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Paying attention to your body: Woman gets second chance at life after brain aneurysm

Hospital hallway
Posted at 8:44 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 23:27:29-05

ROCHESTER, Mich. (WXYZ) — A woman had a near brush with death before she decided to kick her unhealthy habits to the curb for another chance at life.

It took a team of doctors working together to make it happen.

A nagging headache and neck pain created a health nightmare for Stacey Morgan.

“Most of it was what we thought was vertigo and that pain and it was just getting to the point where it was getting bad,” Morgan said.

Pain is an understatement. Little did she know at 47, the dizziness, nausea and throbbing in her head and neck was a wakeup call that would ultimately save her life.

“One day like it was really, really bad. I was sitting on the couch and feeling like I was literally going to fall over. I went to the emergency room and that's where they diagnosed it,” Morgan said.

Her primary care physician sent her to a neurologist who confirmed she had a brain aneurysm that was on the verge of rupture.

“There's a ticking time bomb in your head. You feel like and you never know when it can or cannot rupture. And just the whole process while they're watching it is very difficult,” she said.

The surgery is so risky that she was told by one doctor they would keep a watch on it.

“When they told me that I had the aneurysm, it was only 3.5 millimeters and that was literally two days I think before the state shut down,” Morgan said.

That was March of 2020 when COVID-19 was exploding, but instead of waiting, she got a second opinion from

Dr. John Whapham, the director of neurointerventional services at Ascension Providence Rochester. By then, her aneurysm had doubled in size and had a 90% chance of rupture.

“This aneurysm had grown big enough to hit other brain structures and start to get kind of Mickey Mouse eared,” Whapham said.

You can actually see the Mickey Mouse ear shape in an image of the aneurysm.

“3D image of an aneurysm before we plan an operation. This is her planning photo, measures about 7 or 8 millimeters across very large for that location,” Whapham said of the image he showed 7 Action News.

Whapham said at this point, she needed surgery as soon as possible, but Morgan was a heavy smoker with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. That combination made surgery a major risk for death.

Whapham told Morgan that she would need to change her life to be considered for the surgery.

Her primary physician went into overdrive to bring down her blood pressure, control her diabetes by changing her diet and she quit smoking cold turkey.

“It's very hard for somebody like this to have to be driven to a hospital for a procedure that they could die in,” Whapham said.

Whapham has done this surgery for 25 years. It used to require splitting the skull open like with legendary music producer Quincy Jones, who had one on each side of his brain in 1974. Whapham's mother also had it done in this hospital and he visited her as a little boy.

“She had a very long recovery,” Whapham recalled.

But now with new technology that's only been around two years, it's less invasive.

“We gain access through an artery in the leg. We travel up the big artery in your chest and instead of stopping off in the heart, into the large vessels of the neck and then up into the head,” Whapham explained. “We actually dunk a small catheter into the neck of the aneurysm and we begin to fill it in with strands of metal.”

The aneurysm is walled off, so no blood can enter into the space. The entire procedure is about four hours and she was discharged the next morning

“I feel wonderful. I feel like I have a new take on life,” Morgan said.

Morgan is urging people not to ignore their body.

“Don't just brush it off. If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it, get second opinions,” she said.

Nearly 6.5 million Americans have unruptured aneurysms that get discovered incidentally. It affects about 1 in 50 people, and doctors see about 30,000 ruptures a year, giving people a 50-50 chance of dying from the rupture.