Joyce Survives and Thrives After Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

May 29, 2020 was a regular day for Rappahannock County, VA, resident and mom of two Joyce (Menefee) Steward, 53. She came home around midday after running some errands – and everything changed in an instant.

“The dizziness came on so suddenly. With the snap of a finger, the room was spinning. Then, I began to have a terrible headache,” Joyce remembered. In addition to those symptoms, she was experiencing severe vomiting and weakness down her left side. Her teenage daughter, adult son and husband knew something wasn’t right, and soon Joyce was on her way to a local emergency room.

Joyce doesn’t remember much after her arrival at the ER. Once she arrived, the ER team diagnosed Joyce’s medical situation immediately and arranged for Joyce to be airlifted to Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, where a specialized medical team was waiting to care for her.

As Joyce found out later, her symptoms were caused by a ruptured brain aneurysm. Unbeknownst to her, a blood vessel in her brain had developed a weak spot that, over time, bulged outward, forming a bubble. This bulging spot, called an aneurysm, typically causes no symptoms unless the weak spot bursts open and begins to bleed – which is what happened to Joyce.  Fifteen percent of the people who experience a ruptured brain aneurysm die before they reach a hospital, and ruptured aneurysms are ultimately fatal in 50% of all cases. More than half of those who do survive until they get medical care are left with brain damage. The odds were stacked against her.

 “Joyce was in a comatose state when she arrived at the hospital. The ruptured aneurysm had caused a significant amount of swelling and bleeding in the brain,” said neurosurgeon Ameet Chitale, MD, Inova Neurosurgery, who led the Inova stroke surgical team caring for Joyce.

First, Dr. Chitale placed a drain in Joyce’s brain to relieve the pressure that had built up inside the skull. Then, he performed surgery to place a clip at the aneurysm site to prevent it from rupturing again.

For the next several weeks, Joyce recovered at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Although Joyce missed her family, who were not able to visit because of COVID-19 restrictions, Inova’s care team kept them informed of her progress. The care team of doctors, nurses and therapists monitored Joyce closely for seizures or a stroke, both of which are possible complications after a ruptured aneurysm. They also conducted regular neurological tests to evaluate any changes to memory and thinking skills. Joyce passed each test with flying colors.

Once her care team determined that it was safe, Joyce began to work on regaining her strength, mobility and balance so that she could walk and climb stairs safely. Three weeks later, on June 19, Joyce and her family celebrated as she was discharged from the hospital and headed back home. It is remarkable that she did not need to spend time in an acute rehabilitation facility.

“I have no words to express how grateful I am to every doctor and nurse who helped me. They were all so loving and caring, and I am so grateful for their level of expertise,” Joyce said. “They were all wonderful throughout my stay in the hospital, especially when I first woke up, because I had so many questions. They told me why I was there, what was happening, what would happen next.”

Inova is the region’s most experienced health system when it comes to cerebrovascular disease. “Inova has a great system in place to take care of patients with vascular disorders in the brain, such as aneurysm and stroke. We have a team of top-of-the-line cerebrovascular specialists who evaluate patients as soon as they come through the door, understand what the needs are right away, and are able to provide treatment immediately,” Dr. Chitale said. “Our specialists treat the most complex vascular diseases in the region, setting Inova apart from other hospitals.”

Today, Joyce is back to enjoying her life: taking care of her family and her home and working part-time. This experience has encouraged her to embrace each day with joy. “My faith is an important part of my life, and I believe that Dr. Chitale was my angel on May 30. It is a miracle that I pulled through the surgery, and to see how well I have progressed, to the point of now having no disability, it is truly a miracle,” Joyce said.

Learn more about Inova Neurosurgery, where we provide diagnosis for conditions that impact the brain and spine as well as surgical interventions for a wide array of ailments including (and not limited to) brain aneurysms, malformations and stroke. Visit Inova Neurosurgery online or call 571-472-4100 to schedule an appointment. Visit Inova Stroke or Cerebrovascular Program online.

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