Quick action helps student survive what was more than just a migraine

Medical Watch
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On the Medical Watch, we’re looking at the importance of getting involved. Recognizing when someone is in a medical crisis and taking action. We introduce you to a young woman whose life would be markedly different had it not been for the intervention of those around her.

Caroline Todd is a high school speech champion. With elegant delivery she can explain a complex topic. But it’s her own story that’s worth a listen. It begins back in January at a choir concert.

“It was that night I was the closing song so I was a little nervous getting up there. But I performed my two songs and after that I started to feel a little dizzy,” she says.  “It felt like a really, really strong migraine.”

It wasn’t her first, but with this migraine the pressure and pain were so bad, Caroline collapsed.

“Luckily someone passing saw what was going on so they immediately called 911.”

Dr. Tim Malissch  is an Interventional Neuroradiologist and he says, “We’re so grateful that they understood the sudden onset of a severe headache, double vision, vomiting and then gradually becoming less awake. …  And even if you’re a healthy, 18-year-old girl that is a reason to go immediately to the nearest emergency room.”

That’s exactly what Caroline did, but she was quickly transferred to Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village for more specialized care.

It’s called an arteriovenous malformation or AVM.  It’s an abnormal cluster of blood vessels that began to bleed and cause pressure in her brain.

Dr. Malissch used a thin, flexible catheter to reach the site, then injected medical super glue to block off blood flow to the region.

The blood vessels in the AVM are not doing anything helpful. They are not delivering blood or oxygen or nutrients to any part of the brain. They really are just a short circuit that was developed before birth

Once the bleeding stopped, neurosurgeon Dr Bryan Bertoglio removed the AVM.

“It’s fairly deep in the cerebellum near the brain stem,” he says.  “Our surgical approach was to come from the left side just behind the ear. …We were able to completely resect it.”

Caroline spent three weeks in the hospital and another two at a rehabilitation facility.

“My left hand, my left leg are all affected, which mainly affected my walking,” she says. “I couldn’t walk for the longest time. But I used a wheelchair to get around then a walker. Now I’m using a cane.”

At the time of her surgery, she had been prepping for the regional and state speech competitions.

“I was in the hospital bed rewriting part of my speech,” she says.

She missed both. But by March, just two months after brain surgery, she was well enough to attend a qualifying event for nationals.

“Caroline got there at seven in the morning and she had to give her speech six times that day,” says her speech coach Dave Anderson. “At noon she went to her car to take a nap. I texted her and said, ‘You made the next round! Wake up!’ … Despite the walker, despite speaking problems, she still kicked butt in that round and she did well, very proud of her.”

“Cognitively I’m still here. I still can speak thankfully, because that’s really important to me,” Caroline says.

So is singing. In June, Caroline performed at her high school graduation.

“I wanted to go back to all of my regular activities post brain surgery, but I didn’t know if it would happen,” she says.  “But I want to get back on my feet, go to school and dominate in speech.”

This fall, Caroline will attend Bradley University in Peoria where she’ll be a member of the school’s speech team. And her doctors say, Caroline’s recovery and outcome are largely due to the quick action that was taken when her text book symptoms surfaced. A lesson they want everyone to learn.

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