Six Years Ago Today

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Six years ago today on the 18th of March at 30 weeks pregnant, I suffered a brain haemorrhage. I woke up on that beautiful Sunday morning looking forward to a nice walk along the canal with my husband. But as soon as I sat up on the bed, the worst migraine I had ever experienced hit out of nowhere. This wasn't any ordinary migraine; it felt like someone was hitting me on the head with a sledge hammer. I kept telling my husband I thought I was going to lose my mind – that's how bad it was. After 2 hours of vomiting and unable to keep water down, I had my husband call the Triage Ward at the Whittington Hospital. They asked how many weeks I was; as soon as I told them 30 weeks, they said to get to the Triage Ward asap. 

 

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Me at 28 weeks

I didn't even grab my glasses – that's how much pain I was in. My husband called a cab and off to the hospital we went. Once I got to the Triage Ward a doctor came to look at me. I kept asking him to please stop the pain but he wanted to check me over first. The first thing he did was to check my reflexes. When he hit my knee, there was no delayed reaction like there should be, it was instant. This raised a really big, red flag. If there is an instant reflex it usually means something is hyper-exciting the brain. The doctor looked and me and my husband and said he thought my brain was bleeding. We were like WHAT!!!?? He wanted to send me up for a CT scan. Normally at 30 weeks pregnant a CT scan is a big no-no, but this was too serious. So they did everything in their power to make sure the baby didn't receive any radiation.

I underwent a CT scan and was sent back downstairs to wait for the results. The doctor (I so wish I remembered his name) wasn't 100% sure they would see anything, but when the CT scan results came back, it was clear that I was experiencing a brain haemorrhage. 

That's when things got super serious, I was rushed to A&E and had several doctors around me along with several midwives and they started to prep me for delivery right then. Edith was pumped full of steroids to ensure her lungs were prepared for delivery if that was going to happen.

I was to be transferred over to the National Hospital in Queens Square, where a board of doctors where already discussing my case as this had never happened before. Leave it to me to be the first. I was rushed by ambulance over to the National Hospital where they had prepared a bed for me. 

 

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I was informed I would be undergoing an angiogram the next day to see what was causing the brain bleed. In the meantime, they pumped me full of morphine and ibuprofen. I know what you are thinking, how could they pump a 30 week pregnant women full of drugs? My doctor said if I was in that much pain then the baby was probably experiencing it too and it would be best for us to be knocked out for a while. Don't worry though, they had a midwife from UCL come and check on the baby everyday. They came to check her heartbeat and made sure she was still kicking around. There were some days when she was really quite, but I don't blame her, she was high as a kite. 

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The morphine had kicked in

The next day I underwent the angiogram. An angiogram is where they take a small tube and stick it in your groin and they pump dye through the small tube into your brain. This helps the neurologist see what’s happening. I have to say it was a pretty incredible experience. A very warm sensation came over my head and then I saw a flash of light and I saw all the veins in my brain, it was like a really crazy trip. It was pretty cool though, despite the seriousness of the situation. It was incredible to see the inside of my brain on a big screen. 

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They discovered that I had loads of tangled veins on the left side of my brain and that the arteries that carry blood containing oxygen from the heart to the brain, and vice versa were weak and not doing their job.  At this point they weren't sure what my condition was or how they were going to fix it. They would take my angiogram images and results along with the numerous MRI's results and figure out what it was I had going on.

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My Veins

The next day they came to the conclusion that I had a brain condition called Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). AVM is a brain condition you are born with (but it's not hereditary). Something clearly went wrong in the developmental stage of my brain when I was in the womb. Only 1% of the entire population have AVM and if usually occurs in males. 

You can read load more facts about AVM here

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Passing time in the hospital

My neurologist decided it was best for the bleed to settle down, meaning I lay around all day, take loads of morphine for the pain and wait it out. As for Edith they scheduled an elective caesarean for 35 weeks. So in the meantime, I would lay low and try to enjoy the last month of my pregnancy. 

On the day of the caesarean I had 5 anaesthetist (no joke), and several doctors in the delivery room. They had to keep my heart rate down as they were afraid of triggering another bleed. But all went well and I had a tiny, tiny Edith. 

 

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Brand new Edith

Four weeks after her birth I went back into the National Hospital in Queens Square to undergo a brain procedure called Embolisation. This is where they perform another angiogram, but this time they pump glue inside your brain to seal off the capillaries and veins that were not performing properly. I was under anaesthetic, so I wasn't in any pain; but I was definitely in pain after the procedure. The brain has to get used to the glue in the brain, so swelling can occur and this is very, very painful. During this time, while I was in the hospital, Edith was only 4 weeks old. She wasn’t allowed to come up to the ward as it was too dangerous for her. So when I was feeling better I would go sit in the courtyard outside the hospital and my husband would bring her to me so I could sit with her for a while. Luckily the weather in London was superb. It was super hard being away from her, let alone not being able to feed her. After the week in the hospital I had to stop breast feeding her permanently as I would have to be on pain killers and aspirin, which is really dangerous for such a small baby. But to be honest, I didn't care, I was just so happy to be alive and able to feed her a bottle. 

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In the courtyard outside the hospital

I took quite a while to recover, not only was I a brand new mom, I had just undergone a brain treatment. You can only image how rough I was feeling. I did recover though. It probably took more time for me to recover emotionally then physically. It was a lot to handle. 

Once I was better, I underwent Gamma Knife Radiation this was to try and completely shrink down the AVM. It's a very simple procedure. It's like having a long MRI but you have a metal mask over your face and they send very concentrated radiation only to the affected area. It's a pretty phenomenal discovery. After my treatment, I would have to go in for an MRI every 3 months to see if there was any change. Gamma knife takes up to 2 years to start working, but in my case my AVM was gone after 2 years! Yep, pretty incredible. I'm a pretty tough cookie. I've always been a fighter and definitely fought hard through this whole experience. 

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My Gamma Knife Treatment

Now I'm considered healed. They say it will never be healed 100% but for them it’s close enough to call me healed! They have closed my case. If I were to feel funny, of course they would ask me to contact them, but so far so good. I've only gone in once for a MRI since my clearance and all checked out just fine.

It's crazy to look back and think about all I went through, what my baby went through. But I was so, so lucky the doctor at the Whittington Hospital in the Triage Ward paid attention because if he would have sent me home, there is a very big chance I wouldn't be here today. 

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Trauma definitely does make you appreciate your life, your family and yourself. I'm not going to say it's been easy and that I live my life to the fullest every day, I don't. I struggle with life on a daily basis. But I did pull through and I kept on going. I was never going to let a brain haemorrhage keep me from doing what I love to do. I did struggle with self-confidence after the whole episode, but I kept on going knowing I would eventually get over it. 

You don't need something crazy to happen to you to start living your life to the fullest and living it the way you want to. Don't stop fighting and don't ever stop being you. 

Just do you!

kelly x

Kelly Ekardt