Survivor Tale: Know the Symptoms, Get Scanned

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Aneurysm Survivor turned author, Maria Ross

Maria Ross is a branding consultant, author and speaker who lives on the West Coast with her husband, Paul and their dog, Eddie. At age 35, Maria was struck down by an unexpected brain aneurysm and had an amazing recovery. She uses her voice to advocate for brain injury survivors and has written a humorous and heartwarming memoir about her experience titled, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life (2012, Red Slice Press).   Today, we share a glimpse of Maria’s story with you.

I’m lucky. I know it. In 2008, I suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm rupture and my husband’s quick thinking when I collapsed most likely saved my life.

People often ask, “Were there signs?”

The first sign happened two months earlier. I am a theatre actress in my spare time and was at an audition. I’m usually quite nervous, so of course I was anxious and my heart was racing. After stepping off the stage, I thought I’d be fine but I experienced a sudden, intense migraine unlike anything I’d ever felt before. One second I was fine – the next, I was nauseous, dizzy and my back and neck muscles cramped up in pain. I went to the doctor and my blood pressure was extremely high but he thought it was due to a lot of stress and change that was going on in my life at that time. We’d just moved to a new city, bought a house and I started a business! Plus, high blood pressure runs in my family.

Since I didn’t want to go on medication right away, he instructed me to monitor my blood pressure for a month and if it didn’t come down, he’d put me on pills. Frequent violent migraines, with the same muscle pain and vomiting, occurred every so often, but not every day.  In the meantime, I was doing more yoga and tried acupuncture to ease the stress. It seemed to work, at least temporarily.

One day, I had another severe headache and vomiting episode and couldn’t go to a client meeting as planned. My husband came home from work early to take care of me. He was home when I collapsed unconscious on the bathroom floor. Acting fast, he called the ambulance and paramedics arrived immediately.

They thought I had a drug overdose, as my symptoms were the same. But after emergency room scans detected the ruptured aneurysm, neurosurgeons performed a coiling procedure to stem the blood flow and saved my life.

While I looked fine, I was far from unscathed. I don’t remember the entire month of August 2008. I was blind for six weeks and visually impaired for longer due to retinal damage from the rupture.  I learned over many months and years of recovery the full cognitive, psychological and emotional impairments that accompany brain damage caused by a cerebral hemorrhage.

I’m absolutely thriving now as a result of the care I received, the resources available and the therapies offered. None of that would be possible without research money supporting the study of aneurysms and brain trauma.

However, all of this might have been avoided if I’d taken my health in my own hands and demanded a brain scan. While headaches are the most common symptom for a variety of illnesses, I knew in my bones this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I’m not a hypochondriac or a complainer, so I should have asked more questions, I should have pushed for a scan. Some people say that if I’d gone to the emergency room with my symptoms rather than a private doctor, I would have been scanned and they would have detected the aneurysm before it did as much damage as it did. Who knows? We all know hindsight is 20/20 and I harbor no ill will toward the doctor who misdiagnosed me.

As a result of my injury, doctors have actually discovered another tiny aneurysm in another part of my brain. As long as I monitor it yearly and keep my blood pressure in check, all should be fine. And my older brothers have all gotten brain scans as well, since aneurysms tend to run in families (the theory on mine is that I have a combination of high blood pressure and weak blood vessels, both genetic traits).

My severe sudden headache, combined with the nausea and the neck and back muscle cramping seems to be a textbook symptom for aneurysms – and subarachnoid hemorrhages like mine. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, do your homework and demand scans if insurance will cover them. Better to be safe than sorry!

We would  like to thank Maria Ross for sharing her story with The Joe Niekro Foundation.  Maria’s story has become a light for many others who share a similar experience.  If you are interested in purchasing Marcia’s book, please click here.   Maria will be donating 10% of all net book sales during the month of June to The Joe Niekro Foundation. To find out more about Maria and her story, you can visit her website,

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