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When a headache isn't just a headache

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bev Horne was taking a break from her job as a news photographer when she started feeling a severe headache abruptly coming on.

While an occasional headache was nothing new, this sharp pain felt significantly different. She was walking out of a restaurant when she suddenly dropped to her knees with crippling pain.

“Luckily I was out with a friend who called 9-1-1,” Horne recalls. “I was 10 minutes away from Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) and I was taken there for immediate medical attention.”

Horne arrived at NCH unconscious after suffering a life-threatening ruptured aneurysm in her brain. A brain aneurysm is a weak bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery. Over time, the blood flow and stress within the artery causes the weak spot to swell. This pressure can cause the aneurysm to rupture and allow blood to escape into the fluid space around the brain, resulting in “subarachnoid bleeding, or hemorrhage.”

When Horne arrived at NCH, doctors quickly went to work. Because blood from the ruptured aneurysm can increase the pressure in the brain and lead to serious complications, or death, doctors placed a drain in the ventricles of the brain to remove blood and cerebrospinal fluid to decrease pressure.

The following morning, Horne underwent a minimally invasive endovascular procedure known as coil embolization to treat the brain aneurysm.

During coil embolization, tiny platinum coils are packed into the aneurysm through a small catheter navigated through the blood vessel from the leg into the brain to promote blood clotting and closure of the aneurysm. The goal of coil embolization is to safely seal the aneurysm and stop further blood from leaking out of this unstable and ruptured aneurysm, which has a high risk of another rupture or re-bleeding, almost always leading to certain death.

While Horne has little recollection of her time at NCH following the ruptured aneurysm, her family is grateful for the care provided by Sameer Ansari, M.D., an interventional neuroradiologist on staff at NCH and faculty at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as Richard Broderick, M.D., a neurosurgeon on staff at NCH.

“We are so blessed,” mother Nancy Horne says. “Bev had no family history and the aneurysm came on so suddenly. The key to her survival was that she received immediate care at a fine hospital. An aneurysm is so often a fatal condition.”

Even now, Bev Horne still finds it hard to believe she suffered a ruptured aneurysm that summer day in 2014. “It was a very scary experience and it took me a long time to grasp how serious the situation was,” she says. “My doctor said I was very lucky.”

Horne is lucky to be alive, as approximately one of every three patients with a ruptured aneurysm dies as a result, says Dr. Ansari, who performed the coil embolization procedure on Horne the day after her aneurysm ruptured.

“We are very pleased to see that Bev had an excellent recovery,” Dr. Ansari says. “She is very lucky that the aneurysm was discovered and treated promptly.”

Dr. Ansari performed the coil embolization operation to help save Horne’s life by placing platinum coils in the artery to form a stable blood clot in the aneurysm. His role in Horne’s care, however, did not end that day.

Horne returns for follow-up magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests so Dr. Ansari can monitor the coils in the aneurysm and make sure they are stable without the recurrence of the aneurysm.

“Bev has a very good prognosis for the future,” he says. “We will continue to monitor the aneurysm to make sure there is no recurrence. We observe nearly all brain aneurysm patients for the rest of their lives.”

Horne is happy she has the chance to schedule follow-up appointments. “I was lucky to be close to NCH because not every hospital can treat this condition,” she says. “I am grateful for that.”

Physicians
  • Sameer Ansari
  • Richard Broderick

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