decided that it was in Ken's best-interest to have a cranioctomy (skull removal). With heavy heart I signed the consent form.

After another 6 hours of waiting, Ken came out of surgery. I was waiting in the NICU for him when one of the neurosurgeons asked me to follow him into a conference room. He sat me down and said the following to me: "You understand that Ken is really sick right? Had he been in another hospital, he would have died already. At this point we have done everything we can, but he's got the worst case of vasospasms I have ever seen. I think you need to prepare yourself. This entire time we've been telling you he's got a good chance, but at this point we don't know anymore. There's a large possibility that he might be a vegetable at this point. We just don't know what the outcome is going to be."

I had held it together (as best as possible) up until that point. Then I lost it. I had a panic attack and could barely breathe. My mother thought I was having an asthma attack. The doctors wanted to admit me to the hospital.

An hour later Ken was wheeled into his room at NICU. They decided to extubate him instead of waiting a day like they originally planned. After they extubated him the surgeon (there were 15 in the room) yelled out "Do you know your name?" He opened his eyes and the doctor once again yelled "Do you know your name?" and in a small voice he said "Ken" The surgeons started yelling and clapping...some even hugged each other. The doctor said "Do you know who she is?" (pointing at me) and Ken said "The woman I am going to marry." I was so happy that he could talk and recognize people, that I even missed the whole marriage thing.

2 weeks after the cranioctomy, Ken was sent home. He was talking, and walking. He wasn't event sent to rehab because he was doing so well. He had some deficiencies, like he couldn't count or spell correctly, but in the grand scheme of things he was perfect to me. Going home was nerve wreaking. Four weeks after his release, they scheduled him for another craniotomy to place a synthetic skull on that area. The surgery went well. At this point I had mastered the art of waiting for so many hours without going crazy.

Three days after his 5th craniotomy, I was in the room with Ken having dinner when he says "Hmmm, I just felt like someone dragged a piece of chocolate across my brain." I knew at that moment that something was wrong. I got the two residents to come and see him. They called his neurosurgeon who was gone for the day (it was Easter), and he came back to check on Ken. Within 15 minutes he was getting yet another CAT Scan (at this point I had lost count on how many he had). The scan revealed that he had a very small blood clot. The neurosurgeon said he wanted to wait a little before taking any action because he wanted to see if his body would get rid of the blood.

I went to work the next morning. While I was on my way to the hospital in the afternoon I get a message from Ken's cell...it was from the neurosurgeon. They had done a CAT scan that afternoon and the blood clot tripled in size. They had tried to drain it bed size, but Ken began feeling sick. They were taking him to get an emergency craniotomy to drain the clot.

I started running towards the hospital. I wanted to get in before they took him to the OR. At this point everyone in the hospital knew me, so I didn't even have to go through security. I got there just in time to give him a kiss before they took him. This was now craniotomy #6.

After this last craniotmy, the neurosurgeon put Ken back in NICU. He wanted him to be watched like a hawk. They kept his blood pressure really low. He was in the hospital for 2 weeks and then released.

Two weeks after his released we were officially engaged. Four months later we were married. A week before the wedding, Ken's head bulged out. Of course I immediately panicked. I sent some photos to his neurosurgeon by text and called him to his cell phone. The neurosurgeon said he wanted to see him ASAP. They did a CAT Scan and it showed that spinal fluid was leaking into the area. The neurosurgeon said this was not life threatening and that it should go on it's own.

Our wedding day was the most spectacular day. It was very small and intimate. We wrote our own vows. Ken thanked me for his survival and said that without my strength he wouldn't have made it.

The bulge went down four months later.

Anyone who meets Ken cannot believe what he's been through. He is 90% back to normal. It was a tough recovery, but we made it through. He never went to rehab. He made himself stronger by working out. He's still has issues....sometimes I have to talk to him slow so that he understands. He can't do two things at the same time. He still has a bit of a hard time spelling. But considering what he's been through, that's nothing.

I live with the fear that this can happen again. It's been tough on me to let go and allow him to do the things he wants to do. Now he wants to go back to doing triathlons. I said no decision will be made without first consulting a neurologist. We moved and now need to find a new doctor in our new state. We are looking to join a support group in the area. The woman who leads the support group suffered a ruptured aneurysm 11 years ago, and recently in January survived another one.

I am glad I found this site and hope to be able to contribute to the love and support there is here.

Thanks Jim. Glad to hear you're doing well. 5K is a big deal, so congrats on that. My husband was doing triathlons before his aneurysm, he loves them. He was training for a half iron man at the time of his rupture. He was doing 6 hours of cardio at that time. The dr's said that his physical health saved his life as he was able to withstand the treatment for the vasospams. At one point they had this blood pressure at 270/220....they pushed it as far as they thought he could take it. His heart was beating so fast, that he couldn't even sleep!

Righ now he's doing up to 3 hours of cardio. This time around he's smarter and won't push himself too hard. If he feels dizzy he stops.

Headaches are a little scary to him.....so whenever he gets one he calls me and lets me know.

I thank God everyday for the chance he had at a second life. On his 1 one year anniversary my mother called him and said "Happy Birthday"...and that's how it feels, like he was reborn.

Oh God...I have tears in my eyes...Thank you for sharing Your story and Ken's...

All of us know...as "Survivors"...that those who stuck with us through this "annie journey" are too "Survivor's"...

God Bless you sound like a wonderful person...and Ken is so ... oh lucky to have you...

May Continued Good Health come Ken's way...!

Cyber~thoughts and prayers...Colleen

Thanks Colleen.

I hope our story inspires others. It's a long road and one that feels like it will never end, but there's always light at the end of the tunnel.

To others I say never give up hope....things will be better. They might now be the same as before, but after such an experience you redefine your life anyway.

I do feel like a survivor. Ken doesn't even remember what he went through. If it wasn't for he fact that I took pictures the entire time, he wouldn't even know how bad he was. Whenever he was feeling down, or his scar bothered him, I showed him a picture of him intubated in a coma. That always brings things into perspective for him!

Elizabeth...

Welcome...and, it is a delight to read your story...

You and Ken have been blessed... and, he was additionally blessed by having quality care...

You were blessed that you got him admitted when you did; please work around fear that it may happen again; there are so many things around which may happen...that we cannot fully control.

When you have time, please share the facility and special doctors w/us; tell us what state you are now in and looking for cherished mds.

Pat

Hi Pat,

Thanks. I work on those fears everyday.

Ken was treated at NY Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center (better known as the hospital where Bill Clinton had his heart surgery). http://columbianeuroicu.org/

Our Rock Star Team:

Nueorsurgeon: E. Sander Connolly Jr. (Primary)

Guy M. McKhann II (Secondary)

Vasospasms: Dorothea Altschul, MD

Jobyna Whiting, MD

http://www.columbianeurosurgery.org/ (Department of Neurosurgery)

Neurologists: MANY. They can be found here http://columbianeuroicu.org/doctors.html. Ken was pretty much treated by all of these at one point or another.

We are now in Lewisville, TX. We have been referred by Michelle Patterson to Texas Neurology near Baylor of Dallas.