Stepping out after beating a brain aneurysm

A little more than three years ago, Lesia Mattox was living her best life. The 52-year-old spent her days working, dancing, traveling, and spending time with family. Little did she know that she’d soon be facing a hefty battle — surviving a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Lesia remembers dancing in her aunt’s kitchen during a family gathering, when she suddenly felt the room start to spin and fell backward onto the floor. Her husband — Ronald — thought Lesia was having a seizure and tried to bring her out of it. The paramedics were called, and Lesia was taken to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, where they were quickly met by Neurosurgeon James D. Mills, MD.

Initially, Lesia was given medication for her head pain until further tests verified she had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and needed surgery. Dr. Mills performed a surgical clipping, which is a procedure done to close off the aneurysm. “Many times, our patients who have had a brain aneurysm are the most sick and critical patients in the hospital,” Dr. Mills said. “Most people don’t have any symptoms and they either find out when the aneurysm ruptures, or it’s found when an MRI of the brain is requested for other reasons.”

Risk factors for brain aneurysms include age, gender and genetics; women are more likely than men to have a brain aneurysm. Other risk factors include smoking cigarettes, hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes; better managing all of these can help prevent an aneurysm. When patients do need help with a complex neurological condition such as a brain aneurysm, they can count on the team of highly trained neurosurgical specialists like Dr. Mills at Bayhealth Neurosurgery to help.

Treating the aneurysm to prevent further bleeding is only half the battle; patients are at high risk for vasospasm, a temporary narrowing of blood vessels, which can result in a stroke. Treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU), such as the Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus Neuro ICU, is necessary.

Lesia spent 21 days in the Neuro ICU, where she was closely monitored. She remained in a dark room with no TV, no radio and no phone so that her brain wasn’t stimulated; doing so was challenging. “Caring for Lesia changed the way we care for aneurysm patients,” said Neuro ICU Nurse Jenifer L. Sebastianelli, BSN, RN, SCRN. “She was going stir crazy in the room and at times wanted to give up, but she’s a fighter so we found ways to help push her through the recovery, like taking her outside on cloudy days and giving her mani/pedis.”

“When patients have an aneurysm, one of three things can happen. One-third of patients die from the rupture. One-third suffers from major complications, including stroke. One-third has good outcomes where they return to their previous lifestyle,” Dr. Mills said. “Even for those who do have good outcomes, going back to being fully functional is the exception and not the norm.”

Lesia is the exception. Coming back from an aneurysm has been a long process. Three years later, she’s living a new norm. Recently retired, Lesia is back to doing all the things she loves, including step dancing. She’s also now volunteering on the Neuro ICU to help other patients going through similar experiences. Lesia works with nurses, patients and their families while volunteering. At the same time, things are different. Lesia is learning how to accept what she can do and what she can’t, while learning how to be happy in the moment. “I may not be living my best life like I was before, but this is a close second,” Lesia said. “I’m grateful for the staff at Bayhealth. I don’t know if I would’ve made it without their overwhelming amount of support and encouragement.”

As for Dr. Mills and the team at Bayhealth Neurosurgery, they’re happy to see her progress. “Patients like Lesia are a prime motivator for what we do. She’s an inspiration,” Dr. Mills said.

Visit Bayhealth.org/Neurosciences to learn more about Bayhealth Neurosurgery services in specialized care for brain and spinal cord injuries and diseases.