Fear of the Unknown
Thanks to advances in screening and treatment options, Brittney Castro is one of a growing number of people with a family history of brain aneurysm who is alive today to share her story of survival. Brittney’s paternal grandmother passed away from a ruptured aneurysm and her aunt was in her early 40s when she also passed away from a ruptured brain aneurysm.
Then, in 2008, at the age of 60, Brittney’s father had surgery for an aneurysm discovered during a scan performed after he experienced symptoms that included a persistent headache.The five-hour surgery involved removing a portion of his skull to reach the area and clip the flow of blood to the aneurysm. Brittney’s father made a full recovery; however, after his surgery, doctors recommended that Brittney and her three brothers be screened when they were in their 20s since two of their immediate family members had suffered from ruptured brain aneurysms and their father had an aneurysm as well.
Just like a person may have no warning of an impending heart attack, there is rarely a warning that a brain aneurysm is about to rupture. Fortunately, with today’s advanced imaging screening techniques, those with a high risk of a brain aneurysm can be easily screened with non-invasive imaging tests. While the test itself is easy, the decision to find out whether or not Brittney had a brain aneurysm was not. Fear held her back for many years. Her three brothers were tested and their results came back clear. Brittney said, “After attending a meditation retreat, I found the strength to move forward with the screening, determined not to let my fear of the unknown continue to have a hold on me.”
Screening and Surgery
In December 2017, Brittney underwent the screening and doctors discovered a small aneurysm measuring 3 millimeters. “While I knew there was a chance the doctors could find something, I was still shocked at the news,” said Brittney. After about three months of researching and learning about her options, multiple neurosurgeons recommended that it was best to undergo treatment. In March 2018 at the age of 33, Brittney had a pipeline procedure, a minimally invasive procedure where doctors thread a catheter up from the groin to the brain to redirect blood flow away from the aneurysm so it will not have a chance to rupture. The procedure was successful, though Brittney did suffer from a rare and very painful complication 12 hours later, a hematoma in the groin where the catheter had been inserted. To stop the bleeding, a doctor and two other medical professionals had to use their entire strength to push down the hematoma for an hour. For the next 24 hours, Brittney had to lay flat in bed to ensure her body absorbed the blood and began to heal. After five days in the hospital, she was able to return home and continue her recovery.
Brittney and her father have an especially strong emotional bond since they both have suffered from brain aneurysms. Thankfully, there are less invasive treatment options today than even just a decade ago. Brittney said, “My dad of course worries about me, but I am doing really well right now. He continues to get checked and has had all positive reports. I recently had my first angiogram post-surgery and everything came back clear – I feel a great deal of relief.”
Both Brittney and her father will continue to be screened about every five years or as recommend by their doctors. “If brain aneurysm runs in your family, don’t put off being screened,” said Brittney. “While the fear of not knowing, the trauma of the surgery and the pain of the hematoma was horrific, the entire experience has taught me how to enjoy the present – the birds singing, the blue sky, the laughter, the movement of cars on the street. Life is all about relaxing and delighting in the moments I am given.”