‘Every day is a gift — not a given’
Neuro-interventional surgery procedures save aneurysm patient’s life — again and again
It was Easter weekend — Good Friday, 2011 — and “a storm was brewing” inside Karen Fifer’s head.
“It hit with lightning speed,” she says. “In a matter of minutes our lives were changed.”
Karen, 58, of Haysville, was surrounded by family at her daughter Cindi’s home in Wichita, about to enjoy an outdoor meal of homemade tacos.
“Suddenly it felt like I had been hit in the head with a hammer,” she says.
Dizziness then excruciating pain set in. Karen wrapped her arms around her husband Don’s waist and “hung on for dear life.”
“Clutching at his shirt just to contain myself, all I could do was say, ‘God, oh God’ over and over,” she says.
Another of Karen’s daughters, DeAnna, a surgery tech, recognized what was happening to her mother, who was holding her head and moaning. A weak spot in a blood vessel in Karen’s head — an aneurysm — had ruptured, causing extreme pain as blood leaked into the space around her brain.
DeAnna told Cindi, “Call EMS. Something’s wrong with Mom.”
Karen says DeAnna’s quick actions “probably saved my life.”
As the family waited for help, they prayed to God to stop what was happening in Karen’s head.
When EMS workers arrived, Karen’s family chose to have her transported to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, “... because they have an excellent neurological unit,” she says.
At Via Christi, a cerebral angiogram showed a large, ruptured aneurysm on the right side of Karen’s brain. Thankfully, the bleeding had stopped and she had not suffered any loss of function.
“If the bleeding had continued, most likely I would not have lived long enough to get to a hospital,” Karen says.
According to the American Stroke Association, the chance of death from an aneurysm bleed is up to 40 percent. Of those who survive, the chance of brain damage is up to 35 percent.
Karen had a long and complicated “clipping” procedure to fix the ruptured aneurysm. Surgeons made an opening in her skull then closed off the mouth of the aneurysm with two titanium clips, preventing a dangerous “rebleed.”
She spent two weeks in the hospital’s Neurocritical Care Unit. Despite having been gravely ill, Karen recalls a bright spot.
“My family never left me, and that was very reassuring,” she says of the bedside vigil they shared.
Karen’s list of how life is richer since her near-death experience:
• Every day is a gift — not a given. I live by this statement and will never take it for granted again.
• I give glory to God any time someone asks me about my experience.
• I thank my doctors and nurses for their excellent care when I see them.
• I still have a strong independent streak. I think God made me stubborn for such a time as this. It served me well in recovery for more was yet to come.
• I am quieter.
• I write myself reminder notes to overcome some short-term memory problems.
• I don’t drive as fast.
• I tell people I love them more often and give more hugs.
• I spend time with people more.
• I pray and read my Bible more.
• I am more patient.
• I used to complain abot my hair all the time, now I am thankful to have some!
• I don’t drink caffeine.
• I make time for sweets!