This year was a powerful one. I went from being a perfectly normal and healthy 41 year old gal to undergoing a critical brain surgery.
This last September (07) I woke up with a numb leg and my intuition told me to go to the doctor. My general practitioner at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Denise Freese, must have also listened to her own intuition as she wanted to make sure it wasn't a stroke and told me to go to the ER and get a brain MRI right away. The numbness turned out to be unrelated to what they found in my brain, but it turned out to be the miracle that pushed me and my doctor to discover an AVM that was about to burst. The AVM had slight bleeding and calcification already, but I never experienced a bad headache or migraine.
I was immediately put on anti brain seizure medication (Keppra, as I was allergic to Dilantin) and admitted into the hospital for more tests. I realized I had been having brain seizures for the last 6 months, but they were so odd that I had attributed them to stress or psychic powers. I would hallucinate while watching baseball and hear a movie dialogue that I had memorized from my past. This was so strange, but I never thought of going to the doctor for it. How could I have known that these episodes were the enlarged vessels pushing against the memory section of my brain?
The hope of surviving with my memory and speech in tact put my very good life in perspective. My friends and family immediately created a pillar of support and faith for me to lean on during this potentially terrifying procedure. One friend even set up a blog for me - andreastern.blogspot.com
My parents are in NY and would only allow the very best health care in the world in my situation. I think they would have sold their home if they needed to, by going outside of my UCLA health insurance to ensure the best surgeon for me. Luckily, my health insurance aligned me to an AVM specialist who is among the very best brain surgeons in the world. Dr. Neil A. Martin is THE ONE that people travel to see from across the globe. He was recommended so highly and I was told by a few other doctors that there is no second opinion when working with him. Dr. Martin's name is actually on the scale that rates the severity of AVM's.
I felt like the most blessed person through this experience because of the capable hands I landed in - from Dr. Martin to Dr. William Buxton, my neurologist. I was able to relax and give up control because I trusted the people who were taking care of me.
In October, Dr. Martin removed the AVM I was born with and I was told it was gone forever. In retrospect, I do wonder what my other vascular malformation in my left leg called Klippel Trenaunay Syndrome had to do with the AVM. Some doctors say it's not related and Dr. Martin says it may be. There are so many aspects of this experience I will never forget. I do believe I'm a better person from all that I went through and how I went through it.
My hope is that the UCLA team that watched over me gets to expand and do the research to teach all others in this field what they know.
After a few months, I fully recovered and feel ready to help others in the same situation. "Brain surgery" no longer sounds like the most frightening words I have ever heard, but instead brings me feelings of gratitude because of how Dr. Martin and his team have given me a second chance to live my miraculous life.
AVM Survivors Website: I have found it helpful to connect with other AVM survivors through resources like: avmsurvivors.org.