The Love That Saved Me: Dr. Ren’s Aneurysm Recovery Story


Reposted from: L3 Collective Wellness Blog

It started out a normal Valentine’s Day in 2022. As I arrived to work that day, I was feeling good and excited about plans for dinner with my partner. Two weeks prior, I did notice a weird headache at the right side of the base of my skull. I never had a history of headaches, so it seemed odd, but I chalked it up to stress and fatigue. On that particular day, I felt no headache at all. I was too busy to worry about a headache as I had recently started working at a new clinic as a chiropractor, while I continued to work in an orthopedic practice assisting in surgery. I was working 50-plus hours a week. To top it off, I cared for my elderly mother a few nights a week. While attempting to balance my time, I started to really stress out. I thought I had it under control, but for the weeks leading up to that Monday, something did not feel right in my body. I know that all the working and time crunching led me to turn off the warning signals my body was giving me. I just kept pushing through. I was 10 minutes into my third client of the day when I felt the most excruciating headache. My ears started to ring loudly, and with every move of my body, the headache worsened. The best way to describe it is like a pressure cooker steaming in my head. I remember that I had learned in my training that the worst headache of your life is a medical emergency. I excused myself and asked my assistant, Jamie, to call 911. There was a split second where I thought I would play through the pain and just take some Advil and lay down for a bit. Thank goodness I resisted that urge and acted quickly. It is what saved my life.

I was transported to a local hospital via ambulance, where they started to work me up for a migraine and elevated blood pressure. I was very persistent with the ER doctor that this was not a “normal” headache. He ordered a CT scan and then a CT angiogram, and I was wheeled back to the emergency department. By that time, I was vomiting violently and sensitive to all the bright lights surrounding me. When he said the words “aneurysm” to me, I was in total shock. My grandmother had an aneurysm in 1992 and was brain-dead instantly. My Aunt Rose also had an aneurysm in 2010 and survived after the coiling procedure. Aunt Rose’s story gave me hope. I was terrified but hopeful. I was still able to talk and communicate a bit on the phone and text with my loved ones, but my speech was slurred and my vision blurry. Unfortunately, this happened during a COVID spike, so I could not see my partner Mel or sister Becky, who were out waiting in the parking lot. I had to tell my loved ones about my aneurysm over the phone. It was scary and emotional, to say the least, given my family’s history, and I know they were all worried beyond belief. I was so determined to remain conscious. Something kept telling me to stay awake and aware, I would not surrender to this aneurysm. I kept reminding myself of my resilient Aunt Rose. If she could do it, I could do it too!

About eight long and painful hours later, I was finally transferred to the hospital that would be performing the surgery. I spoke to the surgeon, who briefly explained the endovascular coiling procedure to me. The surgery involved going through my groin and traveling up to my brain to create a little bird’s nest in the ruptured artery. That would lead to clotting of the damaged vessel and hopefully, stop the bleeding. If that didn’t work, they would have to open my skull and fix the bleeding vessel with a clip. Again, terror and then hope flashed through my head. I consented and was off to surgery. I made five short video calls with my loved ones. I knew they were all terrified, and I wanted to tell them how much I loved them before the procedure. I felt they would be comforted by the calls, and I tried my hardest to sound normal. I was so worried that if something went wrong, I would leave this earth without expressing my love and gratitude. What if I came back and I was not the same me? I needed to speak my truth. These conversations were the hardest of my life. Afterward, I said a quick prayer, and, for the first time all day, I allowed myself to surrender. It was at that moment that the most incredible experience took place. Earlier in the day, I had asked my partner to tell all my friends, and family to send me love, prayers, energy, etc.  The moments after my own prayer, I felt this sudden rush of tingling, loving energy lift me off the table. It felt like I was being held by the most beautiful, gentle, and loving light. I knew at that moment, that I was feeling the collective love of all my people, praying, sending energy, lighting candles, holding space, etc. I felt God in that loving light. I had, at that moment, this knowing that the reason we are on this planet is to share our love. This was such a profound moment in my life, and it changed my perspective on everything. It all happened in the minutes before they put me to sleep, and yet I can remember every single detail. I felt so much comfort in those moments and was able to drift off to sleep peacefully.

At around 3 am on February 15, I recall waking up and feeling giddy, because I felt GREAT! I wasn’t feeling the crushing headache, that had tortured me all the previous day. I immediately placed a video call to my partner, Mel. She was shocked and surprised to see my face, as the surgeon told her she would likely not hear from me until much later in the day. When I think about this now, I know that the medications from surgery had something to do with my giddiness. Nevertheless, I was so happy to be headache free.

Later that morning, a swarm of doctors came in and out of my room in the Neuro ICU. They all seemed very happy and excited about the outcome of my procedure. All night, I was woken up and tested with manual neuro exams. All were normal. Not one single deficit was noted. I was taken down for a scan and was happy to hear that there were no longer any signs of blood in my brain and no signs of any brain damage. Just the coil in my basilar artery, doing its job. I was a little sore, but overall no signs of a headache! The next morning, I walked around the floor with the physical therapist and was able to eat my first meal sitting in a chair. I kept remembering the beautiful loving light, wondering if it helped bring me to this place of healing. I had one neurologist tell me I was experiencing what they called a “Miraculous Recovery” and in the top 3% of patients recovering from a ruptured aneurysm. Hearing those words sparked so much gratitude in my heart.

I spent the following 12 days in the ICU on something called “vasospasm watch,” and still no visitors were allowed due to COVID. I had some good days and bad days. During that time alone, I was forced to process so many emotions. I went from fear to anger, to joy, and back again. I also felt this immense feeling of disbelief. How could this happen to me? I am a healthcare provider, and I should have known better. The PTSD was setting in. I blamed myself for not recognizing that I was under an extreme amount of stress, I wasn’t monitoring my blood pressure, and that the pre-cursor headache, what I now know is called a “Sentinel Headache,” was a clear sign that I just shrugged off. My body was telling me something was wrong, but I didn’t want to see it. I was too wrapped up in the hustle of my everyday life. I had disconnected myself from all internal warning signals, like unplugging an alarm going off because it is inconvenient. Hindsight is always 20/20. On a more physical note, the whole time I was in the ICU I was also experiencing severe low back pain with sciatic nerve pain in my right leg. This is a common issue after ruptured brain aneurysms due to the blood leaving the brain and traveling into the spinal canal. The blood becomes an irritant and can cause nerve inflammation. This made walking, sitting and even lying in bed difficult. I did my best to move as much as possible and walked the hallways every day. I could not wait to get out of the hospital so that I could visit my good friend, Dr. Nery Rivas for some chiropractic care. I was counting the days.

After coming home, I spent so much time reconnecting with my body. I also worked on forgiving myself. I realized that this could happen to anyone, as we are all so focused on our daily tasks, we sometimes forget about our self-care and we disconnect from our bodies. I spent a lot of time meditating, using stress-reducing breathwork and yoga, to rehabilitate. I cried a lot and allowed myself to feel all the different emotions. I had an amazing support system, including my partner, family, friends, and an incredible somatic psychotherapist. I was lucky enough to have my good friend and Reiki Master, Wendy helping me by providing Reiki energy medicine on the daily. This really helped soothe my soul and helped alleviate the severe back pain, along with the weekly chiropractic treatments I received from Dr. Rivas. I cannot express the gratitude and love I have for everyone that supported me through that time. I kept reminding myself of the love I felt that night, and the support I was receiving was like that love in action. So many of my friends, family, and colleagues came to visit, providing much-needed hugs, laughs, and even tears. Therapeutic, to say the least. I had my sweet mom, Martie holding my hand and encouraging me to keep “hanging in”. Also, cuddling my sweet rescue poodle, Holly was an important part of my recovery. Dogs are magic!

After my experience, it became my main objective to create a wellness community focused on stress reduction, and connection, utilizing holistic modalities such as massage, chiropractic, meditation, breathwork, and yoga. Again, it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle of the human experience that we sometimes find ourselves turning off the signals that are set in place to keep us safe and healthy. I have made it my mission to help others find their way back to the body while listening to subtle cues. My goal is to create an understanding of how stress and physical and emotional trauma can be trapped in the body and present as pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. I am eager to teach how these things can be naturally released given the right environment and tools. I am so excited to share the healing tools I have developed so that others might find freedom from the painful conditions that have kept them from feeling their best.

Now, a year later, the love and gratitude have continued to expand in my heart for the second chance I have been given.  I replay the experience of love that I had before my surgery, and I shared that story with anyone and everyone. Even for those that I thought would think I was crazy; I take the time to explain the love that I felt and my new understanding of what I believe is our true purpose in this life.

On this 1-year anniversary of my brain aneurysm, I wanted to share my story for awareness, hope, and love. Also to thank everyone that helped me on this journey, and everyone that sent me love and prayers that night. It truly changed my life, and I cannot express the sincere gratitude in my heart.

I also want to thank you all for allowing the L3 community to be of service to you. I know I speak for all our amazing practitioners when I say we hold this space of inclusivity and love for all. In the words of Martie, we all need to “Love, Love, Love”.

Love in our minds, Love in our bodies, Love always surrounding our souls.

Dr. Ren