It was 2008, a chaotic time for Maria Ross, a 35-year-old marketing expert who had just started a new job and moved into a new house in Seattle. She ignored the headaches that had been plaguing her and just attributed them to stress.
It wasn’t stress, but the symptoms of a brain aneurysm that would hit her a month later when Ross’s husband found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. She suffered paralysis, blindness and depression before she was back on her feet again.
Today at 39, Ross is back at work, running her own business, Red Life Branding. She has mostly recovered from the aneurysm that nearly killed her and has self-published a memoir, Rebooting My Brain,” which offers hope and humor to others with brain injuries.
Ross suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which caused bleeding into the compartment surrounding the entire brain. In the most serious cases, the bleeding can cause brain damage, paralysis or a coma, and often death.
Survival depends largely on how quickly a patient gets to the hospital for treatment. “But she was healthy and young and those things were in her favor,” said Ghodke. He performed a coiling procedure, entering Ross’s artery through her groin and winding it through the carotid artery and eventually inside her cranium to essentially plug up the artery and stop the bleeding.
Ross was in an induced coma and hooked to a breathing tube and on ventilation so her organs didn’t shut down. “They told my husband, ‘We saved her life,’ but we had no idea I would be brain damaged, unable to walk or talk,” she said.
The aneurysm had caused her retinas to hemorrhage, a condition called Terson’s syndrome, which happens in about 13 percent of all cases of subarachnoid hemorrhage, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. As a result, Ross was blind for six weeks.
Doctors operated on one eye so she could see during rehabilitation and the other eye cleared on its own, she said. After a year, she was good enough to begin driving again. Ross said keeping a sense of humor and acceptance were the key to her survival.
“We humans need to use humor to get us through the tough times,” she said. “It lightens the load and clears our heads from the stress. There was some gallows humor in the ICU … A lot of people are afraid to laugh or smile in a dire situation, but you should embrace that.”
Ross said at first people told her to write a book about her experience, but she resisted. “No one will care about me,” she said. “I’m not a celebrity.” But after meeting others in rehabilitation, she changed her mind. “A lot of people with brain injuries can’t articulate what they went through,” she said. “I am blessed enough to still have my gift of gab and writing.”
Ross’s doctor, Ghodke helped edit the book and now recommends all his aneurysm patients read it. “It’s the first time I got so much on what someone goes through,” he said. “This is so important that people know about it. We have a rare insight into this condition from someone who writes so well and made this phenomenal recovery.”