Headaches led to discovery of aneurysm

February 18, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Christine ChaneyHeadaches led to discovery of aneurysm

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - Christine Chaney started getting bad headaches two years ago. She attributed it to sinus problems and the stress of divorce.

But last month the headaches became noticeably worse. After a particularly bad episode, she took a hot shower, thinking it might alleviate some of the pain.

Instead, she collapsed, vomiting, and was rushed to City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Chaney was treated for a migraine and sent home, only to return to the hospital a few hours later when her sister found her unconscious on the couch.


"She was as white as a ghost and looked like she was 96 years old," said Chaney's boyfriend, Daryll Orndorff.

A CAT scan found the problem: A leaking brain aneurysm behind the optic nerve.

Chaney, 36, was scheduled for surgery within two days.

"She's a fighter, all right," Orndorff said. "She kept asking me, 'Am I going to die?' I told her she wasn't going anywhere. She has work to do."

A 41/2-hour operation at Frederick Memorial Hospital corrected the problem.

Home at last

Back home in Falling Waters for the first time in more than a month, Chaney is a bit shaky, tired and having trouble remembering much of her ordeal.

But she's alive. Had the brain aneurysm gone unnoticed and ruptured, there's only a 50 percent chance she would have survived.

"I believe this is the grace of God," Chaney said from her home Sunday. "My doctor said it's a miracle for me to be alive, for me to be able to walk."

Chaney isn't out of the woods yet.

She has to keep her blood pressure low and is on medication for that and to reduce swelling in her brain. Her doctor told her there is a chance of relapse.

But she said she's lucky doctors diagnosed her before the aneurysm ruptured.

She's afraid others may not be so fortunate.


"When you constantly have headaches, most people nowadays look at conditions in the house, the weather - they just don't think about it," Orndorff said.

The symptoms are similar to a migraine headache, which is what doctors treated Chaney for the first time she arrived at City Hospital by ambulance.

"Usually they have a nonstop, severe headache and they say it's the worst headache they've ever had in their lifetime," said Chaney's doctor, Swami Nathan.

Before that, when headaches persisted day after day for about a year, Chaney shrugged it off as sinus problems.

A vessel bubble

An aneurysm is a small, thin-walled bubble on one of the large vessels that supply blood to the brain. Chaney's severe headaches began when the aneurysm started leaking, she said.

According to Dr. Gary Bernardini of the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at the Cornell University Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., aneurysms can appear in people who have had an infection, trauma to the head or neoplastic disease.

Most aneurysms, however, result from a developmental abnormality in the artery and can run in families.

That could be true in Chaney's case. Her aunt died at age 21 from a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Chaney has overcome one obstacle, but others have followed. She had to live with her parents for two weeks following the operation because she needed 24-hour supervision. For two days after surgery, she didn't know the date, the year or her age.

She's unable to work until April 1999 because of blurred vision, poor short-term memory and the loss of mobility in the left side of her body, Nathan said.

"She should be off work for at least a year," Nathan said. "When you look at her, she looks fine, but it will take some time to come to that judgment."

The former artist now relies on disability for her and her three children.

She can't drive for three months because she could have seizures. She doesn't have anything to drive anyway - while in the hospital, her car was repossessed because she couldn't make the payments.

Chaney had no medical insurance. Social services stepped in to pay her $28,000 in medical bills.

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