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HEALTH MATTERS: Stacie Jones survives a silent threat to the brain

Stacie Jones doesn’t drink, smoke or have high blood pressure.

From all accounts, Jones, an avid runner, was in great health. Her health status was put to the test when she suffered from a severe headache for 10 consecutive days.

“I am not someone who typically got headaches and rarely took medication, so it was unusual for me to feel this way,” Jones said. “I took an over-the-counter medication and it didn’t work.”

On Aug. 11, 2015, Jones, 45, a model, TV personality from “The Apprentice,” and mother of two children, was rushed to Mount Sinai hospital. She suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm.

“A brain aneurysm is an abnormal dilatation of a blood vessel in the brain,” said Dr. Kerem Bortecen from the New York City Surgical Associates. “The blood vessel wall weakened by disease or injury gets thinner and ‘balloons’ out. Aneurysms can be a life-threatening emergency if they rupture causing blood to spill inside the brain leading to stroke, permanent brain damage or even death.”

It turns out that at least one of every 50 people have a brain aneurysm and there are an estimated 40,000 brain aneurysm ruptures each year.

“Certain medical conditions can increase the risk of aneurysms such as fibromuscular dysplasia and polycystic kidney disease,” Dr. Bortecen said. “Smoking, alcohol, drug abuse and uncontrolled hypertension also increase the risk.

“Family history of aneurysm is also an important risk factor. Patients with one affected family member have increased risk of having a brain aneurysm.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, brain aneurysms can be present at birth or developed over time.

“Most brain aneurysms do not have any symptoms until they either become very large or burst,” Dr. Bortecen said. “Data shows that women and African Americans are almost 50 percent more likely to develop a brain aneurysm.

Additional data shows that between 2 and 5 percent of the U.S. population have a brain aneurysm that is the equivalent of between 6 million and 15 million people in the United States that have an unruptured brain aneurysm.

“My doctors said my weakened blood vessel wall in my brain had been ballooning over the course of time and ruptured causing this hemorrhagic form of stroke,” Jones said. She was diagnosed with a saccular aneurysm, the most common form of cerebral aneurysm typically found on arteries at the base of the brain.

There are three types of cerebral aneurysm: a saccular aneurysm is a rounded or pouch-like sac of blood that is attached by a neck or stem to an artery or a branch of a blood vessel; a lateral aneurysm appears as a bulge on one wall of the blood vessel; and a fusiform aneurysm is formed by the widening along all walls of the vessel.

September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month with the purpose of educating people about the importance of early detection and getting scanned.

“If you have the worst headache of your life or a new sudden headache that won’t go away, especially if it’s different than your usual headaches for migraine sufferers, you should go to the ER right away and make sure that they take a look at your blood vessels,” Jones said. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are no known ways to prevent a cerebral aneurysm.

On the night Jones was admitted to the hospital, her eyes rolled into the back of her head as another seizure occurred.

“I had to be resuscitated,” she said. “Once I was stable, a CT scan was performed and the results revealed hemorrhaging in my brain.”

“Several diagnostic tests are used to determine the location, size, type and characteristics of the aneurysm,” Dr. Bortecen said. “A Computed Tomography (CT) scan of the brain shows whether any blood has leaked around or into the brain. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the brain is used to precisely localize the aneurysm within the brain.

“Other more sophisticated studies such as Computed Tomographic Angiography (CTA) and Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MTA) are done with a contrast dye injected directly into the blood vessel to create enhanced images. Arteriography is a common test not only to detect the size, shape and location of the aneurysm but also to treat them by injecting special materials, such as coils or beads to cut off the circulation within the aneurysm, to cause a blood clot and stop bleeding.”

A cerebral aneurysm is a weak or thin spot on a blood vessel in the brain that balloons out and fills with blood. An aneurysm can press on a nerve or surrounding tissue, and also leak or burst, which lets blood spill into surrounding tissues (called a hemorrhage). (Source: NINDS)

To stop the large, 11 millimeter ballooned blood vessel that was leaking blood into her brain, the surgical team implanted mesh coils into the ruptured vessel to create a barrier that stopped the blood from hemorrhaging into her brain.

“I woke up after brain surgery and could barely move, I was in shock,” said Jones, whose head was shaved and a drain was inserted in her skull to remove the fluid around her brain. “During this major health event, I suffered three additional strokes which affected a remote part of my brain that controls my feet, so I could not move my feet and my left foot had suffered a foot drop. My left eye was sealed shut.”

Jones underwent months of physical therapy and brain games to recover from her ruptured brain aneurysm.

Research data shows that 40 percent of people with ruptured aneurysms die within 24 hours; 25 percent of people with ruptures die within six months from complications; and one in four survivors of a rupture experience some permanent disability.

Jones defied the odds and her life was spared.

“My life is very simple,” she said. “I’m able to do light cooking for my kids. I can walk but not run and I’m still unable to drive.”

While she still suffers from memory lapses and limited physical activities, the bright side is Jones is running her own company and alive to take care of her children and watch them grow up.”

Resources

NYC Surgical Associates – www.nycsurgical.net

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – www.ninds.nih.gov

The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation – www.TheLisaFoundation.org

The Mayo Clinic – www.mayoclinic.org

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to healthmatters@wavepublication.com and look for her column in The Wave.