There’s lots of talk nowadays about how endovascular procedures can speed recovery and improve outcomes in the treatment of cerebral aneurysms, but Susie Laurie’s extraordinary experience says it all.
This Boston resident, wife, mother and grandmother was diagnosed with two potentially deadly cerebral aneurysms and survived two radically different treatments. How she’s come today to enjoy a healthy prognosis is a tale of her courage and spectacular good fortune, a leading interventional neuroradiologist’s skill, and advanced devices.
Deadly Déjà Vu
Susie’s medical travail dates back to a fateful day in July 1992 in London, where her family then lived. She suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, bleeding between the middle membrane covering the brain and the brain itself, and spent several days at Charing Cross Hospital, before doctors dared cut open her skull to clip the aneurysm.
“I was in the hospital for two weeks after the surgery,” she recalls. “People would come to see me, and I just lay there. My head hurt, I had no energy.” Susie’s discomfort and fatigue persisted even after her hospital discharge. “It was at least six months before I got my energy back. I had bad headaches for months.”
Susie had resumed her busy life by the time she and her family moved back to the States in 1996. Several years after her return, though, she fell a few times. When she took a particularly bad spill in July 2004, her son-in-law (an interventional cardiologist now practicing in Westport, Conn.) urged her to get checked out again, this time by stroke neurologist Megan Leary, M.D., whom he knew at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The results of Susie’s CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan were shocking: “I was told I had a giant aneurysm that had calcified, and that I’d probably had it for six to eight years,” she says. “The aneurysm was on the right vertebral artery and not in a good place.” When one doctor recommended a wait-and-watch approach, she figured that “he really didn’t want to deal with it” and told Dr. Leary, “I want another opinion.”
Finding the Best Alternative
Dr. Leary’s subsequent referral to Pierre Gobin, M.D., a highly regarded interventional neuroradiologist at Cornell University’s hospital and medical school in Manhattan, would have been marching orders for some, but not for Susie’s husband, Don. Although his heart sank with news of Susie’s second diagnosis, he was also inspired to embark on his own research. “This was my precious wife,” Don says, explaining his ambitious undertaking. “I just had a few questions: What are the centers of excellence? Who does the pioneering work? Who are the doctors who have the most experience? And what are their track records?” To find the answers he needed, Don says he “triangulated” to consult multiple sources, including several renowned physicians, Boston’s Brain Aneurysm Foundation, BrainAneurysm.com, and more.
Don’s detective work had already reassured him and his wife about Dr. Gobin’s superb qualifications when the three had their first meeting. Dr. Gobin detailed the benefits of endovascular procedures and described how he’d use tiny coils to fill her aneurysm and a stent to hold the coils in place. “He told us, ‘You can’t leave this. You have to do something in the next three months,’ ” says Susie. “He said, ‘You’ll come in to the hospital in the morning, and you’ll be out the next day.’ ”
Mindful of the debilitating recovery from her previous surgery, Susie was relieved by Dr. Gobin’s optimism. “When Don and I had learned about the second aneurysm, we both thought I’d have to have brain surgery again,” she says. “Then we found out I could have the coiling and stenting procedure instead. It was so much more comforting.”
“Miracle” Procedure, “Amazing” Recovery
When Susie entered New York–Presbyterian Hospital on Nov. 9, her spirits were lifted again, this time by a handmade card she’d received from her then 7-year-old granddaughter, Madeleine. It read, “Dear Baba, I love you!! I hope you are OK in your brain trouble!”
The child’s—and the entire Laurie family’s—fondest hopes were realized when Susie’s three-hour procedure went off without a hitch. Susie was discharged the next day, but she stayed in the city, a precaution Dr. Gobin advised. “I was in New York for four days, and I did no shopping! That was the weirdest part,” Susie says with a chuckle. Except for headaches for 10 days or so afterward, she was quickly back in the swing, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, and throwing a cocktail party in January to thank loved ones who’d supported her.
Months later, Susie still calls her recovery “amazing” and marvels at the coiling procedure that made it possible. “It’s truly a miracle, the wave of the future,” she says. “I have been very, very fortunate. And I’d have to say I’m unusual in that I’ve had the surgery and I’ve had coiling. If I were given the choice, I’d never have the surgery.