Inside the Operating Room: The basics of brain aneurysm surgery - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Inside the Operating Room: The basics of brain aneurysm surgery

Posted: Updated: May 15, 2014 10:00 PM
JANESVILLE (WKOW) – Leann Lippincott-Wuerthele underwent surgery to clip a brain aneurysm roughly two years ago.

Lippincott-Wuerthele said doctors found a brain aneurysm inside her skull by chance while she was having her head scanned after experiencing stroke-like symptoms.

“It basically saved my life that they found that,” she said.

A brain aneurysm is a swollen or ballooning blood vessel in the brain. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, one in 50 Americans are living with one.

Dr. Chris Sturm, medical director of the Mercy Health System Regional Neurosurgery Center in Janesville, said brain aneurysms frequently go undetected because they often don't produce symptoms.

Sturm said most brain aneurysms are discovered either on head scans being performed for other, medical symptoms, such as in Leann's case, or when a patient shows up in the emergency room after an aneurysm has ruptured.

Sturm said he's seen a significant increase in brain aneurysm cases during the last couple of years.

“I think it's not so much that the incidents of aneurysms have changed, but probably, in today's medical climate, people are getting more images (taken) of their heads for all kinds of reasons,” Sturm said.

A ruptured brain aneurysm is fatal in about 40 percent of cases, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. The BAF reports roughly 66 percent of those who survive a ruptured aneurysm are left with severe, neurological disabilities.

“When you know you have an aneurysm but it hasn't ruptured, you're saddled with the burden of should I have it clipped?” Sturm said. “Or should I have it be and roll the dice that hopefully it doesn't rupture?”

Sturm said one way to treat an unruptured brain aneurysm is to clip it through surgery.

“An aneurysm is like a blub at the end of a water hose,” Sturm said. He said that as more blood flows into the aneurysm it gets bigger and bigger.

“The whole idea of the surgery is to place a clip at the base of that ballooning (aneurysm) so than no more blood flows in,” Sturm said. “But you have to do so in a manner where the blood continues to flow into the arteries it's supposed to flow in so the person doesn't have a stroke.”

Sturm said performing any surgery on the brain puts the surgeon under an immense amount of pressure.

“It's a tremendous responsibility to have a patient say to me I'm letting you open up my head and go into my brain … which is everything I am, have been, all my memories, thoughts, vision,” Sturm said.

“The brain has no ability to make new brain cells,” Sturm said. “It can't heal itself. You can have a lung transplant, you can have a heart transplant, but you can't have a brain transplant.”

Lippincott-Wuerthele said the procedure was a very intimidating one to undergo. But she said it made her a stronger person.

“The surgery really made me realize how fragile life is,” she said.

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