Software engineer Lori Corbani was never sick. Yet one day, she was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering a near-fatal brain hemorrhage triggered by a congenital condition.
On Valentine’s Day in 2007, software engineer Lori Corbani woke up with a severe headache. “It was extreme and didn’t go away,” she remembers. Never ill, she knew something was wrong.
Heavy snow was falling that day in Mount Desert Island, Maine while she and her husband drove to the hospital. After a concerning CT scan in Bangor, Lori was immediately transported to Massachusetts General Hospital by ambulance because the weather had grounded the medical helicopter. She remembers nothing from the moment she left her house and has no recollection of the five-hour drive to Boston.
A collection of abnormal blood vessels in Lori’s brain had begun to bleed, threatening severe neurological damage. When Lori arrived at Mass General in critical condition, interventional radiologist James D. Rabinov, MD and his team had to move quickly to stabilize her.
It was such a feel-good moment. I don’t think they realized how much that meant to me.
Mass General Patient
Called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), Lori’s condition was congenital; she never knew she had it. Brain AVMs have high blood flow, which can weaken the arteries or veins and cause rupture. With such a bleed into the brain, patients face a 15% chance of death and about a 30% chance of neurologic damage.
During her first stage of treatment, Dr. Rabinov performed an image-guided procedure called an embolization. During this endovascular surgery, he injected a liquid embolic agent into the abnormal blood vessels in Lori’s brain to begin the process of closing the AVM.
When Lori woke up several hours later in the Neurological ICU, she was unable to communicate. The bleeding in her brain had affected her ability to speak and comprehend.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” Lori recalls. “My brain wasn’t able to process what anyone was saying.” The day before, she had been working with large databases of information. Now, she couldn’t even do simple things like read a clock. “I had to relearn things you think you just know how to do,” she said.
Agitated by her difficulty communicating, Lori was worried and unsure of her situation. “Doctors would come into my room, hold up a pen and ask, ‘What is this?’ I knew, but I couldn’t tell them,” she recalls. "I was thankful that Dr. Rabinov and his team were always responsive and available, even when I wasn’t sure how to express myself."
Lori eventually started to read simple books and record thoughts in a notebook. She especially remembers the day she went to the hospital cafeteria and made her own coffee. “If I could figure out coffee, I knew I was going to be okay,” she said.
But Lori faced more surgery and returned to Mass General several months later for a second embolization to close the remainder of her AVM. “I liked the relationship I had with Dr. Rabinov, and I wanted to have the surgery done at the best place,” she said.
And this time, her recovery was different. When her doctors performed a simple neurological test by asking her to name an everyday item, she was able to answer them, and their faces lit up. “It was such a feel-good moment,” she says. “I don’t think they realized how much that meant to me.”
Now back to work full time, Lori continues to recover by challenging her brain, learning new things and taking classes at a local college.
“My care was done very well,” she says. “Dr. Rabinov didn’t think of me as a job, but as a person. He saved my life.”
Lori received her treatment from the hospital’s Neuroendovascular Program, a multidisciplinary approach to patient care that combines neurosurgery, neurology and interventional neuroradiology.