Survivor Around the Globe, Jung Jacobs
On December 13th, 2013, around 10:00am, I suddenly experienced a stiff, painful neck and began to lose my hearing. When trying to stand, I collapsed. An ambulance was called and I was transported to the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. During the trip, I had a seizure and my heart stopped. I was revived, but unable to breathe on my own and required the use of a ventilator.
On arrival at the hospital, I was already in a coma. The next section is told by my husband because I had no memory for the next two weeks.
A CTA scan was done and it was determined that she had a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and a 4.5mm hole at the basilar artery tip (this type of aneurysm is also known as the ‘widow maker’ among neurosurgeons). They also discovered arterial aneurysms along the left and right Middle Cerebral Artery (MCA) that had not ruptured. They held me out of the emergency area until they could determine what was wrong.
As I walked in and saw all the nurses and doctors working with her, along with all the tubes in her throat and two nurses with a syringe in her arm regulating her blood pressure, it was really overwhelming. The head of neurosurgery approached me and ask if I was familiar with the different areas of the brain. I said, “I was not, it had been many years since I had studied anything about the brain”. He told me that with this type of bleed, most usually die in 9 to 11 seconds, and he didn’t know how she was even alive. He told me that people with this type of aneurysm, if they survive, usually have major deficits. He asked me if she had any heart problems, I said she had none. The blood on the brain had changed the QT rhythm of the heart, which they told me could also kill her. They told me that she had no blood pressure when she arrived at the hospital and the nurses that have the syringe in her arm were regulating her blood pressure to keep her alive.
The head of neurosurgery asked me if I wanted to let her go, because it didn’t look promising as she was only hanging on because of the machines and the nurses controlling her blood pressure by the second, by hand. I knew time was a factor and that the faster the treatment, the better the results. I instantaneously told him that we have to try to save her. To me, I didn’t want to play around wasting time, she needed help now.
The neurosurgeon came back to me in about three minutes and said he had just called in two off-duty neurosurgeons to assist and an anesthesiologist would be available after finishing a surgery, and they are preparing the surgical ward for her. He earned my respect right there.
As I held my wife’s ice, cold stiff hand it was extremely hard to keep a level head and focus on what needed to be done. I think I was in denial, everything was so surreal. Our then 18 year-old son showed up and I quickly told him what was going on. Luckily, he is level headed and handled it well. When they were ready to transport her to the operating room, our daughter arrived, she was 10 at the time. They were ready to transport and we all walked with her to the operating room. They told us that it may be more than six hours and they would try to keep us informed as to what was happening and they would do their best, even if the outcome appears to be slim that she will survive.
As we waited for her surgery to end, we just didn’t know what the outcome would be. They were fortunately able to repair the basilar artery tip aneurysm with three coils during a 7-hour operation. A neurosurgeon came out to talk with me after and explain what they had done to repair it and how some of the blood clots had moved towards her eyes and they were very concerned that they may go into her eyes. They were able to finish sealing the basilar artery tip however and put in a super clot buster to dissolve them before they got to her eyes.
Now it was the waiting game, as they told me that this type of aneurysm causes many deficits – from organs not working, stroke-like paralysis, unable to speak or function normally. I tried not to focus on the statistics I read online, and I thought they were made to be broken.
After the surgery we had to wait for another two to three hours for her to come back to ICU. When we walked into the room it almost resembled the stock market with so many monitors, machines and different noises. The following day they were able to remove the ventilator once she was strong enough to breathe on her own. I remember just sitting there the next day massaging her feet for hours and praying for a miracle.
The following morning when I arrived she was awake and up. She was able to speak both languages fluently without slurring in about 20 minutes (Korean and English). Her motor skills were fine with no problems, but she only had about a three-minute memory at this point and remained that way for almost two weeks before the swelling on the brain went down.
She remained in the ICU for five more days until a bed was available on the neuro unit. She was able to walk to the washroom with a lot of help by the end of the first week. By the end of the second week, she was improving greatly, her short-term memory was returning and she was doing well, she was released on December 31st, 2013. Now, back to my wife.
Between January 2014 and June 2014, I had over 30 visits to the emergency department. On June 11, 2014 I had my next surgery on the right MCA temple area just back from the right eye. They were able to clip this aneurysm and the procedure went well. I went home from the hospital, but two days later had to return due to a bleed between the brain membrane and the skull bone that was putting pressure on the brain and caused me to feel like I needed to vomit.
After a week in the hospital, I was able to return home and improved daily. I was busy trying to do things and felt life was improving, especially because the trips to the ER slowed down. I arranged my next surgery for October 6th, 2014. They were going to repair the last aneurysm on the MCA left (in the speech area of the brain) and went through my skull in the temple area just behind the left eye. They completed it in about six hours using two clips. They were worried about me not being able to speak, but when I woke up in recovery the neuro doctor stopped by and asked if I could speak, I said of ‘Of course I can speak!’.
They performed a follow-up angiogram on October 9th, 2014 and realized that there were more aneurysms that hadn’t showed up, deeper on the left MCA, past the area they had just operated on. Five days later, they took me back into surgery and went in through the same hole as the previous surgery. When they went in deeper they found two more aneurysms that were wrapped around the vessel and shaped like a dogs ear, and hadn’t showed up on previous scans.
One appeared to have micro bled in the past by the scar tissue they encountered around it, and the resident said it was scary thin and could have ruptured any day. They were able to remove one of the previous clips and put in two more.
I have had no lasting deficits from any of the surgeries and the neuro doctors were calling me the ‘poster child for aneurysm recovery’, too funny.
My husband and I were ask by the neuro doctors and nurses if we would consider visiting aneurysm patients and since then, have been visiting patients weekly. We are also active with the brain aneurysm support group meetings at the hospital each month to provide support to other survivors. We have been doing this for just over three years now!
A lot of people hear the word ‘aneurysm’ and they assume the worst, so we hope we can inspire and give hope to others going through a similar experience with my story.
The Joe Niekro Foundation would like to thank Jung and her husband for sharing their incredible story with us and our community! We’re sure they’re spreading a lot of hope and giving inspiration to others.
Have a story you want to share? Submit your story here.Posted on Wednesday, March 28, 2018