Brain aneurysm survivor knows support aids recovery
By Denise M. Baran-Unland For The Herald-News September 13, 2011 10:06PM
Pictured left to right are: Dr. Sepideh Amin-Hanjani; Janet Sutherland; Kath Walsh, Annete Wolfe and Maria Micheletto. | SUBMITTED PHOTO
Brain Aneurysm Support Group
When: 6 p.m., the last Tuesday of the month
Where: University of Illinois at Chicago, Outpatient Care Center, Neuroscience Center, 1801 W. Taylor St., Suite 4E, Chicago
Web site: www.chicagoaneurysmsupport.com or www.bafound.org
Contact: Janet Sutherland firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: May 9, 2012 9:48AM
One in 50 people has a brain aneurysm and almost 30,000 of them will rupture. Half of those people with ruptures will die.
But brain aneurysm survivor Maria Micheletto of Lockport knows life in a rupture’s aftermath is also tough. Without support, full recovery seems insurmountable.
That’s why Micheletto wants you to support the second annual Survivor in the City benefit for The Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
“Coming home was the hardest part,” said Micheletto, who was 38 at the time of her 2006 rupture and is now a licensed practical nurse. “I did not want to be alone; I cried every day; and I slept 20 out of 24 hours. I had survivor’s guilt and wondered why this happened to me.”
Last year’s Survivor in the City raised $7,000. This year’s goal is $10,000, said Janet Sutherland, brain aneurysm survivor, founder of the Chicago Chapter Brain Aneurysm Foundation and director of marketing and communications for the Department of Neurosurgery at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Money raised will help fund awareness campaigns and research.
Because statistics are so grim, education and awareness is paramount to improving them, said Christine Buckley, executive director of Brain Aneurysm Foundation, the world’s only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to providing critical awareness, education, support and research funding to reduce the incidence of brain aneurysm ruptures.
“That’s our main push,” Buckley said. “Detecting brain aneurysms before they rupture makes a huge difference in the survival rate.”
Those individuals with a family history of brain aneurysms are at higher risk of having one, too. Smoking and hypertension increase a brain aneurysm’s likelihood, but there is no current method to determine other risk factors. Also, just because an aneurysm is detected doesn’t mean it needs treatment.
“Not every aneurysm bleeds,” said Dr. Sepideh Amin-Hanjani, neurosurgeon and assistant professor of cerebrovascular surgery at University of Illinois at Chicago. “Many people will have aneurysms all their lives and they never bleed. That is why further research is needed.”
Long road in treatment
Micheletto remembers the day clearly. It was Oct. 23, 2006, and she was just stepping out of the shower when an indescribable pain exploded in her head. She instantly dropped to the ground. Micheletto was paralyzed from the waist down.
Her 18-month-old daughter was sleeping in her crib down the hall, so Micheletto dragged herself to a phone and called 911 and then her mother. After spending three hours in a hospital emergency room and trying to explain to the staff she did not suffer from migraines, she had a CT scan that showed the rupture.
A helicopter took Micheletto to University of Illinois at Chicago where a hole was drilled in her head to relieve the pressure.
“I had never been sick before; I had never had surgery; and I had never been in the hospital except to have my kids,” said Micheletto, who also had a 3-year-old son. “I was hoping I would not be permanently disabled. I worried how I would support my family and if I would be able to run with my kids. I did not want to die.”
The next morning, Micheletto woke up to a sore jaw. She was so swollen and one side of her face was so black and blue, Micheletto refused to look at herself in a mirror for three weeks. Her long, pretty curly hair was gone.
“I still have it in a bag, five years later,” she said.
When Micheletto returned home, her daughter did not recognize her and her boss had replaced her. Credit cards now helped pay the escalating bills. Micheletto contacted Amin-Hanjani for a support group and learned none existed.
A year later, Sutherland started that support group at University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2004, Sutherland, a former reporter for Chicago radio stations, was living in Ohio when her headache hit. She called 911 and even opened the door for the paramedics.
Sutherland spent the next seven years in rehabilitation, having seizures and recovering from 10 different surgeries to help restore sight, repair another aneurysm, reduce leg spasticity and repair tendons so Sutherland could walk.
She never realized she had this much “fight” in he until she had to use it. Sutherland eventually moved back to Chicago to be near family.