Lending a Hand

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.

A small segment of the #bobstrong team

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.

Linda, Dave, Heidi, Amy, and new survivor, Bob

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.

Linda, Dave, and Amy

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.

#bobstrong

Perspectives

Our group held its second brain aneurysm support meeting tonight since the start of the pandemic. Held outside, with proper spacing, and all wearing masks, we enjoyed a stunning, summer evening in Portland.

July brain aneurysm support group meeting

There are regulars who attend the meetings every month and there are those who try to attend when they can. So, we never know who is going to attend each month. Sixteen people attended tonight with two new survivors and a neuro nurse who brought a unique perspective to the group.

At last month’s meeting, our first since February, our group facilitator asked us to find something positive that has happened during the pandemic instead of trying to focus on all the negatives…because there certainly are a lot. It was a wonderful idea and gave us a chance to catch up with one another. I don’t believe the words “brain aneurysm” were even mentioned that evening. We left feeling “good” and grateful for those positives we were able to mention no matter how small they might have been.

Tonight we were asked to share something we have done this summer that has allowed us to get away from the chaos and uncertainty. We also went around the “room” and shared our brain aneurysm stories again. With new people in the group it can put them at ease to hear other’s stories, know they’re not alone, and it allows us a chance to offer advice and comfort if needed.

After 14 of us shared our relationship to brain aneurysms and added our “summer story”, we then met Elizabeth who has been a neuro nurse for over 30 years and who currently works at Maine Medical Center. It was fitting she was the last in the group to share HER story after listening to all of OUR stories.

She was not a brain aneurysm survivor and didn’t have a relative who had a brain aneurysm, but because of the field she is in, Elizabeth has seen the effects that a brain aneurysm can have on patients and their families at their most vulnerable stages: admittance to the hospital and during emergency and elective medical procedures.

What she does NOT see is how those patients fair once they leave her care and guidance in the neuro ward. So, tonight it was an eye-opening and rewarding experience for her to hear from survivors themselves, how they’re coping, how they’re surviving and thriving after their first, second, and sometime’s third experiences with brain aneurysms.

Elizabeth eloquently shared her feelings regarding our group and the survivors who shared their stories and how it gave her a new perspective and insight into healing and recovery. A perspective she never would have got had she not joined us tonight.

It also dawned on all of the survivors that, of course, a nurse who cares for these patients for a brief period during the ugliest parts of the patients experience would wonder how is that patient doing now? How is their family coping with this trauma? Did they regain their memory? Were they able to walk again? One forgets they must see patient after patient and not really get any kind of resolution or closure because THEY aren’t the ones who meet us during our followup appointments at the neurosurgeon’s office.

Elizabeth also shared that they don’t really remember the type of brain aneurysm we had, or its location, but they DO remember the family and the people around the patients and perhaps their initial struggles. She remembers the patient…not the medical condition.

What an eye opening perspective for us all to hear. We thanked HER for sharing that perspective and she thanked US for allowing her to hear our stories about our lives and healing after our initial brain aneurysm experiences. She also realized that the healing and PROGRESS can occur well after one or two years.

Many survivors are told they’ll be healed and back to “normal” in a year or two or that after two years, you got what you got. Many survivors also know this is NOT the case. You may look normal, but your brain can still be struggling with many, many different smaller deficits that, in time, WILL and can get better. But it takes time…lots of time.

I am so glad Elizabeth and the new survivors joined us tonight and shared their stories. It’s a good reminder of how fragile life is and those stories continue to inject new perspectives on SURVIVING and THRIVING with brain aneurysms.

Love & Peace

MRA Results

I have added some new images to my brain photography exhibition after my latest MRA last week to check my vascular health. I haven’t had one in two years, so the scan-xiety built up a little bit the day & evening before. Not that I was nervous about the MRA, I have had plenty of those (see the previous blog post!) but it’s always the results that create that uncertainty.

I was especially worried about this one because I haven’t been taking care of myself the last two years. I’m not exercising, I’m not eating right, and since my last MRA in 2018 I had developed high blood pressure. All three of those things are NOT good for maintaining good blood flow in the brain…or elsewhere for that matter. I take full responsibility…no excuses other than being lazy.

I have been reticent to sign up for all the online medical charts offered by the hospitals lately, but I decided to sign up for the one used by the state. As a result, I could view the initial findings of the MRA online on a Sunday before the doctor’s office ever called me on a Tuesday. I’m still debating whether that is a good thing to have or a bad thing. If the results have come back badly, I’m not sure how I would have handled that.

THANKFULLY, the findings were positive and my doctor’s office confirmed the diagnostic radiologist’s report with his reply and recommendations for follow-up.

Here are the main things that came from the report:

  • There is normal flow within both vertebral arteries. No other aneurysm is identified. There is normal flow within both P1 segments and in the right middle cerebral artery.
  • Stable appearance of the coil embolization and previously clipped left internal carotid artery bifurcation aneurysm. Small amount of flow is unchanged or slightly less apparent in the region of the aneurysm neck that measures between 3 and 4mm in size.

The first point is the best one, indicating no other aneurysm was found. I am at higher risk with my family history and my own history with two already.

The second point was also good news about the bloody remnant (narrow area where blood is starting to creep back into the aneurysm) at the neck of the original brain aneurysm being “unchanged” and that it may be “slightly less apparent”. We have been watching this remnant for several years now and I’m always nervous it will increase in size, or create a weak area and possibly burst.

When the doctor recommended I come back in a year for another MRA, I was surprised it’s not another two year follow-up. So, I have sent in a question asking why.

Celebration Tea

I am blessed to still be here and share my story with others. Keep on living. I am enjoying a celebratory scone with tea to celebrate!

I Am Lit

As I get prepared for my 2-year follow-up MRA this Friday, I was curious to see just how many angiograms and MRA/MRI’s my brain has had since 2006. Thankfully, I was able to get a pretty good handle on that number by simply searching this blog. I was surprised by the number…but not really.

CEREBRAL ANGIOGRAMS

I have had NINE cerebral angiograms which include three treatments that are performed using this same process: my initial coiling, then my stent placement, and recoiling were all performed using angiography.

A Cerebral angiography provides x-ray images of blood vessels in and around the brain, showing abnormalities like brain aneurysms.

PHOTO: John Hopkins Medicine

Typically a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the groin and threaded through the circulatory system to the carotid artery where contrast die is injected. A series of images are taken as the contrast agent spreads through the brain’s arterial system, then a second series as it reaches the venous system.

MRA/MRI

I have also had SEVEN MRA/MRI’s. Magnetic resonance angiography–also called a magnetic resonance angiogram or MRA–is a type of MRI that looks specifically at the body’s blood vessels. Unlike an angiogram, which requires inserting a catheter into the body, magnetic resonance angiography is a far less invasive and less painful test.


PHOTO: My brain bling via MRA imaging.

The frequency and type of follow-up procedures I receive hinge on the previous scan showed and what procedure was provided. We’re hoping I can continue just getting MRA’s, but if something unusual shows up, more angiograms may be needed. Angiograms are more invasive and risky, but they are the gold standard for getting the clearest images of my blood vessels.

I am blessed to have had such a great neuro team here in Maine and terrific health insurance coverage through work.

Here’s to more scanxiety.