CEREBRAL or brain aneurysm has been a trending topic on all social media platforms due to Isabel Granada’s untimely demise from this silent but deadly culprit. She was physically fit and healthy, yet she succumbed to it so suddenly.
Everyone has somehow expressed disbelief, compounded with an air of fear, because Isabel is very young and still at the peak of her life and career. Many assert that her case exhibits this: no amount of exercise, including healthy-eating, will keep an aneurysm at bay. Can we outrun aneurysm if we are unlucky enough to have it lurking in our system?
Unlike most people who just became interested in learning about aneurysms now because it claimed the life of someone popular, healthy, and vibrant; cerebral aneurysms have been lurking on my mind for almost 10 years because it abruptly claimed the life of my own mother.
Thirty days after my grandma died of old age on New Year’s Day of 2008, my mother collapsed after delivering a lecture in UP LosBanos on January 31. It was a day after her 63rd birthday. She never woke up and passed on February 3 due to a ruptured brain aneurysm.
Ironically, Mommy had her annual executive physical check-up 4 days prior to her collapse, where she was given a clean bill of health. Just like Isabel Granda, she too was conscious of her health, eating a well-balanced diet, and engaging in moderate walking exercise all throughout her life. But, alas, death is a treacherous thief!
What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel that can potentially burst akin to a ticking time bomb. When the aneurysm is in the brain, then it ruptures, it causes massive brain bleeding that leads to complications, even death.
The problem with an aneurysm, they’re usually asymptomatic (nothing is felt) until they rupture; but by then, it’s too late. Unfortunately, once a brain aneurysm ruptures, the fatality is at 40%. Two-thirds of those who survive suffer brain damage. The scary thing is it cannot be detected by just a regular physical exam (case in point, my own mother).
I discussed screening with my neurosurgeon friend before, especially since I had a nasty bout with eclampsia (high blood pressure) with my last pregnancy. The procedure entails having a dye injected into my bloodstream through the neck (if my memory serves me right), and going for an MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) or a CTA (computed tomographic angiography).
As a side note, aneurysms don’t just develop in the brain. They can actually occur anywhere in the body, and the most common, aside from the brain, are: aortic thoracic (chest area), aortic abdominal, and peripheral aneurysms [such as mesenteric artery (in the intestines), popliteal (behind the leg), splenic artery (the spleen), etc]. Since the predisposition towards aneurysms are genetic—with other risk factors being high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and injury—does this mean anyone who is at risk must have every organ checked!?
Again, the susceptibility to it is hereditary. Before my mom, an uncle also died of it; and in Isabel's case, reports indicate that her dad also perished from it.
Live life to the fullest
I opted not to do screening because just thinking about it stressed me out. Of course, the procedures are not cheap! And given that the veins and arteries in the brain are super tiny and minute, it is not a guarantee that everything will be seen or detected.
Discovering I indeed have a brain aneurysm unsuitable for surgical treatment (but in actuality has little chance of rupture) will just add to my worry and distress. And if they do find one, assuming it is the operable type, they can clip it for me via surgery (which to me sounds painful and risky). We’re just discussing the brain here, what about the rest of my body?
In all honesty, the back-to-back death of my mom and grandma changed the way I viewed life. No amount of caution or worry will change our destiny. If it’s our time, it’s OUR TIME. If death comes knocking at the door, we can only hope and pray that God will be kind enough to not let us suffer. For my prayer, I also hope He will grant my wish to at least let me see my grandkids.
When I got the call that my Mommy collapsed, the line was choppy. All I heard was "nag-collapse!" I was thinking to myself, crap, it was my Dad with the medical emergency. He’s a big guy with high BP, cholesterol, diabetes, and a strong family history of heart disease. Well, he is now 73, he’s taking a bunch of maintenance meds, but he is still actively working as an entertainment journalist.
Life is indeed uncertain and is very much fragile. And this concept echoes more profoundly now that I have kids. Sometimes, when bad things happen, I can't help but think “what if”...And it is very uncomfortable and painful even to just think of the possibilities. Then I tell myself to let go. Because what will worry do anyway? For me, I just put everything in God's hand since; anyway, He is always the one in control.
Besides, the idea that time is finite and we are not invincible are the elements the force us to really "live". The fragility of life gives us courage to get out of our comfort zones and do things with passion and a sense of purpose. At the same time, it drives us to seek what is dear and familiar to our hearts. We do silly, crazy, fun things with family and friends, which initiate meaningful traditions and carve memories in our minds that last forever. And those are anything but fragile!
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Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on November 09, 2017.