It’s kind of crazy saying it out loud even now, but I had a brain hemorrhage exactly one year ago today. It is an experience that, until now, I have kept to myself for numerous reasons. But today, on the first anniversary of this life-changing health event, I can’t help but look back on the roller coaster that has been my life ever since. I am proud of what I have accomplished, grateful for having been given this second chance at life, and blessed to be surrounded by such incredible family and friends.
November 8th, 2017 started out like any other day. Life was busy... super-busy actually, but at 31, I didn’t expect anything else. I was working a hectic corporate job, planning my wedding, working out, dieting (for the wedding, of course) and taking an intensive digital-marketing course with Google all at once. My days started at 7am and typically ended well past midnight – but I didn’t mind, I was forging ahead; laying down the groundwork to catapult my career to the next level.
I was sitting at work when I suddenly felt an excruciating pain at the back of my head, as though I had suddenly been hit by a baseball bat, hard. The searing-hot pain shot down my spine and up into my head, and I was blinded by dizziness and nausea. Afraid of being sick at my desk, I bolted to the ladies’ room where I heaved over the toilet. As I stood up, the pain in my head intensified to a level where all I knew was that I needed to lie down, nothing more.
Grabbing my bag, I ran from the office – it genuinely felt like my brain was being rubbed with sandpaper with every movement – I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t say what, I just needed to get to a quiet place instantly. I called my fiancé, pleading with him to meet me at his apartment because I was having “the worst migraine of my life.” At 11pm, that very same day, in the Emergency Room of Medcare Hospital, I was told that they had found blood in my brain. At 31, I had suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage.
The hemorrhage, which was located in my cerebellum, was the result of an undetected arteriovenous malformation (AVM); a tangle of vessels in the brain. Most AVM’s are congenital, affecting less than 1 per cent of the world’s population. Mine had caused an area of high blood flow, straining one of the cerebral veins to form an aneurysm which had ruptured. One small vessel, with potentially devastating effects.
It took four hospitals, two neuro ICUs, two surgeries, one radiosurgery, countless CT scans, MRIs and neurosurgeons to get me back to ‘normal’ over a span of five months. I say ‘nomal’ because I don’t think I will ever be the same again. I am blessed enough to have fully recovered without any apparent neurological or physiological deficits – which in itself is a miracle if you look at the statistics. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40 per cent of cases. Of those who survive, about 66 per cent suffer some permanent neurological deficit. Approximately 15 per cent of patients with an aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage die before even reaching the hospital.
My recovery has been two part: physiological and psychological. After two months in the hospital and on bedrest, I had to retrain my body and my mind from scratch. No neurosurgeon could tell me what my recovery would be like or what the residual effects would be – you have no idea what you are capable of anymore; even your personality changes because of the damage to your brain. I gained seven kilos, lost half my hair (from the radiation) and was unimaginably exhausted, but I was determined not to let this define me as a person.
Two weeks after my radiosurgery, I was back at work, four weeks after that, I landed a fantastic job back in my beloved fashion industry. In June 2018, I married the love of my life in beautiful Como. Things have never been better; the incident proved to be a catalyst to jump-start the life I always wanted. But it’s not easy. I took a huge hit on my confidence which I have been working to rebuild ever since. I cannot describe how scary it was not knowing if I would live to see my wedding day, or if I would be fully able to walk, talk or see again. There was a point where I didn’t know if I would make it to the next day. I was resuscitated once (I went Code Blue after my cerebral angiogram) and even though I don’t recall it, it has put so much into perspective for me.
I have become a far more balanced person as a result of actually knowing what a 'life or death' situation feels like. Every day that passes without a headache or a side effect from the radiosurgery is a milestone to celebrate. I am not fully out of the woods yet; I am still constantly looking over my shoulder, scared of a potentially fatal rebleed every single day. This is my reality for at least the next two years until the AVM is fully obliterated, but for now, I will count my blessings and be grateful for each day I get to wake up and live my life doing what I love around the people I love the most.