See You in Three Years

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. 🙂

Raw image comparing the aneurysm and artery prior to flow diverter deployment and after
Indicating the location and size (approx. 1/2” in diameter) of the aneurysm, which is currently filled with 20 coils (not visible).
LEFT: Showing the area of blood that has been developing over a period of years into an aneurysm already susceptible to rupture. RIGHT: Now showing a reduction in size of the bloody area and a clearly defined artery.
RIGHT: Showing the relative location of the flow diverter placed within the older stent in the artery.

The Next Chapter

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.

What Eddie Kwan started 16 years ago, ends today!”

Dr. Robert Ecker

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.

20 coils, 1 clip, 1 stent, and 1 flow diverter

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. 🙂

Happy Annie-Versary

16 years ago today I didn’t know if I’d survive to see another sunset after suffering a rupture brain aneurysm. Tonight I was greeted by this stunning rainbow shard over the water and two cardinals at the feeder. I am blessed. My brain is wicked tired, but I am blessed.

Days of Rest

Eight days after my brain stent placement, I’m doing very well. I went back to work on Tuesday and worked four full days. I did take two 15-minute breaks a day to step away from my computer to sit and close my eyes. It did help.

Thankfully, I didn’t come back to an excess of projects that needed my immediate attention. There was just enough to test my eyes. And it was my eyes that felt it the most. After a couple days of headaches, those eased, but fatigue and eye strain weighed heavily on Friday. Based off previous non-emergency brain procedures, none of this is unexpected.

I went to bed early every night, listening to my brain and body. Sleep was welcome and thankfully my kitties let me sleep in this Saturday morning.

During the week I received two special “Get Well” boxes in the mail from family & friends back in NY. I appreciate that they took the time and spent the money to do something to help in my recovery. Tea, tasty bites, and heart-felt messages remind me I’m not forgotten and I welcome the support.

I won’t know for SURE if the stent is secure and stable for another six months when I’ll have ANOTHER angiogram. In the meantime, I’ll continue to live each day, try to take care of myself, and be careful to avoid any injuries.

As we celebrate Easter tomorrow, I too, celebrate another battle with this brain aneurysm with hope, renewal, and new life with more brain bling.