JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Six and a half million Americans are walking around with an unruptured aneurysm, and when it bursts, it can cause serious damage and even death.
September is Aneurysm Awareness Month, and doctors want people to be aware of the risks of having one.
A local nurse who survived an aneurysm wants to help educate people that it can happen when you least expect it.
Dawn Whitehurst said was getting ready to start her day, when she dropped her water bottle on the kitchen floor. She struggled back to her bedroom to alert her husband, Wade Whitehurst.
“I remember saying, ‘I need to go to the emergency room. I am not well. I’ve had an accident, and I need help,’” she recalled.
A pediatric nurse at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Dawn knew something was serious. Wade did, too.
“I think the scariest part is that our daughter was a witness to all this,” said Wade. “She was in the bathroom saying, ‘Maybe mommy needs water, maybe she needs something to eat.’”
Dawn was rushed to the hospital, where doctors determined she had an aneurysm, which is a type of stroke when a blood vessel bursts in the brain.
Dawn spent 71 days in the intensive care unit, much of her time in a coma.
Her medical colleagues at Baptist Health, caring for one of their own, made a prayer blanket as she recovered.
“It was very obvious that they cared for me,” Dawn said.
“Really just supported us in every way,” said Wade. “From meals to anything we needed during that time while Dawn was hospitalized here.”
Dr. Nima Aghaebrahim, who was part of her medical team, said knowing Dawn was a nurse at Wolfson took an emotional toll.
“It hit home because she was working right next door and now she was in the neurointensive care unit in very poor condition,” he said.
He said that while most people who have an aneurysm show no symptoms until it happens, it’s still important to know the signs when they do show up, like a serious headache or double vision. He also said time is extremely important.
“Time is brain. That’s a term that we’ve been using — which is true, especially if you’re dealing with a stroke. Bleeding in the brain is a type of a stroke. So every minute, every second counts,” he said.
A family of strong faith, the Whitehursts credit their trust in God for getting them through such a difficult time.
“Watching God move in this situation, I felt like He comforted me, He consoled me,” Dawn said. “He told me I was always going to be fine if I listened. I just needed to listen to Him.”
A year later, the couple said, things are slowly getting back to normal and they’re taking it day by day.
“Could things be better? Sure. But things could be a lot worse, and she could not be here with us today,” said Wade.
“I for some reason think the Man has big plans for me. I’m not sure what they are, but I’m just going to keep on,” said Dawn.
Nima urges people to know the risks of getting an aneurysm — smoking, high blood pressure and family history are some of them. He said it’s also important to get screened and have that conversation with a primary care doctor.