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.

The Continuing Adventures of an 11mm Brain Aneurysm

In our last episode of The Adventures of an 11mm Brain Aneurysm, our pesky friend was allowing what appeared to be more blood into the neck of the aneurysm. After 16 platinum coils were inserted in 2006, then four more coils and even a stent were inserted in 2011, blood continues to find its way into the 1/2″ diameter aneurysm that almost cost me my life in 2006.

When we met with Dr. Ecker last year, I made the decision to wait another year and see how things looked. Well, the time to have a look is near.

On March 2nd, I will have an angiogram to see if that area on the neck of the aneurysm has changed or not. It might look the same, or there might be more blood accumulating and action would need to be taken since it is an aneurysm that has already ruptured once.

I’m used to the angiograms. I’ve had so many since 2006. I know many of the radiology folks at Maine Medical Center now. They’re great, but I do wish I didn’t have to see them so frequently.

Balloon Occlusion Test
Balloon Occclusion Test

However, during this year’s angiogram, I will also be given the balloon occlusion test I talked about in last year’s post. They test to see if my arteries can handle reversing the blood flow in that area in case they have to perform a bypass where the parent artery must be sacrificed and the blood flow bypassed for the aneurysm to be effectively treated. I got into a little more detail on last year’s post. Until I know we’ll NEED to do that procedure, I won’t get any more detailed just yet.

The first two steps are to get some pictures of the aneurysm, then see if I can handle the blood flow being cut off to that part of the brain. Sounds scary….and yes, I am scared, but I’d rather have it looked at and know what I have to deal with. It will mean an overnight stay in the hospital which I wasn’t planning on, but if I only have to stay one night, I can handle that.

That pesky, original brain aneurysm continues to taunt me and remind me of the fragility of life and the struggles many, many people have to go through when dealing with brain aneurysms.

Stay tuned for the continuing Adventures of an 11mm Brain Aneurysm!

Two-Year Clip-Aversary

Me! Brain Aneurysm Survivor
On the anniversary of my ruptured brain aneurysm in 2006 and subsequent coiling, I call it my “Annie-versary” stealing the phrase from other survivors from the Brain Talk Community online who helped me through my recovery. For some reason I feel I need to give my 2nd brain aneurysm procedure (the clipping) a different annual name. Like I’ll be criticized for calling that an Annie-versary too? LOL I doubt it, but I do.

Saturday is the two-year anniversary of the clipping on my second, unruptured brain aneurysm. It turned out to be a delicate aneurysm and it was a delicate time. I had lost my other sister just a few weeks prior to my scheduled surgery and I was wrestling with whether I should go through with the surgery or not. It wasn’t until my niece and mother (who we lost last year) spoke to me and encouraged me to proceed, that I made the final decision to keep the date and proceed. I truly didn’t want to put them through anymore.

I think some angels were watching over me because it was a good thing I DID get the craniotomy & clipping. It was an ugly, thin-walled brain aneurysm that would have surely caused me issues, if not caused my death, at some point down the road.

For my two-year update I’ll recall an earlier format I used to update my family and a few friends on my blog about my recovery process.

FATIGUE: There are still days I KNOW my brain had too much stimulation. It’s difficult to describe other than my brain is tired. I suppose that is something that will never go away. It does get better, but I’ll be able to realize when I need to rest my brain. Not just sleep, but do nothing…think about nothing…just nothing. I need those days still. I also notice my left eye lid will get a bit droopy when I’m overly tired and haven’t eaten much.

PAIN: 
These days, the only pain I feel that is associated directly to the clipping is on the left side of my skull. I have no idea what triggers the pain and I often have difficulty laying on the left side of my head. It “feels” like my brain shifts to the left against my skull and there is pressure there. It’s not a daily pain, but I certainly notice it when it is bothering me and I have to roll over and lay on the right side. Sneezing doesn’t bother me, but coughing really does. I feel it throughout my head and it makes me tired.

NUMBNESS:
 As many people said, including the Dr., this may or may not go away. The skin on my skull hasn’t completely “reconnected” all of the nerves, so a great chunk of it is still numb. I only notice it when others touch my head now. My hair dresser or Dave. At least it’s not painful….just odd. I certainly could have worse issues, so I consider myself lucky.

STITCHES/INCISION:
 I can feel the incision under my hair line and the hair has all grown back so that part isn’t even visible anymore. As the swelling went down and I lost a little bit of weight (20 lbs at one point), the bone flap area “settled” into the skull quite a bit and a dent has appeared. The pins and small plates that secured the bone flap back onto the skull area are also visible and sticking out under the skin on the skull and I most certainly feel them. I’m not crazy about the dent or the brain “bling”, but it is what it is and I doubt anyone but me would really notice them. Although when I have my hair parted differently and the light hits it just right, Dave will notice and always points it out. I’ve seen much worse dents on other survivors I have met, so in comparison, I’m lucky.

Found this great PDF: https://profiles.utsouthwestern.edu/profile/67812/assets/patient-information.pdf

And this one: http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-Craniotomy.htm

BRAIN FUNCTION:
Well, I have survived two more catalog seasons, so I guess my brain function is doing okay. I certainly feel tired at times, but I’m very, VERY lucky that I can drive, work, read, and function on a daily basis. I’m a little slower and a little more careful when walking and traversing walkways, hills or paths because I have a bit of a fear of slipping or falling and hitting my head.


I do still struggle with some survivor’s guilt. Why, dear Lord, am I so lucky with my multiple brain aneurysms when two (and possibly three) people I loved so much were victims of the same ailment? One can say because God has other plans for me to help others. If that’s the burden I have to carry, then so be it. I can’t say I’m crazy about it though. I’d rather have Kim, Dori, my mom and Rhonda back.

So, I will celebrate my clip-aversary in some fashion I’m sure. I’m glad I’m still here and I hope a few others are as well.