Jennifer Geary doesn’t remember most of the events of three weeks in January 2023. When she read the medical chart with words like “aneurysm” and “craniotomy,” it was like she was reading the events of someone else’s life.

Geary, 39, of Lisle, went to Endeavor Health Edward Hospital in Naperville on Jan. 17 with a headache. Not just any headache, but a monster headache, complete with sleepiness and repeated vomiting.

The emergency department doctors ordered CT scans and an angiogram and discovered two aneurysms in her brain. An aneurysm is a weakened spot on the side of the blood vessel that balloons out and is at risk for rupturing and bleeding.

Hers bled, leaving her with a bleed on the brain resulting in hydrocephalus.

“That actually clogged the plumbing systems of the brain,” said Daniel Heiferman, MD, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon at Endeavor Health.

“We had to put a tube into the fluid-filled sacs of the brain to drain the fluid and decrease the pressure on the brain,” he said. “The moment she came in we put the tube in to drain the fluid, then we took her right to take the pictures of the vessels.”

Geary had an aneurysm of an internal carotid artery. Dr. Heiferman and his partner, Ramez Abdalla, MD, used coils to embolize that aneurysm via minimally invasively endovascular techniques.

“She had a second aneurysm that wasn’t amenable for treatment endovascularly so we had to take her for surgery,” he said. “What that surgery involves is an incision in the skin, a window in the bone and dissect down to this aneurysm that’s sitting in the middle cerebral artery. With that, we placed a little titanium clip over the neck of the aneurysm to block it off from the circulation and prevent it from bleeding again.”

The blood vessel is essentially reconstructed to be its normal shape again, albeit with the clip on the side, Dr. Heiferman said. “We just clamp down on the neck of the vessel to block off the balloon.”

The surgery took the entire day. “It was a life-threatening situation,” he added.

After the procedures, Geary was in the hospital for a few more weeks. She ended up suffering from a vasospasm, which occurs when the blood vessels clamp down and the blood has a harder time moving through, which can lead to strokes, Dr. Heiferman said.

“We have to monitor people in the ICU very closely over the next two to three weeks after an aneurysm has bled to make sure they don’t have this vasospasm,” he said. “If they do, there are different treatments for it.”

That meant another endovascular treatment during her hospital stay, he said.

Fortunately, Geary didn’t need a shunt and permanent fluid removal so the tube was able to come out.

Her story began back on that fateful night in January, when she woke up in the middle of the night sweating profusely. She has a history of migraines, so she thought maybe this was a new symptom.

“I remember thinking, let me find my migraine meds and maybe if I take one, that will stop this and I’ll be able to go back to sleep,’” she said. “I couldn’t find them but when I went into the bathroom, I fell. I didn’t realize how unsteady I was. I was foggy and I knew something was really wrong.

“I was lucky that I was not able to fall back asleep, as I was told I most likely wouldn’t have woken up.”

She waited until morning to call her parents and her dad took her to Edward Hospital. By this point, her head had begun to pound. By the time they got to the hospital, the pain in her head was unbearable and she had started vomiting.

“I remember part of the car ride there and being wheeled back to the ER,” she said. “And then I don’t remember anything as far as the ER and the surgery. I remember bits and pieces of the whole three weeks I was in the neuro ICU.”

Three questions she was asked by healthcare providers everyday were: the day’s date, who the president was and where she was.

“At one point — again, through looking at my chart — I was convinced it was Christmas and my mom was going to be super upset I’m not there,” she said. “Another day I thought it was 20 years ago.”

She can’t say enough nice things about Edward’s staff who cared for her.

“The nurses and all the other techs — they were phenomenal. They were super sweet to me,” she said. “I can’t say enough about them. They were absolutely amazing.”

She remembers being very concerned about her dog, Baylee, and recalls asking her friends repeatedly to smuggle her in.

“I remember saying, ‘I want to go home and see my dog.’”

Geary left Edward Hospital on Feb. 7. She went home because the rehab facility she was initially going to go to was full. Home health only had to come for a few weeks because their services were, fortunately, simply not needed.

“I don’t think I fully grasped that whole time in the hospital — like holy crap, you almost died. Did you know how close you were, Jen? I really don’t think I did.”

Fortunately, she had a fantastic support system of family, friends and neighbors checking in on her.

“I still have random headaches, but if that’s the worst I am more than happy to deal with that than being six feet under,” she said. “As far as (limitations), there’s nothing. It’s pretty amazing I was able to go back and live my life as normal with a coil and a clamp. And very short hair.”

Dr. Heiferman has seen her a number of times since then, including a follow-up angiogram in July 2023.

“Her aneurysms were completely gone and everything looked really good,” he said. “In September, she was at our Brain Aneurysm Foundation Walk. There’s an organization here called the Brain Aneurysm Foundation that supports aneurysm research and aneurysm awareness and support groups for patients and families. She had a bunch of friends come as well and join us for the walk. She’s doing great. She’s totally normal.”

“I’m so grateful for Dr. Heiferman — he saved my life. I saw him in September at the Brain Aneurysm Foundation Walk and he was there with his two kids and his parents and I said, ‘I am super thankful for your son, because if it wasn’t for him …’ And he was like, ‘No, you did all the hard work.’ And I said, ‘I didn’t hold a brain in my hand, mister. I think you did the hardest work there. Take the credit.’”

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