Guest post from Kimon Bekelis, MD
Section of Neurosurgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Maria was a busy working mom raising two children — 18 months and four years old — when she suffered a sudden severe headache from a ruptured aneurysm. Like most patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage, the diagnosis comes unexpectedly and can carry dire consequences. Fortunately, she was able to benefit from rapid transfer to the University of Illinois Hospital, a tertiary comprehensive stroke center with a multidisciplinary neurovascular team who diagnosed an anterior communicating artery aneurysm as the cause of the bleed. Her aneurysm was surgically obliterated within hours, and she was managed through the high-risk post-surgical period — when there is the danger of vasospasm and hemorrhage — in a dedicated neurosurgical intensive care unit (NICU). She made a full recovery and was so inspired by the treatment she received that she pursued training as a nurse, and is now working in a NICU taking care of patients suffering from problems much like the one she had encountered. She has also been an active member of the Chicago Chapter of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation helping to raise awareness and supporting other brain aneurysm survivors. Timed to coincide with stroke month, here is Maria’s story in her own words.
By Maria Micheletto
My name is Maria Micheletto. I am a brain aneurysm survivor. The day I actually had my aneurysm rupture, October 23, 2006, is engrained in my mind. It was kind of a normal day. I was tired and came out of the shower and felt a thunderclap headache. I can’t even describe the pain, but it was an explosion that went down into my neck. I literally dropped to my knees because I was paralyzed from the waist down. I called 911, and the paramedics came to my house and took me to a local area hospital. The physician asked if I always have migraines. Of course, this was not a migraine; this was the worst headache of my life. He said he was going to give me a CT scan, so I went into the CT scanner and was told it would be about an hour before they would have the results. About five minutes later he came out and told my mother “we have got to get her to another hospital; she has a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and it looks like an aneurysm rupture, and we have no neurosurgeon here.” So they called a helicopter service, Flight for Life, and I was flown to UI Health, where I met Dr. Hanjani, the neurosurgeon. She took care of me, clipped my aneurysm, and quite honestly saved my life. I was taken to the NICU where I encountered so many unbelievable professionals. The nurses and residents got me through the worst time of my life.
After my rupture, I continued to work as a dental hygienist, but I always had this pull to become a nurse. It was something I wanted to do for a while and after my stay in the NICU and the wonderful nurses I had, it was something I felt I needed to do. I decided to take the entrance exam for Joliet Junior College. I did well and was accepted on my first attempt. This was unprecedented, and now I believe “it was meant to be.” In preparation for nursing school, I became a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and worked part-time as an aide and attended school full-time. I did this with a four and six-year-old at home. My husband and mother were amazing in their unwavering devotion to helping me achieve my success. I studied hard, went to clinical rotations, raised two kids and worked. It all came together in May of 2012 when I graduated with honors from JJC. I interviewed at St. Joseph’s Medical Center and got a job as a new graduate nurse on a medical telemetry floor. I worked there for a full year and then transferred to the Neuro Stepdown unit. I would sneak back into the NICU any chance I got. Whenever the manager was around, I would tell her how much I wanted to work in the NICU. About three months later, there was an opening in the NICU. The manager wanted someone with experience, so I was passed up. That person was hired and quit in about a week. She hired another experienced NICU nurse and once again they left quickly. Early in the morning, after a night shift, the manager came up to me and asked if I really wanted to come to the NICU. I was so excited and nervous and of course said yes.
My transition to the NICU was bumpy at times, but I knew this is where I was supposed to be. Every day I work is a blessing. I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have had an incredible surgeon, Dr. Hanjani, and her fabulous NICU staff to take care of me. I know that everything happens for a reason. My rupture opened my eyes to a future that I would have never attempted. I am here to help other patients and families traverse the waters of the NICU and a life changing diagnosis.
I am currently back in school to earn my Bachelor’s degree in nursing and hopefully a Master’s so that one day I can teach future nurses. Never give up on your dreams; you never know when they will take shape.