I first met Dr. Ecker on December 3rd, 2010. In all that time and the different medical procedures we have been through, I don’t believe I have ever hugged him. Yesterday I broke that patient/doctor barrier and gave him a very warm, tight embrace.
Twelve years ago, he picked up my aneurysm story where Dr. Kwan left off four years prior. Aneurysm #1 ruptured in 2006 and is the problem child. Even after 16 initial coils, blood was getting back into the aneurysm. Dr. Ecker has been trying to improve the situation and produce favorable results with several attempts. Two stents and 4 more coils later, we might be at a turning point in our professional relationship with this pesky bugger.
As noted in my previous post, I was thrilled and emotional to hear how well the flow-diverting stent deployed back in April was doing. I certainly was relieved, but until I saw the images and spoke to him in his office after he had a chance to review everything again, I still wasn’t celebrating to the point of calling it “done”.
Seeing the images yesterday was remarkable! The areas where blood was previously getting into the neck of the aneurysm had almost disappeared and the artery where the flow-diverting stent was placed inside the older stent had conformed to the shape of the artery. This is EXACTLY what the hope was. Success!
Because this particular procedure, placing a stent inside another stent, is not a common practice, Dr. Ecker felt a follow-up MRA in three years would be best and I agree. Although we’re all thrilled to see how it’s taking shape after 7 months, giving it sufficient time for healing was recommended. THEN if it continues to look good, we’ll look at it every five years.
Below are a few photos I took of my images on the doctor’s computer screen. They aren’t the best, but I tried to indicate where things are for my readers. The two images placed side-by-side were backwards on his screen showing the AFTER image first, then the BEFORE image after it, so I had to cut them apart, flip them and I tried to keep them around the same size for scale. Hopefully, you’ll get the idea. And yes, I DO know I should have added another “m” for the size of my aneurysm. Don’t @ me. It took me a long time to get these images right and I’m too tired and busy to change them. 🙂
Yesterday was my 12th cerebral angiogram in 16 years. That’s a lot of images, a lot of stress, many procedures, successes, and even failures. Brain aneurysms don’t care what else is going on your life…they show up whether it’s snowing or not.
It was snow that greeted Dave and I yesterday morning as we were up before the sun rose to hit the road to Portland, a 60 mile drive south. Thankfully, we drove out of the snow about a quarter of the way there as a driving rain greeted us at the door of Maine Medical Center.
When multiple members of the hospital staff remember you from previous visits over the years, that should never be a good thing, but it is what it is in my case. I supposed it’s a comfort to see familiar faces who know my story.
Down in radiology, I was prepped for the procedure, hooked up to an IV, and answered everyone’s questions. Dr. Ecker came in to greet me and indicated he was excited to see how the flow diverter he deployed back in April was doing. Well…yes, I was too! He even opened up the images from the procedure on the computer in the prep area to view them with me and Jack, the PA, who has assisted Dr. Ecker with several of my other angiograms. Again…they know me here.
The procedure itself went very well. No issues and no pain or major discomfort. I was a good girl and didn’t move this time as some lovely classical music accompanied the staff in the endovascular suite.
While still on the table and hooked up to everything, Dr. Ecker said that things looked great, then he said “What Eddie Kwan started 16 years ago, ends today!”. Dr. Eddie Kwan was the doctor who performed the original coiling on my ruptured brain aneurysm in 2006 with 16 coils.
At first, hearing those words brought tremendous relief and joy, then I saw the last 16 years flash before my eyes in a rapid succession of images…the fear when it ruptured, the loss of my husbands niece, the loss of my sister…my second brain aneurysm, the clipping, the recoiling, the stents…all of it in a millisecond of memories and feelings indelibly etched into my heart, brain, and soul.
After that wonderful declaration by the doctor, a few more images were taken to get a good look at everything else then the doctors left and went to speak with Dave in the waiting room. While the rest of the staff were busily performing their post-procedure routines and unhooking things and cleaning me up, the tears started to unexpectedly flow.
My arms were still hooked up to things and down at my side within the arm guards, so one of the nurses touchingly came and dabbed the tears away from my eyes and face with a tissue for me. They were very comforting, in what was quite a personal and emotional moment for me, and I’m very thankful.
Dave was very surprised and concerned to see tears in my eyes when he joined me in the post-op area about an hour and a half from last seeing me. I assured him they were tears of joy, but he also knew why it was emotional for me because he has been with me through it all.
I was glad to learn what I heard from Dr. Ecker in the radiology suite matched up with what he told Dave seeing how I was a little drugged at the time. The flow diverter (pipeline) did it’s job. It adhered nicely inside the old stent and had paused the flow of blood from getting back into the neck of the aneurysm. He said it was “Done” and I wouldn’t need to go back for five years and it would just be the less invasive MRA scan next time.
The images that were taken yesterday will need to be closely looked at again just to make sure there isn’t anything else we should be concerned about, but during the doctor’s first look on the table, things looked good and it was a great report. I’ll have another follow-up in his office in December.
I pray this is a start of a new chapter in my life where I don’t have to worry about this damn aneurysm anymore. The rest is up to me…live life better and take better care of myself. I am lucky to be here at all.
I am so grateful, thankful, and blessed for the improved medical advancements in treating brain aneurysms and the skilled hands of Dr. Ecker and his stellar care over the last 10+ years. He knows what I’ve been through.
Two Fun Side Notes: Stephanie, my nurse in the pre & post care area is a Buffalo Bills fan and shared photos of her dogs dressed in Bills attire. What are the odds that two Bills fan, in Patriots country, run into each other in the hospital? Then I ran into Sara, our former brain aneurysm support group facilitator on our way out of the hospital. It was great to see her face. Again…they know me here. 🙂
FYI: These posts are half typed and half using the terrific keyboard dictation feature.
One thing I’ve realized in the last 15+ years of hospital stays with my brain aneurysms, is that a hospital gown, or Johnny as they are referred to, is the great equalizer.
When wearing the gown, no one knows how rich or poor you are, your political leanings, the internal trauma you have endured, and for how long. It’s the costume of reality in a hospital. The Johnny doesn’t care.
The richest most powerful woman in your state is essentially just another patient like the young man who washes dishes at a restaurant laying next to her. The opening at the back of a Johnny not only displays our backsides, but also exposes our extreme vulnerabilities while staying in the hospital.
Any modicum of modesty is thrown out the window as one relinquishes personal “duties” to the nurse working your room at the moment. God bless them ALL!
There was a woman and her teenage daughter in the waiting area for admissions when Dave and I arrive. The older woman had MS and her daughter had cerebral palsy. They both required assistance walking and the daughter had communication issues.
Having one person with a disability in the family can be challenging enough, but I had tremendous amount of respect and empathy for this woman and her daughter dealing with daily struggles to live a “normal” life. And the mom was upbeat, chatty, and smart.
Observing this woman and her daughter maneuver the hallway and communicate with the hospital staff was a swift dose of potential realities for the brain procedure I was about to undergo in a few short hours.
Although I had a tremendous amount of confidence in the staff and doctors here at Maine Med, it IS still the brain and there is aways some potential for something unexpected to happen.
With the only other exception being the heart, if something goes wrong during a procedure in the brain, it can effect the rest of your life in a dramatic way. Just what we needed to see before heading up to pre-op.
My fears dissipated after speaking to my doctor before the procedure and I was ready to get this over. I knew whatever came from it, that Dave and I could handle it.
The follow-up with my interventional radiologist/neurosurgeon confirmed the MRA I had in December showed additional development of more blood getting into the neck of my first brain aneurysm – AGAIN. We went through these discussions back in 2015 when that remnant first showed up. I decided to kick the can and watch, wait, and continue to monitor it. After five years, it appears there is more blood now.
The doctor wants me to have another angiogram to get a closer look and determine if we need to take action now. This is not the way I had hoped to start the new year. It may be nothing alarming…or it might be.
I created the graphic below to present, in it’s simplest form, what’s happening. This is the first aneurysm that ruptured in 2006. It’s 11mm or about 1/2” in diameter.
There were 16 coils inserted into the aneurysm in 2006.
Those coils healed and clotted, preventing blood from getting back into the aneurysm.
Five years later, the coils either started to compact, the shape of the aneurysm and neck of the aneurysm changed, or a combination of both occurred, This allowed some blood to get back into the neck of the aneurysm.
4 more coils were inserted (for a total of 20) and a stent was placed across the bottom of the neck in the artery in 2011.
In 2015, during annual checkups, it was discovered more blood was starting to get back into the aneurysm again.
We decided to “wait and watch” the remnant of blood for future development.
Now in 2022, we’re discussing the fact that it appears MORE blood is getting into the aneurysm after six years of stability. This is also a brain aneurysm that has already ruptured once.
During the last 15 years, I have had to endure a couple of “watch and wait” periods for both my aneurysms. There is always a nagging worry that lays there asking those probing questions: Is it growing? Has there been any change? Am I making it worse? Could something I’m doing make it rupture? Is that headache a sign that something is wrong?
Anyone who is living with brain aneurysms knows that worry. Telling me to “Not worry about it” is far easier said than done.
The good news is that I feel fine. I just hope I can stay that way. 🤞