After Sharon Shea was stricken with an aneurysm, she had life-saving, emergency surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. During her recovery, her family history emerged and helped get treatment for her son.
On Labor Day weekend in 2008, middle school teacher Sharon Shea got home after spending the afternoon with her daughter and was stricken with severe pain in the back of her head.
“I think you need to call 911,” she told her husband Don. The last thing she remembers is lying on the couch in her living room.
Local fire and rescue brought her to a nearby hospital where she was immediately airlifted to Mass General.
In the emergency room, Sharon was immediately evaluated with a CT angiogram (CTA). Her scan revealed bleeding around her brain where an undiagnosed aneurysm from a weakened artery had ruptured, threatening neurological function. After she was medically stabilized, a shunt catheter was put in place to relieve pressure on her brain.
Treatment, the care and the people. Mass General saved my life. I have to thank them for being here now.
Using a minimally invasive image-guided procedure, interventional neuroradiologist James D. Rabinov, MD and his team used a catheter system to deliver a series of platinum coils to close the aneurysm. A team of doctors and nurses then followed Sharon closely in the ICU for two weeks.
Sharon had no symptoms until the day her aneurysm ruptured. When Dr. Rabinov met with her family after surgery, her medical history began to emerge and provide some insight: her uncle, brother and cousin had each suffered an aneurysm. Because the condition is hereditary, Dr. Rabinov suggested that Sharon’s relatives be screened.
If an immediate family member has a history of aneurysm, talk to your doctor about screening with a CTA or MRA.
When Sharon heard the news that an aneurysm had been detected on her son’s CT scan, she was shocked. "It was a nightmare," she says. "How do you tell a 19-year-old that he has a potentially life-threatening condition?"
During his freshman year in college, her son Kevin underwent a procedure during which Dr. Rabinov coiled the aneurysm behind his left eye to prevent it from rupturing and causing neurologic damage. That fall, he had opted not to play college football. "It was a good decision that he didn’t play," Sharon reflects. "All he needed was to get hit…and it would not have been a good thing.”
Today, both Sharon and Kevin are fully recovered. Kevin has since graduated from college with honors, and Sharon is back to work in her forty-second year as a teacher. After therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and multiple evaluations by physicians on her care team from neurosurgery, neuroradiology and rehab medicine, she was back in the classroom within two months of surgery.
Sharon regularly returns to Mass General to see Dr. Rabinov for follow-up care and additional imaging. “He has been very up front with us. He has told us exactly what he’s doing and what he plans to do…He’s just been great.” Given her recent angiogram, Dr. Rabinov asked her to return again in five years for standard follow up.
While treating Sharon, Dr. Rabinov mentioned a local event to raise awareness about aneurysms, and she eagerly agreed to attend as a speaker. "I am a big advocate for screening," she says. "I don’t want to scare anyone but given my family’s experience, I know how important it is for people to know their risk."
Sharon says she’s thankful for the "treatment, the care and the people" at Mass General. "Mass General saved my life," she says. “I have to thank them for being here now.”
Sharon received her treatment from the hospital’s Neuroendovascular Program, a multidisciplinary approach to patient care that combines neurosurgery, neurology and interventional neuroradiology.
Sharon's Story: A Video
A Family Faces Their High Risk of Aneurysm Together