Nate and Anna Weeber were considering a September afternoon bike ride with their 2-year-old son, Declan, when an intense headache struck Anna.
She felt like the room had begun spinning. At 25 weeks pregnant, she’d been prone to migraines, but this felt like a whole new level of pain.
She told Nate and then ran into the bathroom to vomit. When Nate brought her in some Tylenol, he saw she had lost control of her bladder.
And she seemed lethargic. She complained of cramps. She began to drool.
Nate picked up the phone and tried to reach the obstetrician’s office, but then he called 911.
With prompting from the dispatcher, he evaluated Anna and discovered she couldn’t lift one arm. She couldn’t give him a “big smile,” either.
Paralysis crept over her left side.
Moments later, Anna found herself headed to Holland Hospital, where a CT scan quickly identified a ruptured brain aneurysm. It is estimated that one in 50 people has an unruptured brain aneurysm and every 18 minutes a brain aneurysm ruptures.
An ambulance then took her to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in record time. As Anna headed to Grand Rapids, Nate created a Facebook post, entitled “URGENT!! To all PRAYER WARRIORS,” and he described the situation.
“We had people praying all over the world,” Anna said. “We were blown away by that.”
Two patients in one
A brain aneurysm is like a small balloon on a blood vessel. When it ruptures, it can be devastating. About half of those with brain aneurysms don’t make it to the hospital alive. Another 30 to 40 percent never return to their pre-aneurysm state of health.
“Having a brain aneurysm in general is complicated, but what makes Anna’s case more complicated and special is that she was pregnant when it happened,” said Spectrum Health neurosurgeon Justin Singer, MD.
Could the Weebers’ unborn baby survive the treatment?
David Colombo, MD, a Spectrum Health maternal fetal specialist, joined the case.
“All of the things that can affect non-pregnant people can affect pregnant ones, too,” Dr. Colombo said. “First we need to make sure that the mom is stable and the baby is doing fine. We’re always balancing what’s best for both of them. It’s the only time in medicine that you have two people to consider in every situation.”
Initially, Anna received a brain shunt to decrease the pressure. Then, after exploring treatment options, the medical team and Nate agreed on brain surgery to insert a titanium clip that would isolate the aneurysm from the circulatory system.
And they decided against delivering the baby, because the little one would have faced medical challenges as a tiny preemie.
Anna has no memory of the ambulance ride, or the early hours in the hospital, or the discussion about whether her unborn baby could survive the treatment for her aneurysm.
She doesn’t even remember medical staff deciding if they should deliver by C-section.
Sometimes, a foggy mental state is a good thing.
“It was a blessing,” Anna said. “I didn’t have to worry.”
Nate, meanwhile, had grown worried. He continued to reach out on Facebook with updates about Anna’s condition. He sent out more prayer requests.
But less than 20 hours after their medical journey began, Anna emerged safely from surgery.
The recovery process could begin.
“It was surreal, to say the least,” Nate said.
Typically, after surgery for a brain aneurysm, the first few days go smoothly and the “storm clouds” may then appear in the form of vasospasm.
Vasospasm is a circulation problem that can cause stroke-like symptoms, paralysis or death.
Twice each day, the neurological team monitored Anna for symptoms. And, twice daily, they used ultrasounds to monitor the baby’s health. Nurses also checked Anna hourly for symptoms such as memory loss and weakness.
“We were so impressed with the nurses, how friendly they were, how they were updated so thoroughly,” Anna said. “We felt that throughout the entire process, the nurses actually cared and wanted to be there.”
Doctors eventually had to treat Anna for severe vasospasm. The treatment—an angiogram where a catheter is inserted into her groin artery and sent up into her head to inject medication—went smoothly.
After 18 days in the hospital, she returned home.
“She seems to be doing fantastically well, and she’s making a great recovery,” said Dr. Singer, who will continue to monitor her.
“We give all the glory to God,” Anna said. “I think I’m a walking, talking miracle. For me to have no mental or physical disabilities … it is humbling and overwhelming.”
Awaiting ‘Baby Weebs’
Since arriving home, the Weebers have returned to a normal life.
They’ve gone on apple-picking expeditions. They’ve potty-trained Declan.
And they’re looking forward to the arrival of “baby Weebs.” He’s a boy, due around Christmas.
The doctor says he’ll be a large baby, just like his big brother Declan, who weighed in at 9 pounds at delivery.
According to Dr. Colombo, the prognosis for mom and baby is very good.
“It’s just a nice, normal pregnancy from here on out,” Dr. Colombo said.