15 Years and Counting

15 years ago today my first brain aneurysm ruptured. The previous day, I had just finished the initial layout for the entire catalog. What a huge relief to finally know it would all fit after a stressful five months. I still had a great deal of work to do yet on the catalog, but my brain had other ideas on that chilly October morning.

I am still around today for several reasons:

  • My bleed didn’t kill me instantly
  • I listened to my own body and had Dave take me to the ER
  • The quick work of the attending physician at Maine General who immediately sent me in for a CT scan where the blood on my brain was detected
  • The high-speed and safe driving of the EMT ambulance squad who got me to Maine Medical Center in record time
  • The skilled hands and eyes of Dr. Eddie Kwan who performed the endovascular coiling on my 1/2” brain aneurysm the next morning
  • The compassionate, and hard-working nursing staff at Maine Med who attended to me for 21 days
  • The many prayers from my family and friends
  • My Maine man, whose constant care and attention gave me the strength to get up each morning

Dave, my rock, my constant companion for over 20 years. I am so fortunate that I was discovered on AOL by this GOOD MAN in 1998. Not only am I amazed, blessed, and thankful by the care he provided ME while in the hospital and in recovery, but also by the time and attention he pays to other survivors we have met over the years. The world, and MY world, is a better place because of you, Dave. THANK YOU!

Brain aneurysms don’t discriminate and my story isn’t unique. There are thousands of people just like me around the world. Brain aneurysms don’t care how old you are. They don’t care what race, gender, political leanings, or financial situation you are in. A ruptured brain aneurysm can happen to anyone.

Although I started sharing my story on https://heidisbrainblog.com as a way to keep my family and friends updated on my recovery, it became a therapy of sorts to fight my way back, relearn the computer, hand-eye coordination, and connect with others going through the same thing.

It was wonderful to discover I was not alone and others were going through very similar struggles. I’m so thankful to the other survivors I have met over the years. Each of their stories have touched me and given me strength.

I am not a glorious survivor. I haven’t run marathons to prove my incredible physical strength, or started podcasts proclaiming a new-found energy and awareness for life. I haven’t shown the world my face on tons of YouTube videos (okay, I have a couple out there) or written a book, but I am surviving every day….and I think that’s pretty damn good.

15 years…and counting! Happy annie-versary to me.

Lending a Hand

We spent the day yesterday down in the beautiful coastal town of Wells in the southern Maine attending a fundraising event for a Well’s resident who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in March.

Due to Covid19, our MBAA group have not attending any of our usual brain conferences, fairs, and support events since March of 2020. So, we were looking forward to pitching our tent once again. And hugging! There was hugging!

About two weeks ago, I saw a news report on TV about fundraising efforts benefiting Bob Hoffman, who along with his wife, and another couple, own and run the Living Wells Farm, a horseback riding and boarding center. Bob suffered a serious brain aneurysm rupture in March and continues to heal with rehabilitation therapy at home.

Once we saw Bob’s story, we wanted to make sure he and his family were being looked after and had all the information and medical assistance they needed during this critical recovery period. The #BobStrong Fundraiser offered the opportunity to introduce ourselves and offer our help in anyway.

A small segment of the #bobstrong team

We contacted Katie from CrossOver Fitness Maine who, along with her husband Andre, were organizing the event for Bob at their fitness center in Wells. Thankfully, there was a quick response which also led to Bob and his wife attending a timely brain aneurysm support group meeting with us over Zoom this past week.

It’s so important for survivors and their caregivers to know they’re not alone during these critical periods of after-care and healing. We were really please when Bob and Amanda showed up on our computer screens for the support group.

Everyone is different. Every aneurysm is different. And everyone responds to a ruptured brain aneurysm differently. Some are receptive to help, others can walk out of the hospital on their own and never look back or look into what may have caused the aneurysm and how it has effected their brain and their families. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can lead a survivor/caregiver to a support group, but you can’t make them share their story or be open to receiving assistance and education.

Thankfully, Bob and Amanda were receptive to our group and were engaged and open with us. We were also highly impressed with the path to recovery Bob is currently on and the services he has been offered through some very tenacious efforts by Amanda and their rehabilitation center, Rehab Without Walls.

Yesterday’s fundraiser was a beautiful example of a community coming out to support one of their own and how they have wrapped their arms around this young family in their time of need. We met Bob’s parents and children and some of the good friends helping the family on their brain aneurysm journey. I am reminded, yet again, how the physical brain aneurysm happens to one person, but the entire family suffers the results as they are often confused and scared by all they have seen.

Our group tries to assist survivors and families in understanding the recovery period and what one can expect. We NEVER give them a timeline on when their recovery will be complete. No one can tell you that. But, if you put in the time and educate yourself on how best to help the survivor, it can make that journey easier and perhaps quicker to achieve better results.

Dave and I were joined by two of our committee members, Amy and Linda for the day and we were impressed by the over 200 people who participated throughout the day and brought such a loving and caring attitude. We were asked many questions and met a few people who had also been touched by brain aneurysms in their own families.

Linda, Dave, Heidi, Amy, and new survivor, Bob

Bob is a very fit and strong individual. Both of those traits should benefit him greatly during recovery, but it’s not a quick process. Reading my own blog from my first few months is a quick reminder of how frustrated and depressed I got. Having that strong support group around you is a huge benefit and I think Bob is one very lucky man after what I experienced yesterday.

Spending the day with Linda and Amy also allowed us some catch-up time and the chat was mostly about our experiences with brain aneurysms and our combined efforts in the state to educate people. I have something in common with both of them: Amy is also a survivor and Linda lost two loved ones to brain aneurysms – both of her parents. It’s interesting how easy it is to discuss these difficult topics when you know the person you’re speaking with has also endured similar difficult experiences.

Linda, Dave, and Amy

It felt GOOD to be out there doing GOOD again. It felt GOOD to load up the car, pitch that tent, lend a helping hand where we could, and hug people again.

#bobstrong

Words from the Past

I have been de-cluttering lately. Throwing out, or donating things that I haven’t used or looked at in years. If it doesn’t hold a strong, personal attachment, why keep it? The person who will have to clean up after I’m gone, won’t know if it was meaningful or not…or even care. If it’s taking up space and there is no sentimental value…get rid of it. Quite liberating.

Today’s wee task was a small basket filled with greeting cards. I remembered they were mostly “Get Well” cards from my craniotomy in 2014, but also forgot it was shortly after the loss of my other sister Rhonda. So, there was a mix of sympathy and get well soon cards. Odd.

Many were from co-workers, distant friends, and relatives who had heard about my surgery. Some were very poignant and meaningful and others were funny and distracting.

One such card was from my own mother. She always found THE best cards. Once card I received while recover in the hospital from my ruptured in 2006, was the perfect card for me. A painting of the sun sitting in a bath tub — one of my favorite pastimes. The writing on the outside simply said “The Sun’s Day off”. I have it framed in my office at home.

The card I stumbled across today from this surgery was so MOM. Funny, unexpected, and unique…just like she was. Even more shocking was the expletive inside. 🙂 But I LOVED it. It made me smile and laugh then, and it did so today when I reread it.

Little did I know that just 9 months later, I would also lose my mom. So, finding these cards is very, very bittersweet, but this one made me smile and laugh out loud! I “had fun” with this card, which is what she always used to tell us. God, I miss her.

Since that time in 2014, two of my co-workers have been lost due to cancer. Both were devastating blows and they were taken far too soon. Seeing their names and words was moving especially knowing how they would both struggled with their battles against the horrible diseases that overtook their bodies. I hope I was able to give them the same kind of support and comfort they gave me.

One such card was a beautifully penned, simple note from our photographer John. My sister Rhonda has just passed away and he had read about it on my brain blog. He comes from a large, loving family and his words about pain, loss and family meant the world to me then…and still do today.

I vividly remember that day like it was yesterday. I came to work and found a small orange envelope sitting on my desk. As I opened it and read John’s words about losing my sister, they hit my like a ton of bricks. After my eyes welled up with tears, I immediately walked over to his cubicle, thanked him for the card, and we hugged, held each other, and cried together.

John was also dealing with his own demons fighting cancer. Knowing how precious the time we have on this earth is, for him to take the time and acknowledge the pain I was going through while he was enduring his own fragility being the father of two young girls, meant even more. I miss him every day at work. He was a special, special human being.

All of these cards gave me strength when I needed it and gave me strength reading them again. Grief and healing went hand-in-hand during that period of my life. Neither were easy. I struggled with proceeding with the brain surgery such a short time (2 weeks) after losing my sister. I didn’t want to put my mother and my niece through anymore worry and pain. THEY were the ones who told me to go forward with the risky surgery. And it turned out it may have saved my life.

I thank those who sent cards. No one visited me at home or in the hospital, but the cards meant a lot and made me feel less alone in the world – even for a short time. THANK YOU!

Bench Warmers

13 years ago this week, my first brain aneurysm roared into my life with an early morning rupture during the busiest and most stressful time of year for me.

I had heard the term before because my cousin in Philadelphia had her un-ruptured brain aneurysm coiled a few years earlier. But I truly didn’t know what it was, nor how serious it could be when the ER doctor told me I had a brain aneurysm. I just remembered thinking it wasn’t a good thing.

After my coiling the next day and the subsequent 21 day stay in the hospital, I had LOTS of time to think about aneurysms and try to learn more. Even after I left the hospital I was very confused about how they were able to get the coils up into my brain from the right side of my groin when the aneurysm was on the left side of my brain. No one drew me a diagram or showed me a graphic…I just didn’t know. And no one in the medical community shared any of that kind of info with me or my boyfriend (now husband).

In rural Maine at that time, there were no resources available for brain aneurysm survivors. Although I wasn’t able to read very well yet, or type very well, I had my laptop with me in the hospital. “Friends” DVD’s really saved me during that time, but I also discovered an online brain aneurysm support group. It wasn’t associated with any foundation or national organization, but there were survivors from all over the world chatting about brain aneurysms. I FINALLY had some questions answered from people who were going through the same things. It was a revelation.

It was there that I met Julie from New Hampshire. She was still recovering from her own rupture three months earlier. She was taken to Maine Medical Center and had the same procedure and doctor as I did. It was so nice to speak to someone who knew the struggles of the 608 neuro ward as well as the fatigue, emotions, and recovery process associated with a ruptured brain aneurysm.

There were men and women of all ages from around the world in this group. Some had more serious issues, which was unsettling when I’m still actually IN the hospital, but it also allowed me to see I was not alone and that there were survivors out there who were many, many years out and thriving. They gave me hope and comfort.

I kept in touch with Julie after I was discharged and we continued to speak online and share our struggles and recovery. When Dave’s niece Kim passed away from a ruptured brain aneurysm and her friends and family created the KAT-Walk in Portland, Julie drove over to attend one of the first events. Her support meant a great deal to me and it was great to meet her in person! Social media apps and cell phone capabilities weren’t as active then as they are now.

We also befriended Lori, another survivor from Florida who was having a very difficult time with a massive brain aneurysm. The three of us met in person for the first time in 2011 in Massachusetts at a brain aneurysm awareness event along the coast. The three of us walked the course, shared survivor stories, laughed a lot, and hoped we’d have another opportunity to see each other again.

Lori, Julie & myself in 2011

Both Julie and Lori have had other medical issues since I met them. Julie has another brain aneurysm that is being monitored and has survived breast cancer. Lori is a walking miracle having endured multiple, highly dangerous brain surgeries and has a brain filled with hardware. Both of these terrific ladies are an inspiration.

Lori was a good resource for me when I had my craniotomy on my 2nd brain aneurysm in 2014. She called to check on me and gave me the best advice about ice being your friend! SO true! Even today, when I’m overtired and feel my face swelling where I had my surgery, I place ice there and always think of Lori. She certainly has had her share of ice.

That same year, Julie and Lori made the journey to Maine for our 6th annual KAT-Walk & Karo-5k for brain aneurysm awareness. I was thrilled they were both coming. Julie helped in the brain aneurysm awareness tent and Lori did the run with her new service dog Tober! It was great to meet her husband Ralph. What a fun couple.

It was a cool day on the Maine coast and sun-lover Lori was very cold! They were all so nice to stay afterwards to help tear down the circus, but since we’re all brain aneurysm survivors….we tire quite easily and silliness ensued! Having a seat on one of the benches along the Back Cove was a nice respite where we could rest, chat, and cuddle to get warm. I don’t know what precipitated the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil photo, but it worked at the moment.

Julie, Lori, Ralph, and Tober joined us for our after-party and the silliness and good times continued. When you meet people you just click with, even if you don’t see them or speak to them that often, it just works. Good, good people.

The after party – 2014

Since 2014, our lives have changed a lot. Some worse, some better, but we’re still thriving and surviving. Julie has come to the walk several more times to support us, even when her husband was struggling with a serious health issue. Lori had plans to join us one year, but a pesky hurricane kept her close to home in Florida. We are no longer members of the online support group, but keep in touch via Facebook.

Thankfully we were all able to get together again this year for the 11th annual KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. As it was five years ago, the weather was chilly and a few showers moved through. Lori dressed appropriately, Ralph wore shorts, silly man! Tober is his usual amazing doggy self. What a good, good service dog.

Ralph did the walk with Tober, Julie helped me out in the brain aneurysm tent and Lori ran/walked the 5-k. She’s amazing.

We decided to recreate our “bench photo” from five years ago to mark the occasion. I’m five years older and about 10 pounds heavier, but we still had a lot of fun.

Then they joined us for the after-party which was filled with laughter and medical stories. Survivors LOVE to share & compare their stories and to give great details – myself included. The great thing about these ladies though, is that there is great empathy for one another. Yes, brain aneurysms brought us together, but we’re now connected in other ways and we respect and care about each other’s families. Now THAT is a support group.

So, as I “celebrate” surviving my ruptured brain aneurysm 13 years ago, I also celebrate finding these two terrific ladies and THANK them for helping me get through my recovery, healing, and living.