EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 10, 2013

Woman survives brain aneurysm


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH (AP) — Lori Stalker, mother of three, is a fitness enthusiast who works out at a gym six days a week.

So, when Stalker suddenly collapsed last month during an exercise class with her 12-year-old daughter looking on, no one would have guessed the 41-year-old was the victim of a life-threatening rupture in one of the blood vessels in her brain.

Scarcely a month later, Stalker is almost fully recovered following an emergency operation at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, and looking forward to resuming her busy routine.

She credits employees and fellow members at Olympic Fitness in North Attleboro, paramedics and doctors for their prompt response in her case.

“I’m feeling like a pretty lucky chick,” said Stalker, who suffered the ruptured brain aneurysm Jan. 13.

An aneurysm is a weak portion of a blood vessel that balloons outward from pressure. In some cases, the pressure becomes too much and the aneurysm bursts, causing blood to leak out into the brain.

Only about 50 percent of rupture patients survive, said Christine Buckley of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, which spreads aneurysm awareness.

Of those who live, many retain debilitating after-effects because of damage left behind in the brain.

“She’s extremely fortunate,” said Buckley, who noted aneurysms are often misdiagnosed or not recognized in time for intervention by doctors.

Symptoms frequently associated with aneurysms include sudden and severe headache, blurred vision, dizziness or difficulty in speech.

Robb McCoy, general manager of Olympic Fitness, said he was alarmed when someone came running into his office and announced that Stalker, a regular member of the gym, had passed out during a class.

McCoy said it was immediately apparent that Stalker had suffered more than a fainting spell.

“We could tell that she didn’t just pass out,” he said. “We knew something had to be wrong.”

Paramedics were summoned, and Stalker, who regained consciousness, was rushed to Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, where a CAT scan revealed the ruptured blood vessel.

Within hours, she was at Rhode Island Hospital, where a coil was inserted to seal the leaking artery.

Stalker said her experience was “beyond scary.”

“One minute I felt dizzy with the room spinning around, and then next thing I knew they were taking me to the hospital,” she said.

Buckley said brain aneurysms are not uncommon, although most never produce any symptoms.

As many as six million Americans are estimated to have the abnormality. But most people never know they have the condition until the ballooning blood vessel presses on an area of the brain, producing abnormalities in speech or vision — or bursts, often with catastrophic results.

While family history might help predict the likelihood of an aneurysm, an episode like Stalker’s can strike anyone at any age, Buckley said.

Last month, the 17-year-old captain of the Oliver Ames wrestling team died of an aneurysm only a day after attending practice.

Time is of the essence in cases of a suspected brain aneurysm, Buckley said. But, a major problem is that an aneurysm is often not suspected until it is too late.

“There have been cases where people have been sent home, then suffered a rupture,” she said. “Aneurysms produce symptoms that could be caused by something else. So it’s important that in cases like this, people recognize that an aneurysm is one of the possibilities.”