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When the 'Worst Headache of Your Life' Turns Out to Be a Stroke


Did you know that every 40 seconds a person has a stroke? And 40 percent of all stroke deaths are due to hemorrhagic strokes? A hemorrhagic stroke is either a ruptured brain aneurysm or a weakened blood vessel leak that suddenly interferes with the brain’s function. Blood spills into or around the
brain and creates swelling and pressure, damaging cells and brain tissue. The most common symptoms include sudden weakness, paralysis or numbness in the body, inability to speak, inability to control eye movement and vomiting.

As May is Stroke Awareness Month, The Joe Niekro Foundation is spreading awareness during May for this life-threatening condition, including sharing incredible survivor stories from their patient support community. The following story from Lissette Marrero is one such story who sadly experienced the “worst headache of her life.”

“On May 6, 2015, as I was getting dressed to go to work, I was suddenly struck in the back of my head with the most horrific pain that spread to the top of my head and gripped me like a vice. This was indeed the worst headache of my life (as we as survivors so often hear). I soon felt thirsty and tingling in my hands and feet. I drank water and called my husband who had just arrived at his job to let him know something was wrong when I suddenly began to vomit. I hung up and ran to the bathroom. That’s when I realized I was in serious trouble.

My husband had called my son who was asleep and asked him to go check on me. By then I was cleaning up and I had looked at myself in the mirror and told myself, ‘You have no time to waste.’ My son asked me what was wrong and we both decided I needed to go to the ER. Upon my arrival they quickly tended to me and asked if this was the worst headache of my life and I said ‘absolutely!’ They ran CT Scan, MRI/MRA, and lumbar puncture which confirmed I had a bleed and an aneurysm behind my left eye on the ophthalmic artery that appeared to be 8 mm.

They prepped me for surgery in the morning and my neurosurgeon explained she would go through my groin up to my brain and insert coils. Five titanium coils were placed along with a pipeline embolization device (a flow diverter). It was discovered during this process that the aneurysm was larger than originally thought, actually 10 mm, and they discovered two smaller aneurysms behind my right eye. Along with this, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called fibromuscular displasia. It causes beading of the arteries and is found in the brain, carotid and renal arteries (though mine are only in my brain).

I’m happy to report that my surgery was a success. I suffered very few vasospasms and stayed in the ICU nine days and one last day on the neuro floor and was then discharged. The doctors and nurses were amazed that I never lost consciousness and remained alert throughout the ordeal. In a few weeks I’ll be celebrating two years as a survivor! I have a new life and I live each day in gratitude for the new life I have. I’ve overcome a lot in this slow, painful recovery — but I’m so thankful to be here to share my story to spread awareness for hemorrhagic strokes, especially during Stroke Awareness Month.”

Lissette became a part of the JNF community shortly after her rupture, when seeking support in the community, and continues to be an active member today. In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, please take a minute to visit our Batter Up For Stroke Campaign to learn more about hemorrhagic strokes and what you can do to help.

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Thinkstock photo by cyano66