Hello, my name is Bryn. At age 26, I was loving life in Anchorage, Alaska where I was working as a Critical Care Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit with my boyfriend, Derek. We worked together and on our days off, we skied, hiked and enjoyed the beauty of Alaska. May 20, 2019 began as an ordinary “day off” for me. I did have a headache the day before, so I slept in, did some chores, walked my dogs then drove to a nearby park for a jog. I remember sending a quick text to Derek’s mom, started running and everything went black. I woke up on the ground with paramedics around me. I thought I just needed to go home and rest so I called Derek to pick me up. I am told that during that phone call, my speech became incoherent. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital where I worked. A CT scan revealed a large subarachnoid hemorrhage. My brain was already very swollen. I was taken into my first lifesaving surgery. A large part of my skull had to be removed to allow for swelling (craniectomy). My aneurysm was clipped but I developed multiple complications in the hours that followed, including hydrocephalus. Six days later, a second hemorrhage required endovascular coiling. A second hemorrhage is usually fatal. I was very blessed to be in the hands of two extremely skillful neurosurgeons and cared for by my own nursing colleagues . In all, I had 5 neurosurgeries in 7 weeks. After 30 days in the ICU, I was flown from Anchorage to Denver for inpatient rehab for 10 weeks. This is where the hard work of recovery began and continues today.
19 months later, I am paralyzed on my right side, but have learned to walk again and meet my goal of 10,000 steps a day. I love to hike and hope to ski again someday. I’m working daily to try to regain the use of my right hand, but have learned to do almost everything one handed with my left arm and hand.
The hardest part of my journey is Broca’s Aphasia and Apraxia of Speech. Four weeks after my subarachnoid hemorrhages, I could only say “you”. Though I am exactly the same person on the inside, all aspects of my ability to communicate have been profoundly affected. In just a few seconds, I lost my language skills. I know exactly what I want to say but struggle with words (aphasia). Other times, it is difficult for my mouth to form the sounds to create words (apraxia) . I’m learning phonics, grammer, and spelling all over again. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the insurmountable loss of my career and life before brain injury. If I’m being honest, I’ve had many frustrating days filled with tears. Aphasia is often misunderstood. People sometimes confuse an inability to speak for a lack of intelligence. Sometimes very well-meaning people shout or speak in a “childlike” manner, thinking it might help. Aphasia affects everything. Even ordering a meal or coffee is really hard work. Much of my recovery day is spent in speech therapy and practicing speech. I am determined to speak, read and write fluently again. I have made great gains through intensive speech therapy and the hard work of my gifted of speech pathologists. When I can speak again, i will help others with aphasia. I hope to help healthcare providers effectively communicate with their patients who have aphasia as well as to advocate for intensive speech therapy benefits for all with aphasia.
I hope my story will encourage others to learn the risk factors for brain aneurysm, including family history of genetic disorders including connective tissue disorders and polycystic kidney disease. Learn the signs of stroke:
- B is for balance. Look for a sudden loss of balance.
- E is for eyes. Is there a sudden loss of vision in one eye or both eyes? Or, double vision?
- F is for face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A is for arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S is for speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his/her speech slurred or strange?
- T is for time. If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For those like myself who find yourselves on a path you would not have chosen, I hope you will find some joy and laughter in the hard work, sweat and tears of recovery. During the darkest times , I am reminded that recovery is a gift even though it doesn’t look exactly like the life I had. I am truly saddened for every family who is living with the loss of a loved one after brain aneurysm rupture. I hope for a day when all brain aneurysms can be detected and prevented from rupture.