Image Courtesy Of Zac Yezzi Written by Zac Yezzi
On May 2, 2021, my fiancé Ainsley and I, along with her parents and sister, flew down to a French island in the Caribbean, St. Barts, our favorite place in the entire world. Our lives were seemingly perfect at the time – I had just turned 30, was recently engaged, and we were in St. Barts working on plans for our wedding which was to take place on the island in May 2022. After a beautiful week, we decided to stay longer and work remotely down there as long as we could.
On May 9th, we attended Mass with the priest who was going to perform our future wedding ceremony. At the Mass, he asked us to come to the front of the church where he introduced us to the congregation and gave us a blessing.
The next morning, I was working in one of the bedrooms at the house and when I stood up from my desk, I started to sweat, developed a severe migraine, and suddenly lost the ability to see or move the right side of my body. Panicked, I dragged myself into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face, unaware of what was happening, and I called out to Ainsley who ran in to help me. I had no idea I was having a stroke or that I had any issues with my brain, but I knew something was seriously wrong.
An ambulance rushed me to the hospital in St. Barts where I was given a CT scan that revealed I had a large 7.5cm hemorrhage on the left side of my brain. With no neurologist on staff, I was immediately flown to a larger hospital on the nearby French island Guadeloupe but couldn’t be accompanied by Ainsley due to COVID-19 restrictions.
I arrived alone, afraid, and in excruciating pain—not to mention, surrounded by a medical staff that didn’t speak English, only French. But while this was happening in Guadeloupe, my family had reached out to The Bee Foundation—an organization founded by the family of my old roommate and friend, Matt Sedney, after the tragic passing of his sister, Jenny.
And they instantly played a pivotal role, connecting my family with their neurosurgeon advisor, Dr. Pascal Jabbour, who happened to speak fluent French. He talked with the medical staff and relayed updates to myself and my family, while providing a calming presence in addition to his expertise.
But I was quickly losing cognitive ability and my headaches were growing more and more severe. And when doctors performed another, more advanced scan of my brain, it revealed an AVM (arteriovenous malformation), an aneurysm and a hemorrhage, which would require a complex neurosurgery that the Guadeloupe hospital wasn’t equipped to perform. So Dr. Jabbour urged the local doctors to send me to the U.S. as soon as possible for treatment.
The Bee Foundation’s advisory board and team, including Dr. Jabbour and Mount Sinai neurosurgeon, Dr. Mocco, worked amazingly fast to find the nearest and best surgeon to help me. They got in touch with Dr. Robert Starke at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, who arranged for me to be admitted as his patient.
So after two long days in Guadeloupe, my fiancé and her father arrived (despite numerous travel complications) and were by my side for the two medevac flights en route to Miami. Pressure in the cabin increased my head pain to indescribable levels—needless to say, I was relieved Ainsley was there to comfort me.
Upon arrival, I was immediately placed in the Neuro ICU unit, and after an angiogram, Dr. Starke walked my family, who met me in Miami, and fiancé through my diagnosis. We all agreed to go through with the surgeries as it was the best treatment to prevent any reoccurrence of a brain bleed despite the surgical risks.
After being admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital, I had two angiograms, surgical embolization of the aneurysm and AVM, and a craniotomy to remove the aneurysm and AVM. Dr. Starke and his team were incredible, and the four procedures went very smoothly.
My family could only visit me one person at a time for a total of four hours per day due to COVID restrictions, which made my time in the hospital more difficult as I struggled being alone. It really made me cherish every moment I had with my dad and Ainsley!
I owe the doctors and the Bee Foundation everything for saving my life. And I feel extra appreciative to have not lost the ability to see, speak or move my body. Part of me thinks it may have something to do with the priest who blessed Ainsley and me the day before this all started.
But I can’t help thinking that the entire situation could have been avoided, as my AVM was likely a genetic issue I’ve had since birth. For years, I’d been telling physicians during checkups about my family history with aneurysms and strokes, yet nobody ever suggested any additional testing. The Bee Foundation’s incredible work spreading awareness of brain aneurysms and AVMs can help keep all physicians and their patients informed on the risks and necessary precautions, a major step toward getting ahead of these issues on a broader scale and saving more people like me.
Now two months later, Ainsley and I are settled back in our NYC apartment while I receive rehabilitation from doctors at NYU-Langone and Mount Sinai. I’ve made an unbelievable recovery thus far and am so fortunate that I have no physical issues and my mental health is improving every day.
My outlook on life has changed dramatically—I’ve become extremely determined to do anything I can to pay it forward, including supporting The Bee Foundation’s work. My goal is to promote awareness and the importance of early detection of brain aneurysms and AVMs to prevent others from having to go through what I did.
I have an incredible amount of support from my fiancé, our families, friends, coworkers, doctors, and The Bee Foundation. Everyone’s support and positivity pushed me through the most intense trauma of my life. They never let me dwell on what could have happened to me long term. I can’t thank my fiancé enough and on the first day after the final surgery in the hospital, I said to her, “I don’t want to wait until next May to marry you anymore, I want to get married now!”