Mom who lost 11-year-old to brain aneurysm wants others to know the warning signs

Sophia Gutierrez died 10 years ago

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five local children have been diagnosed with brain aneurysms in the last year.

While they are rare in young people, two area parents lost their 11-year-old daughter to the deadly condition in 2009.

News4Jax spoke with Sophia Gutierrez's parents shortly after the young girl died. Now, 10 years after her passing, they want to make sure others know the warning signs of a brain aneurysm.

Sophia was described as a very shy, sensitive, sweet and caring little girl. And she was perfectly happy until her family said she started complaining about blurred vision.

"I thought, 'Well, maybe she needs glasses,'" Monica Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said she wasn't that worried. She made an appointment for her daughter, Sophia, to see an eye doctor and assumed the headaches were maybe associated with needing glasses.

"I would give her Tylenol, Motrin and she wouldn't complain afterward, so we thought everything was OK," Gutierrez said. 

She had no idea the symptoms her 11-year-old was experiencing were of a brain aneurysm.

"And then on a Thursday morning, she woke up with a stabbing headache and that she was seeing white spots and there was blurred vision. Again, she could barely walk from her bed to the couch," Gutierrez said.

Tests quickly revealed it was the size of a golf ball. Sophia was rushed to the intensive care unit in excruciating pain.  

"She asked me, 'Why does God make children suffer?' Because she was in so much pain. So I didn't really know how to answer her in that moment because I was thinking the same thing and then the aneurysm ruptured and she went into a coma for nine days and that's the last time that we talked," Gutierrez said. "Doctors pretty much told us that Sophia's brain could not recover. She would never be the same girl again." 

Sophia died July 18, 2009, three months after celebrating her 11th birthday.

Dr. Ricardo Hanel, a neurosurgeon with Baptist Medical Center, joined Gutierrez on "The Morning Show" Tuesday. He said he's treated children as young as 14 months for brain aneurysms.

WATCH: Raising awareness about brain aneurysms in children

"I think everyone has to know it can happen at any age. Don't underplay a headache in a child. It could be life-threatening," Hanel said.

He said patients have described that headache as the worst they've ever experienced. According to Hanel, other symptoms include double vision, neck pain, ringing in the ears and vision loss.

Getting help fast is critical before the aneurysm bursts. Gutierrez said she is still haunted by her last conversation with Sophia.

"She asked me to promise her she was going home and I couldn't promise. I wish I could have told her she was coming home," Gutierrez said. 

Weeks after Sophia died, her father, Omar, had a dream about her. He felt like she was trying to tell him something. He went to see Hanel, who found he had a brain aneurysm, too. Omar believes his daughter saved his life.

A person is 50% more likely to have a brain aneurysm if someone in their family is diagnosed. Women over the age of 40 make up 85% of the patients. 

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