During Gabriella Browne’s aortic dissection, the splitting of the inner layers of the artery walls, one of her sisters lit a candle and made sure it kept flickering. Just like the candle’s flame, Browne kept strong through an emergency surgery and a quick turn of events.
"I wasn’t scared so much, just determined," admits Browne.
In March of 2004, Browne first felt the sudden chest and hip pain associated with a dissection. She was in her supervisor’s office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when he immediately knew something was wrong. "I lost my legs underneath me," says Browne.
Quickly taken to a clinic at MIT, then to the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, Browne unknowingly embarked on a procedure to be remembered for years to come.
The aortic dissection caused pooling of blood around Browne’s heart as well as complications to her abdominal organs - two conditions that greatly put her life at risk.
During the procedure itself, a team of physicians from both the Mass General Hospital Heart Center and Vascular Center worked together to accommodate her changing condition. The team had originally planned to perform abdominal surgery first, but Browne’s condition dramatically worsened. She needed immediate medical attention to her heart.
"Once I was through the surgery, I was going to be OK, but it was a question of whether or not I was going to get through the surgery," remarks Browne.
Alan D. Hilgenberg, MD, and Eric Isselbacher, MD, two Heart Center physicians, focused on repairing her aortic dissection to remove imminent danger. Then Vascular Center surgeons, including Richard Cambria, MD, performed exploratory surgery to rule out complications associated with her abdominal aorta.
"They really had to think fast on their feet because my condition changed so dramatically," says Browne.
At 39-years-old and a new mother of a 10-month-old baby boy, Browne survived a combined surgery that repaired her full cardiovascular system. Yet she still had to endure the long recovery process, one that included a severe case of blood pooling down to her extremities, also known as "trash toes syndrome."
Browne remarks that throughout the entire experience her husband and family were extremely supportive. When one sister lit a candle to symbolize life, her other sister rushed down to Boston from Maine, carrying her mother along the way.
Healing the System
It was time, support and the attention of medical professionals that eventually healed Browne’s heart, internal organs and any leftover discomfort including chest pain and painful feet. It was time for her to get back to a normal life, one that included caring for her son and spending time with her husband and family.
"I don’t go around broadcasting it, but I do look at things differently. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance," says Browne.
And that second chance is appreciated every day – whether Browne is working at MIT, spending time with her husband and family, or simply marveling at how quickly her son, now five-years-old, has grown.