Surviving a Brain Aneurysm

Writing is usually a breeze for me, with the words just flowing because it’s therapeutic. I typically write in the notepad app of my iphone during my “down” times. However, working on this piece was difficult, leaving me struggling to find the right words.

Thirty days after my grandma succumbed to old age in 2008, my mother collapsed after delivering a lecture in UP LosBanos on January 31. It was a day after her 63rd birthday. She never woke up and passed on February 3 due to a brain aneurysm. Ironically, Mama had her annual check-up 4 days prior to her collapse, where she was given a clean bill of health. But, alas, death is a treacherous thief!

What is an aneurysm?

The very same thief almost stole Irene Guico’s life in 2015; but thankfully, she survived her bout with brain aneurysm. And that is nothing short of a miracle because the fatality is at 40%. Two-thirds of those who survive suffer brain damage.

An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel that can potentially burst akin to a ticking time bomb. When it does, it causes massive brain bleeding that leads to complications, even death. The problem with an aneurysm, they’re usually asymptomatic (nothing is felt) until they rupture; but by then, it’s too late.

Fight for her life

Irene actually doesn’t remember details. Only foggy snippets play in her mind, and what she knows now, she had to re-trace when she recovered. She recounted that it all started with recurring headaches. At one point, it became unbearable, so she went to the doctor, who ordered a CT scan, and then declared it was migraines.

She narrated, “That very same night, my husband, Steve, found me unconscious in our bedroom floor. He rushed me to the ER, where another CT scan was done showing bleeding in my brain. I was declared clinically dead.”

She noted that patients like her need immediate surgery, but by some miracle, she regained semi-consciousness. In spite of warnings that she may be running out of time, surgery only commenced, when all her children were finally back in CDO (they were in Manila as it was May summer break).  Since the doctors won’t give Steve any guarantees of success, adding she may never be normal again, he wanted their 3 children to see her for it may be the last.

A team of 7 doctors, 2 were neurosurgeons, performed her surgery that lasted the entire day. At the end, they had to keep a part of her skull in her stomach, leaving her head partially “open”. Her skin was the only closure to reduce the compression of her swelling brain, giving it time to heal.

As a side note, I have to say that I find it impressive all of this was performed in our province. This attests that CDO is not far behind in terms of medical facilities, technology, and of course, experienced doctors.

Taken with her son Franz during her recovery. She still had a part of her skull missing, which was placed in her stomach to give her brain time to reduce swelling.

Journey to recovery

They were told that she would stay in the hospital for at least 3 months; but she defied all odds, and was out by the 3rd week, albeit with some missing skull. Irene’s speedy recovery proves that hope springs eternal and miracles DO happen.

Rehab was 2-3 times a week to strengthen muscles, help coordination, and improve balance. Recovery was painful and nerve-wracking, but she credits her supportive family for each baby step conquered.

Irene said, “It was a huge burden and stress to them, not just financially, but emotionally and mentally. My husband is not the typical expressive type, but my friends told me that he sent messages to everyone asking for prayers. A few even saw him in the Cathedral praying for me.”

Irene and her family!

Life’s realizations

Angels in the form of people were instrumental in her journey. She cited her compassionate doctors. Aside from helping heal her body, they assuaged her fears. On top of that, some did not even charge professional fees to reduce her bill.

She also commends her relatives, friends, and BCBP (Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals) community who lent support to Steve. They offered prayers for her healing. She shared: “I have a group of friends who even went to the house reminding Steve that I have insurance. They helped him search for the documents, and true enough, the papers were there. Insurance helped with our bill.”

Most of all, she said that what happened was a blessing in disguise because it taught their family to never take life for granted. She said: “Back then, my eldest, Chesca was already working in Manila. Chrissa was headed for UP Diliman. The younges, Franz, was enrolling in Philippine Science QC. Chesca contemplated moving back to CDO. The two younger children were unsure about proceeding. But I told them to stop and go. I don’t want them to get affected because of me. Life goes on!”

Skull’s closure

She requested for her skull put back mid-June because she wanted clearance to fly to Manila to check on her kids. Since her brush with death, the kids have become more expressive and attentive, plus diligent with prayers. She said— “They’re all in Manila now, so when I don’t answer my phone, sila pa ang nagagalit. They think I am fragile.”

But clearly, Irene is anything but fragile. Her fighting spirit, her unwavering faith in God, and her determination carry-on prove just how strong she is. “I told my kids they can’t stop chasing their dreams just because of this, nor because of me. All the more they have to do what they want because life is short,” she concluded.

Their family’s happy ending makes me smile. Before, I used to think that I did not get mine because of my mom’s untimely demise. But I learned tomorrows may not be promised, but I have the choice to live a happy life today. Sure, life has its sad and cruel moments, but for the most part, it is beautiful.

Once in awhile, life even hands me miracles. Today, it is Irene, who is a walking miracle herself. As she kindly heeded my request to share about the most vulnerable part of her life, I felt as if my Mama was there too. Death may have stolen mom from me, but she lives on in the kindness of people, in my heart, and in my memories.

Journey to recovery with one of her headscarves




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