Marathon Runner’s Aneurysm Is So Severe That Neurosurgeon Tells Her Family She Would Be Lucky to Survive

A former patient at the USC Comprehensive Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center at Keck Medicine of USC ran the Los Angeles Marathon, accompanied by the treatment team that saved her life.

Prior to her stroke, Kathy Nguyen had nine marathons under her belt. In March 2015, Nguyen collapsed at a family brunch and was taken via ambulance to a local emergency room. Her doctors determined she had serious bleeding in her brain, but could not determine the source of the bleed.

“The bleed was so severe that the neurosurgeon told my family I would be lucky to wake up,” Nguyen recounted.

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Nguyen was transferred to Keck Medical Center of USC for evaluation by their comprehensive cerebrovascular stroke team. A CAT scan helped William Mack, MD, professor of neurological surgery, find the aneurysm causing the bleed. He quickly recognized the complexity of the problem.

“There was a ruptured aneurysm that involved the entire left vertebral artery, including the posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA), which provides blood to part of the patient’s brainstem,” said Jonathan Russin, MD, associate surgical director at the USC Neurorestoration Center. “Cutting off the blood supply to the artery would also cut off blood to the brainstem, causing brain damage or even death. “

Russin performed a PICA-PICA bypass, which involves suturing the right and left PICAs together to ensure proper blood flow to the brainstem while preventing additional bleeding from the aneurysm. The USC Stroke Center is one of a handful in the country that can perform this rare procedure. Immediately following the bypass, Mack and his team blocked the vertebral artery and the aneurysm through endovascular coiling.

On Friday, March 13, Nguyen woke up. “Friday the 13th has always been my lucky day,” she said. “My twins were born on that day.”

Nguyen made a remarkable recovery with strong support from her treatment team.

According to the team that oversaw Kathy’s postoperative care, her commitment to physical fitness allowed her to take part in high-intensity activities soon after her surgery. Her motivation and spirit served as a source of inspiration, prompting them to join her for her comeback marathon.

Nguyen recruited Russin, Joseph Hendrix, physician assistant at the neurosciences clinic and others. It was the first marathon for all of them.

Every year Nguyen raises funds for the USC Stroke Center.

“In addition to raising awareness for brain aneurysm research, I wanted to thank my treatment team, especially all the nurses at 7 South ICU. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”

by Mary Dacuma

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