Most days, 59-year-old Connie Gonzalez of Havelock, NC, says she is going 100 miles an hour. “I’m very active. I love gardening, feeding the birds, fishing, and being on the beach,” she says.
However, in August 2013, Gonzalez began experiencing excruciating headaches and extreme fatigue in the afternoons. A local doctor assured her nothing was wrong. “He said he was 100 percent sure I had nothing wrong in my head and that I had a virus,” she says.
His diagnosis didn’t sit well with Gonzalez. “My sister and I came back the following Monday and demanded an MRI, but they couldn’t get it scheduled for two weeks,” she says. Finally, Gonzalez got confirmation. The images proved she was not only right; she was also lucky to be alive.
Gonzalez had a ruptured aneurysm in the middle cerebral artery of her brain, which is fatal in the majority of cases. “The doctor said there’s no doctor close to here that can help you,” she says. “I said immediately that I wanted to go to Duke.”
Gonzalez was taken by helicopter to Duke University Hospital, where additional imaging was done to confirm the size and location of the aneurysm. “Aneurysms are classified by size: small, medium, large, and giant – hers was giant,” says neurosurgeon Ali Zomorodi, MD.
Because of its size, Gonzalez needed a highly complex procedure to remove the aneurysm that involved bypassing some of the arteries supplying blood to the brain. “This is not a commonly performed surgery,” says Zomorodi. “A lot of places treat routine aneurysms, but not many can handle an aneurysm this complex.”
The risk for stroke is high with this procedure, according to Zomorodi. “Even if the procedure is done successfully and you’ve done everything you can do, you still sort of hold your breath until the patient wakes up,” he says. “Connie woke up beautifully.”
In fact, her recovery was better than anyone expected. “They told me I would be in the hospital for 14 days and I went home after six,” says Gonzalez. “I never felt worried or overwhelmed. Dr. Zomorodi’s confidence put me at ease. For me to go through what I did with no complications, that’s a testimony to his skill as a surgeon.”