With her husband running for State Superintendent of Education, her son deployed in Iraq, and her daughter about to get engaged, Susan Zais wasn't prepared for the events that would unfold.
Already suffering from a minor cold, Susan began experiencing what she describes as the worst headache of her life. This particular headache was different from any she had ever experienced before. Susan felt a throbbing pain on the entire right side of her head. Armed with cold and sinus medicine, she spent the next few days resting, expecting her pain would subside.
After living in agony for five days, Susan had reached her breaking point. "I've always been very healthy, but in the back of my mind I knew something wasn't right," she says. "This just wasn't normal." Desperately seeking relief, Susan drove to the hospital closest to her home in Newberry, Newberry County Memorial Hospital, and checked herself into the emergency department.
Her vital signs were normal and there were no obvious reasons for concern. Still, as a precaution, they decided to perform an MRI. The results showed bleeding in her brain. Without a second to spare, a medical transport helicopter flew Susan to Palmetto Health Richland where she could receive care from a specially trained trauma team.
The Palmetto Health Richland Trauma Center is the only Level I Trauma Center in the Midlands and one of only four Level I Trauma Centers in the state. Level I status is the highest ranking a hospital can achieve and is designated by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Palmetto Health interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Cole Blease Graham, of Pitts Radiology Associates, was awaiting Susan's arrival as the helicopter landed. Susan was bleeding in both her carotid and vertebral arteries. Dr. Graham and his team had to work quickly to stop the bleeding and repair the damage to prevent further complication.
Susan's headache was caused by a brain aneurysm. A brain aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in one of the arteries in the brain. People with brain aneurysms often are unaware that there is a problem until the aneurysm ruptures. For others, like Susan, the aneurysm can develop a small tear and leak blood into the brain causing headaches and neck stiffness. About 15 percent of these patients will die before reaching the hospital.
"They said they've never seen anyone with that kind of bleeding that hadn't been in a trauma. It was baffling," says Susan. "There was no explanation as to why it happened."
Dr. Graham placed two stents in Susan's carotid artery and one stent in her vertebral artery. The stents will divert blood away from the weakened part of the vessels. This minimally invasive procedure offers a non-surgical option for certain types of aneurysms.
After only two nights in the hospital, Susan was able to go home to her family. "The entire staff at Palmetto Health did a wonderful job taking care of me. My care was incredible." says Susan. "I'm so thankful that I get the chance to spend another day on this earth, enjoying time with my family and living my life."