Joan Nelson was born partially blind. When a ruptured aneurysm threatened her optic nerve, she took a minimally invasive approach to treatment.
Joan Nelson, although born partially blind, works full time at the State Library in Concord, NH. One day in February 2015 while eating lunch, she passed out with no warning, and her co-workers called 911. From the local hospital, she was immediately airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital to treat a ruptured aneurysm.
Because any procedure near Joan’s optic nerve could cause further loss of vision, Interventional Neuroradiologist James D. Rabinov, MD took a minimally invasive approach with a catheter inserted in the groin to close the aneurysm with platinum coils. At 11 pm the same day, Dr. Rabinov called her husband Steve to report that the procedure was a success.
I just took one day at a time and fought with everything I had. Then it all started coming back, like the brain healed.
During her initial ten days in the ICU, Joan underwent additional procedures to prevent vasospasm-related stroke. She then began intensive physical and cognitive therapy to re-learn how to walk and perform other tasks. “It was like trying to put your brain back together again,” she recalls. She remembers not being able to run her computer or say Massachusetts General Hospital.
"I just took one day at a time and fought with everything I had," she says. "Then it all started coming back, like the brain healed."
Joan's treatment included a multidisciplinary team from the Mass General Neurointerventional Service at the Fireman Vascular Center. In addition to Dr. Rabinov, she received coordinated care from Aman B. Patel, MD from Neurosurgery, Thabele M. Leslie-Mazwi, MD from Neurology, and Joshua A. Hirsch, MD from Interventional Neuroradiology.
"The team at Mass General is just outstanding," she says, noting everyone from the nurses to the housekeepers. "I just can't say enough about their strength, kindness, dedication and the work they did! They not only took care of me, but also Steve and my guide dog William. They were unbelievable!"
Within two months, Joan was back at the library where she continues to help meet the reading needs of blind people through a talking books program. "That is the beauty of the doctors at Mass General - they considered my quality of life. I might lose my vision someday, but we aren't taking that chance now!"
"I have a full-time job, I love my work and I'm all the way back!" she adds.