Kindergarten teacher, Marta Gagie, experienced a sudden and terrible headache that almost took her life.
Marta didn’t realize she was experiencing a brain aneurysm, but she did know it was the worst headache of her life. An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge or weakening of an artery wall. As the bulge grows, the artery wall becomes thinner and weaker. It can become so thin the blood pressure can cause the wall to burst or leak.
Not being one to make a fuss, Marta quietly endured her pain for the rest of the trip home but when she finally arrived, she lost feeling in her left leg and fainted. Her daughter called 911 and asked the operator to take her mother to Bronson.
The ambulance arrived within minutes. Her memory of the trip is a blur, but when she awoke around 2 a.m., the first face she saw was neurosurgeon Alain Fabi, MD, who rushed to Bronson’s Trauma & Emergency Center as soon as Marta arrived.
Dr. Fabi called in his colleague, a neurointerventional surgeon after Marta’s CTA scan revealed she had a bilateral subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood on the surface of the brain. “The blood’s location on her brain was unusual,” explained the neurointerventional surgeon. “Usually a ruptured aneurysm bleeds inside the brain, but Marta’s bled into the subdural space on the brain’s surface.” They considered her classic symptoms, her youth and her health. After some research, they discovered Marta’s particular type of aneurysm is so rare, fewer than 150 cases have been reported since 1844.
Bronson’s Neuroscience Team
Access to a team of neurosurgery specialists is crucial to quickly diagnosing an unusual case like Marta’s, and that’s one of Bronson Neuroscience Center’s greatest strengths, according to Dr. Fabi.
“We often consult each other about a particular diagnosis. Everybody’s always willing to help and to share what we know. We’re just more open and collegial than many other places, but it doesn’t all just happen magically. It’s a culture where we constantly evaluate ourselves and ask how we can improve. I don’t always have the answers, but I always need to make the right decision.”
Marta had an ophthalmic aneurysm with a rupture site. Dr. Fabi decided with his colleague to use endovascular coiling to prevent it from rupturing again. Not all hospitals are able to offer patients this minimally invasive option. Bronson’s neurointerventional surgery team has this expertise, and team members specialize in different procedures, giving patients more options for treatment.
“If the neurointerventional surgeon can’t minimally invasively coil it; I’m going to clip it surgically. Some aneurysms are not amenable to coils, and a percentage of aneurysms can’t be clipped,” states Dr. Fabi. “Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail.” There are pros and cons with each technique. The question is what gives the best results for the patient.
They scheduled Marta’s surgery for 8 a.m. that same morning. The neurointerventional surgeon made a tiny incision at the top of her hip, where he expertly guided small wires through her femoral artery and up to her brain. He filled her aneurysm with the soft, platinum coils that would block blood flow and keep her aneurysm from rupturing. The surgery was successful and Bronson staff worked to continue monitoring her recovery.
According to the neurointerventional surgeon, the survival rate of people who experience a ruptured aneurysm is 60%. The rate for a re-rupture is less than 10%. “I felt very lucky to have them there as a team,” says Marta. “I just felt a kindness and sense of caring that you really need when you’re in a vulnerable position. The nurses would be in there asking me for things before I knew I wanted them. I just felt like I was really in good hands, like all these angels were looking out for me. That was pretty special.”
It took some time for Marta to process everything that happened to her. To her amazement, she was well enough to return part time to her job as a kindergarten teacher after only three weeks.
“It’s mind boggling to me what the neurointerventional surgeon did,” she says. “That he could go through an artery in my thigh to my brain — it’s amazing to me. I feel very lucky, and I’m so appreciative to Bronson for taking such good care of me and for the quickness in treating me.”
Since her experience, Marta has received a profound outpouring of love and support from her community that has shifted her perspective in meaningful ways.
“I definitely felt loved through this,” she says. “The prayers, thoughts and good wishes from students I have now and taught years ago; and from children, adults and neighborhood people sending me emails and cards — It’s so spectacular, I almost don’t have words. I feel embraced by the community.”
Marta’s daughter graduated from high school that year, and Mother’s Day came right after that. “I could have missed those things! Now I’m living in the moment more than before, and appreciating every day a little bit more.”