Neuro Patient Stories
We’ve all had a headache. But for Robin Prinzel, the headache she experienced on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 wasn’t normal.
“It was more than a headache,” recounts Robin. “I could hear the blood rushing in my ears, my heart was pounding. I knew something wasn’t right.”
Robin was right. She was suffering from a hemorrhage in her brain due to an aneurysm.
Aneurysms, weaknesses in the walls of a blood vessel that fill with blood, are common – it is estimated that 5% of the population has an intracranial aneurysm – but when they become large and/or hemorrhage, they can cause a stroke. Ruptured aneurysms and stroke are critical medical emergencies. Once an aneurysm has ruptured, there is a 40% chance of death. For those who do survive, more than half, almost 66%, are left with some permanent neurological deficit.
Time is the most important factor in treatment. Robin’s sense not to ignore her headache and other symptoms saved her life.
“While aneurysms are common, an aneurysmal rupture is rare but often devastating,” said Adam Oliver, MD, the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Endovascular Neurosurgeon who treated Robin.
After talking to her husband, David, on the phone about her symptoms they decided to seek help immediately, notifying a neighbor who worked as an EMT and calling an ambulance.
Robin arrived at her local hospital, but as a resident of Navarre, Fla., she didn’t have local access to the type of medical procedure that she needed to treat her aneurysm. In a race against time, Robin, along with her husband, were airlifted by Life Flight to Tallahassee Memorial, the only hospital in the region that provides endovascular neurosurgery.
An endovascular neurosurgery procedure is an innovative new way to reconstruct the weakened blood vessel wall using platinum coils. These coils are inserted into the aneurysm, and its opening from the blood vessel into the brain, by a microcatheter that enters the body through a small incision in the groin. This operation doesn’t require open-skull surgery and provides a quicker recovery and reduced chance of infection.
“Robin was a good candidate for an endovascular neurosurgery procedure because of the size and location of her aneurysm,” said Dr. Oliver. “The surgery went extremely well.”
After her successful procedure, Robin was monitored in the Vogter Neuro Intensive Care Unit (VNICU) for two weeks to ensure she healed properly and to monitor for any neurological changes.
“Everyone in the VNICU was wonderful,” said David, Robin’s husband. “Robin was doing so well, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. You hear all the time about people who didn’t make it, or people who have to live with lasting effects that significantly change their lives. This experience has been life changing, but not in a negative way, we don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.”
One month after her discharge from TMH, Robin was able to return to work and is fully recovering from her aneurysm.
“I call Robin a ‘lucky duck,’” said Dr. Oliver. “She came to us early. Neurologically, she looked excellent and was fortunate enough to be alive in an era when this technology was available. Postoperatively, she did well. She is very lucky and I’m very happy.”
Robin now travels to Tallahassee for regular check ups to ensure she’s healing well and that there are no new signs for concern.
“I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Oliver,” said Robin. “Throughout this whole ordeal, he made me feel very comfortable, explaining everything in a way I could understand and providing meticulous care. Everyone at Tallahassee Memorial has been wonderful – from the nurses to the dietary staff – they’ve all gone above and beyond. I’m so happy to share my story, it’s my way of making sure that everyone at TMH knows how thankful I am for their care.”
Until last year, Doug had rarely been to the hospital but was a familiar face at Tallahassee Memorial’s Premier Heath & Fitness Center, where he had been a member for 16 years. Despite an active lifestyle and excellent health, he suffered a stroke one day after his routine workout, suddenly collapsing beside an elliptical machine.
Len Harvey, Director of Premier Health & Fitness Center rushed to his side, and staff members immediately contacted emergency services.
“I am very fortunate I was at Premier, surrounded by people who are trained to recognize when someone is in distress,” says Doug.
First directed to the Bixler Emergency Center, when medications to break up the clot were ineffective, Doug was immediately transferred to Tallahassee Memorial’s brand new neurovascular suite for a state of the art procedure.
“Time is critical for stroke patients, which is why bringing advanced neurovascular treatments to the region was such an important undertaking for Tallahassee Memorial,” says endovascular neurosurgeon, Matthew Lawson, MD. “With care immediately available in our community, stroke patients can get the care they need quickly, which is key to better outcomes longterm.”
Doug was the first in the region to undergo a thrombectomy to treat stoke. The minimally invasive procedure allows for the removal of blood clots in the brain without an incision to the skull.
Following his procedure and two weeks in rehabilitation, Doug was eager to return to the gym. “I am convinced there is now way I would have recovered as well if I hadn’t been in as good of health before the stroke. As soon as I finished with rehab, I wanted to be back at Premier,” he says.
Doug quickly discovered he was not quite ready for this step but found support through another new offering at Tallahassee Memorial, the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center. Here, Doug spent three-and-half months working out under the guidance of expert trainers. Today, he is back at Premier Health & Fitness Center, working out on a regular basis. He has regained almost full muscle strength and control, returned to work, and is looking forward to vacationing with his grandchildren.
“I am so thankful Dr. Lawson was here, and the technology and programs were available so my treatment could take place. I cannot say enough about all the resources at TMH,” Doug says.
As a full-time accountant, a part-time graduate student and a leader in her church, Tracy Peppers keeps a packed schedule. When she began experiencing severe headaches, stress seemed to be the obvious explanation, even after the pain led to emergency room visits on two occasions.
In reality, the headaches were symptomatic of a latent health problem, which became frighteningly clear one evening in late August.
“I had sat down on the couch to watch TV and fell asleep—the next thing I knew, the dog was going crazy,” says Tracy.
Alarmed by the barking, Tracy’s son rushed into the room to find his mother experiencing a seizure. He ran for Tracy’s husband, James, and they called 9-1-1. An ambulance transported Tracy and James to the Tallahassee Memorial Bixler Trauma & Emergency Room, where tests revealed an intracranial aneurysm in the frontal lobe of the brain.
Fortunately, Adam Oliver, MD, one of the region’s only two neurosurgeons capable of providing endovascular treatment for anuersym and stroke, had just begun practicing in the Big Bend. Dr. Oliver scheduled Tracy for an endovascular surgery the following day. The minimally invasive procedure allows for the removal of aneursyms without an incision to the skull. Dr. Oliver and Matthew Lawson, MD, are the only physicians in the area offering this state-of-the-art procedure.
“Dr. Oliver was sent here for me, I think,” says Tracy.
After the operation, Tracy recovered in the Tallahassee Memorial Intensive Care Unit for three weeks. Dr. Oliver and the clinical staff monitored her recovery and vital signs. Persistent bleeding in the brain called for a second operation, but following two more weeks in the hospital, Tracy was able to begin rehabilitation to restrengthen her cognitive and physical abilities. Today, she has returned to all her normal activities and plans to graduate with her master’s degree in Health Administration in July 2014.
Tracy even recovered in time to enjoy a cruise through the Western Caribbean that she and her husband had been looking forward to for months before the emergency.
“I haven’t had a headache since the surgery!” she says.
“What Dr. Oliver did—performing the procedure, explaining it to where the family could understand it, the sensitivity he showed and for Tracy to come out the way she did—you can’t overstate that. And the fact that Tallahassee now has that capability is wonderful,” says James.
Looking back now, I recall nothing of the horrendous motorcycle accident that could have taken my life. What it temporarily took instead, was my memory, speech, and the ability to move one whole side of my body.
Though I was wearing a helmet, which prevented a potentially fatal head injury, the impact of the accident caused a serious traumatic brain injury, resulting in a coma, complete paralysis on one side of my body, and considerable neurological damage.
After being in the ICU for two weeks, I was transferred to inpatient rehab, where I had physical, occupational, and speech therapy every day for the next five weeks. Occupational Therapy helped me to relearn how to dress, bathe, and feed myself. Physical therapy was grueling. I had to relearn how to walk, and progressed from requiring two people to support me, to using a walker, to a cane, and finally to needing no assistance.
Little by little, over those five weeks, I grew stronger. Each daily victory was celebrated with my family, therapists, nurses, and so many other medical staff members at the Rehabilitation Center. I can definitely speak to the value of having the support of family and friends as an important factor in recovery. I realize that this injury did not just happen to me, but to my whole family.
I have not taken my recovery for granted. This life-changing experience has created a special perspective for me. I realize how much I took for granted before my accident. I understand better what people with permanent disabilities have to deal with, and I know things could have turned out so much worse for me.
In March of 2004, I was boating with some friends in a pond full of cypress logs. We hit something and I went airborne and landed on one of the logs. I was knocked out and floating face down in the water when the driver of the boat found me. When he pulled me out, I was barely breathing.
It ended up that I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a cracked hipbone, and my vertebra was cracked in my neck. I spent three weeks in ICU and another 2 months in the rehab center before I was able to come home. I had to re-learn to walk and talk again.
Thanks to A LOT of prayers and by the GRACE OF GOD I’m still here trying my best to be a normal walking, talking human being!! The staff of TMH has been there and helped me a whole bunch!! Also, my family and friends have been a MAJOR help too!!!
In the years since the accident, I have had physical, occupational, speech, and pool therapy. I have had it all as inpatient, outpatient, and twice in rehabilitation facilities. As of now my “therapy” is just getting on with life. I now am living on my own. I can take care of myself and my house. I also have a part-time office job two afternoons a week.
Traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone but can be overcome.