A Needed Break

Dave and I are always thinking….thinking about brain aneurysms. They have been a part of our daily lives since 2006. We raise money, we produce print pieces, Dave creates banners and maintains all of our Facebook posts. I do Instagram and Twitter posts and maintain the website. We help with the monthly support group and we’re always trying to raise awareness for brain aneurysms.

So,  it was odd when after our first real vacation in five years, I realized that we never discussed brain aneurysms in that three week period. I think the only time I thought about my aneurysms was on the flights, but for the most part…it was a three-week break from brain aneurysms.

At a beautiful waterfall in Scotland

It was a very welcome break and one we needed to recharge and discover the world outside of our little Maine bubble. And we loved it! It wasn’t until the last week of the trip we even turned on a TV and it wasn’t to a news channel but local UK home & garden programming.

Because we were gone last month, we missed last month’s brain aneurysm support group meeting. Tonight we attended as usual and welcomed some new faces. I’m again reminded at the important work we are doing. And I’m also reminded that what’s most important to us (Dave and I) is the human contact and helping others…not the money. Yes, the money is important and it’s helping to fund important research, pay for event costs, and student scholarships, but it’s that one-on-one support and comfort we can give to others that is certainly the most rewarding.

The break was great and it was needed, but I’m pleased with how Dave and I are spending a good deal of our time…helping others when and where we can.

Life. Support. Music.

At last month’s brain aneurysm support group, we watched a documentary about a musician from New York City who, against all odds, survived a ruptured AVM. Through the amazing support group around him including family and friends, he was able to not only recover, but prove most of the doctors wrong with their devastating diagnosis’.  Watch a brief follow-up online about the documentary with Jason and his sister HERE.

Tonight, we were able to meet Jason Crigler in person, hear his story first hand, and ask him questions. There truly aren’t enough descriptive adjectives to convey what one feels after hearing and seeing Jason’s story.

In 2005, soon after he returned home from a year-long stay in the hospital, Jason's family (his daughter, wife and father) take him for a walk in the woods.

He is a soft-spoken, warm, and funny man. If you didn’t know his story, one would never know the extent of the struggles he and his young family have had to endure.

Jason’s story was documented by a friend who video taped much of his early recovery and made it into a critically-acclaimed documentary called LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC. It’s painful to watch, especially as a survivor of a brain injury myself. He could be me…I could be him. The uphill battles are all very similar, but Jason was very motivate to recover with a new-born baby girl, a budding music career in New York City and a family that sacrificed their own lives and comfort to care for him on an hourly basis.

Tonight was very special and it’s a damn shame more people (even from our own groups) could not attend this widely publicized event. The old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, held true tonight I guess. You get what you give…and some people give more than they have to give, but receive very little in return. It’s a damn shame.

Jason’s story is a story that needs to be heard and obsorbed. I only wish I could speak as eloquently and effectively as Jason does, or I’d take my little stent, coil & clip show on the road too. But who the hell would show up to listen to me? Probably only just a few. I know my story isn’t nearly as compelling. We can’t even get an article written about our group.

There was one article written a couple of years ago. About a woman who only came to our meetings maybe two times. She was certainly very attractive & photogenic and lived in an influential area, so that right there was two up on me. Even the one small TV spot we DID have ended up being shared by a completely un-related disease, so we couldn’t even get a full 2-minute spot for ourselves. Really? What DO we have to do????

But…even if we did…would it make any difference? We met a few new people tonight and we welcomed them with open arms as we always do. I hope we see them again and that they spread the word about our group and our efforts to raise brain aneurysm awareness in the state. Exposure could save lives….WE could save lives.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a group like ours (or at least that one special person) that gives such personal attention to those who have reached out to us. I don’t think the president of many organizations would send personalized emails complete with moving letters and related photos to someone who writes and donates and expressed great regret they’ll be unable to attend this year’s event after having attended all of the other previous ones. I think it’s the personal touch that sets us apart from other groups. The behind-the-scenes workings are amazing and the hard work that goes into every event, every email, every newsletter, and meeting follow up, is more than most are doing. Does it matter?

People need to DO more. They are not and it could mean lives of people are being lost as a result. Picking up food for an event will feed the volunteers and participants. For one day out of YOUR life, you could help an event run smoothly and make it a success, meaning those who attended and those who heard about it and read our materials will remember what the event was about and LEARN….and potentially save a life of the next person who has the “worst headache of my life”.

(stepping down off my soap-box now)……back to Jason Crigler.

Jason’s positive & simple attitude about his AVM and recovery is truly inspirational. Many things he spoke about tonight touched me deeply and certainly would have touched a lot more people if they had taken the long hour and a half out of their busy lives.

One thing he said was that there is “strength & power in thought”. We can choose to think we’re failing or think we’re succeeding and it can truly effect the rest of your body. He admits to bad days and depression and despair just like the rest of us, but it’s reminding yourself of the struggles you HAVE overcome and how far you have come that one needs to be reminded of. We all have struggles on a day-to-day basis, but it’s how you deal with, and think about them, that can lead you to a path of strength and power.

I needed to hear those words tonight. My 10-year Annie-versary of my ruptured brain aneurysm is coming up on Oct. 4th. I’m lucky to be here. I know that. I also know others haven’t been so lucky and if sharing my story can save one life, I’m going to do it. If complaining about a lack of support can garner a little bit more, then I’m going to do it.

My sister died from a ruptured brain aneurysm. I had to see her lying in a hospital bed completely unresponsive on a ventilator, with her head shaved, with wires in her open skull and a drain relieving blood from her brain. She was basically gone at that point but we held out hope for a miracle. It never came. I may have failed saving my own sister in educating her enough on the signs and symptoms, but I MAY be able to save one other person. I MAY be able to help one person recognize the symptoms and get them to a hospital in time.

I have to hold on to that…otherwise, why was I saved and Dori wasn’t and why was I saved and Dave’s beautiful 32-year old niece Kim wasn’t? Two beautiful, sweet, funny souls who did nothing but good for others. I’m not nearly as beautiful or sweet, so I have funny going for me…and a chance to DO something in this world and get the word out and share my story.

I may not have friends who care enough about me to film a  documentary, come to our events and support me, tour the country and make money from it, but I DO know I am blessed to be here still.

THANK YOU Jason, for sharing your story, answering our questions, and driving all the way up to Portland to meet with us. And thank you for making people aware of the struggles people with brain injuries can endure…and more importantly, can overcome. You’re a true inspiration!


Photo Shoot & Angiogram Follow Up

This morning my super model brain aneurysm posed for another photo. If I have many more MRIs/MRAs, I’ll stick to the fridge.

The reason for today’s photo shoot was to get a good baseline MRA shot of my large aneurysm and hopefully I can just continue to have MRAs instead of the more invasive cerebral angiograms in the future until they’re needed.

Thankfully, the Dr’s office was able to schedule the MRA on the same day as my follow up appointment for my angiogram that I had earlier in the month. So we headed out early to get to Scarborough by 8:15 a.m.

And it figures, today of all days, I get an ocular migraine right at 8 and had trouble seeing out of my right eye walking into the facility and in the MRA suite. It cleared up actually during the MRA and I could see fine afterwards. Thankfully they don’t cause me pain, just visual disturbance for about 30 minutes and I typically just don’t feel great the rest of the day.

At the Dr’s office we looked at the images of the aneurysm from my angiogram as well as this morning’s MRA, which did show that remnant area where blood is getting back into the neck of the aneurysm. It appears to be below the coils and above the stent. We also looked at previous images and compared any changes to the size and shape for the little bugger.

Since the size and shape it basically the same since last year’s scans, the Dr. is recommending we wait and have an MRA again in two years and if it changes, we’ll add more coils. MORE coils. There are currently 20 pumped into it. Perhaps I really SHOULD call this aneurysm a super model….maybe it’s like continuing to get more Botox.

I’m not sure what results I was expecting from this appointment, but the watching and waiting to get more coils made me disappointed. I was hoping for something more permanent so I didn’t have to worry about this damn thing anymore. If 16 coils, then an additional 4 coils, then a stent weren’t able to stop the blood from getting into it, aren’t more coils also at risk of not working either?

I am struggling on trying to find the positive side of this determination. I DID agree to it but I’m the one who has to walk around with this unstable thing in my brain. I trust my doctor and I know if he felt it was an issue, he’d recommend the coiling NOW, but he doesn’t feel it’s a problem and currently, there are no other permanent procedures that would take care of my wonky arteries. Perhaps in two years something new will come out that CAN be placed inside a stent. Or the remnant will rupture…..see what I did there? I’m normally very positive, but this one is tough. It’ll come, just not tonight.

The good news was that the aneurysm that was clipped in 2014 looks “stunning”! LOL He is just so darned happy with himself for that picture-perfect clipping and I’m glad I was the lucky recipient of it. There! I found something positive.

Head Over Heels

A fellow brain aneurysm survivor posted on Facebook tonight that she had fallen and hit her head pretty hard. After a CT scan, she was given the “all clear”, but I know it must have been scary. She has been through multiple procedures and suffered a stroke.

This week I celebrated my 9th Annie-versary: nine years ago I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. The 11mm (almost 1/2 inch in diameter) aneurysm I didn’t know was growing inside my brain suddenly ruptured. The annie-versary day went by with little fan fare. My husband made me dinner, which is always a special treat, but beyond that, because I’m always so busy at work, I didn’t do much to celebrate.

The first couple of years, I would take the day off and have a spa day. I think I need to start doing that again…regardless of how stressful & busy things are at work this time of year…which it always is. They’re lucky to still have me.

Falling and hitting my head is probably my biggest fear. I hate it when I get to work late and have to park up on the very steep hill parking lot. I always fear falling down and make sure I grasp and have a good hold on the PVC pipe railing along the “side walk” up and down the hill. The railing is always covered with snow or ice too, so not sure how much of a help that is.

I probably didn’t share this with many people, but on our last night in Scotland in 2013, our tour guide dropped us off at a hotel near the Edinburgh airport. Dave and I enjoyed a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant, then I REALLY wanted to take a long soak in a tub and there was a deep, soaking tub in our room at the hotel. As I was getting out, I misjudged the height of the tub to the floor and slipped on the tile floor as I got out, BARELY missing hitting my head on the tub and landing on my backside pretty hard.

Dave immediately ran in from the other room. I was laying on the floor with my head pretty much laying up against the tub. Once we both realized I was okay, we both shook in fear. It was a scary moment and one I hope never to repeat. And that was before I had my craniotomy on my 2nd brain aneurysm.

I suppose the fear is that a hit on the head could produce some sort of shock on the aneurysms and force them to bleed. Or that the surgical work that has already been done…could become “undone”. I’m not even sure how realistic that fear is. I supposed I should ask on my next visit with my neurosurgeon. Because I’m susceptible to aneurysms and bleeding, I would think any hard hit could be a risk. So, I’m very glad Lori got a CT scan after she fell and hit her head. I’d do the same thing.

I didn’t hit my head when my first brain aneurysm ruptured in 2006. No warning, no symptoms, that I recall. But I know that brain hemorrhages can occur when hitting your head. The tragic death of Natasha Richardson is a sad example of that.

So, nine years ago this week, I was in the ICU at Maine Med, then moved to the 608 Neuro-ward. I was in the hospital for two weeks then had six months of recovery before going back to work full-time. Only one person from work visited me and it was simply because she was in the area. I’m so glad Lori has such a wonderful group of friends to support her. I’m sure this fall scared her very much. I know her daughter and husband keep a close eye on her and I’m sure THEY were just as scared as she was. Her service dog Tober will make sure she’s okay. What a great dog he is. Love him.

I’m a NASCAR fan, and the race at Charlotte, NC is this weekend. I remember watching that race in ICU with Dave and my sister Dori (who died of a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2012). They were impressed I knew the drivers and was so responsive. I was one of the lucky ones. Some times I wonder WHY I was one of the lucky ones when so many beautiful, vibrant people who had children to live for aren’t here anymore. It just doesn’t make sense some times. Survivor’s guilt? You bet cha. I’m not a mother and I think I’m a very selfish person, so I’m not sure why God chose ME to live over all of the other beautiful, strong individuals who have lost their lives and devastated their families over ruptured brain aneurysms. It just doesn’t make sense to me some times.

So, yes…I walk slower in snowy & icy conditions. I drive slower in snowy & icy conditions. I don’t ride a bike anymore because of the fear of falling off and hitting my head. I don’t do any strenuous physical sports anymore…not that I ever did before. Falling and hitting my head can happen at any time…even slipping on some of the acorns in the driveway, which is like walking on marbles, gives me pause. I bought this fear up at a support group meeting, but I was on the only one who addressed it. I’m sure other’s have that fear. I’m so glad Lori is okay after her fall. Aneurysms survivors have another added fear. Goody….but I’m still here.