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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.