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Brain Aneurysm: Laurie Jean's Story

Author, Wife and Mother Finds Hope with Innovative Treatment at Johns Hopkins

Portrait of Laurie Jean Cannady, who had aneurysm surgery at Johns Hopkins

Laurie Jean Cannady, who found new hope and new options for brain tumor treatment at Johns Hopkins.

Everything was going right for Laurie Jean Cannady in June 2015. An English professor at Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania, Laurie Jean was planning a party to celebrate the publication of her new memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul. Then, something odd happened: She noticed an unusual lump on her left cheek, below the cheekbone. Although it wasn’t painful, her primary care physician referred her to a local specialist for more tests.

Brain Aneurysm Diagnosed

A CT scan at an outpatient clinic confirmed that the lump wasn’t serious. However, the scan revealed another issue that was very concerning: Laurie Jean had an unruptured brain aneurysm, a weak and ballooning area in the wall of a brain artery that required immediate care. If left untreated, a life-threatening rupture of the brain aneurysm may occur.

Laurie Jean says she had trouble getting needed follow-up appointments and tests scheduled, which lulled her into a false sense of security about the urgency of her diagnosis.

“I figured if it were serious, they’d be moving more quickly,” she says.

Finally, a second scan confirmed the aneurysm diagnosis, and her primary care physician referred Laurie Jean to a neurosurgeon at a hospital less than two hours from her home. But Laurie Jean couldn’t get an appointment for two months. When she finally did have her appointment, the team recommended a craniotomy, a type of open brain surgery. 

“All of the emotion and fear I’d had from the beginning rushed in at one time,” Laurie Jean recalls. “I was so scared about what I had been told; I considered not doing anything.”

Support Group Leads to Johns Hopkins

Laurie Jean received her brain aneurysm diagnosis while planning for her book party.

Laurie Jean received her brain aneurysm diagnosis while planning for her book party. 

While Laurie Jean waited to learn more about the treatment process from her physician, she turned to the internet. She joined a brain aneurysm support group on social media, where she learned she had other options.

“I unloaded on the group about how scared I was and asked people where they had gone for treatment,” says Laurie Jean. “One woman said she had been through the same experience and told me I needed to meet her doctor.”

Laurie Jean took the woman’s advice and called to schedule an appointment with Geoffrey Colby, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, over three hours away.

“I’ll never forget the woman who answered the phone,” says Laurie Jean. “Her name was Anna, and she was an angel. I just started crying, telling her how scared I was.”

Just two days later, Laurie Jean and her husband met with Colby, an appointment, she says, that went a long way in easing her fears.

“When I shook hands with Dr. Colby, I could feel the kindness and warmth,” she says. “He spent a lot of time just talking with us, showing us the scans of the aneurysm and explaining what troubled him.”

Experience with Aneurysms Comes into Play

Colby knew from experience that the aneurysm’s size, location and shape were a dangerous combination. According to Colby, the Johns Hopkins team not only sees more aneurysms than any other facility in the area, but it’s one of the top facilities in the country. Many aneurysms they see that have ruptured are located in the same area Laurie Jean’s was. Although hers was considered small, there was still a risk for rupture, and its shape and bumpy surface increased the risk even more.

“We try to educate patients that aneurysm size isn’t the full issue,” explains Colby.  

Innovative Technique to Treat Aneurysm

After further testing, Colby met with Laurie Jean, her husband and three kids, and said he believed the best treatment option was not open surgery through her skull. Instead, he would use a minimally invasive procedure to reach the aneurysm with an innovative combination of an embolization device and endovascular coiling. Using a minimally invasive approach rather than open surgery results in shorter recovery time and faster healing.

In the procedure, microcoils were placed inside the aneurysm to help prevent blood flow to it, providing immediate protection from the aneurysm rupturing. The embolization device, which is a stent or tube, was placed into the blood vessel the aneurysm arose from, and over time, cells grew on the stent, sealing off the opening to the aneurysm for good. 

My doctor saw me as a mom, a wife, a writer and a professor; not an unnamed, unknown patient.

- Laurie Jean Cannady

Laurie and her family pose before her aneurysm surgery

“It’s an untraditional treatment, in that there are probably only a handful of people around the country who would have offered it to her for this aneurysm,” says Colby. “Laurie Jean’s a young woman and needed a solution that would last through her lifetime. If we can do a procedure that will provide a treatment and has the benefits of being minimally invasive, then we’ll absolutely do that if that’s what’s safe for the patient.”

Laurie Jean says that her trust in Colby outweighed any hesitation she had about undergoing a cutting-edge procedure.

“My doctor saw me as a mom, a wife, a writer and a professor, not an unnamed, unknown patient. He promised he would do everything he could to get me back to my family.”

Laurie and her family celebrate her aneurysm treatment and her bookLaurie Jean Cannady, holding cake, celebrates the launch of her new book three weeks after surgery to treat her brain aneurysm.


He also told her to plan on celebrating at her book launch, which was only three weeks away.

Thanks to her decision to go with the minimally invasive treatment rather than open surgery, Laurie Jean was only in the hospital one night and had a much quicker recovery. Family came from far and wide to celebrate her book launch, which went off as scheduled without a hitch.


“We partied not just about the book, but about life,” says Laurie Jean.

And test results a year after her procedure revealed that the aneurysm was still gone. Colby made good on both promises.

Meet Laurie Jean's Neurosurgeon

Photo of Dr. Geoffrey Philip Colby, M.D., Ph.D.

Colby, Geoffrey Philip, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Assistant Professor of Radiology and Radiological Science
Appointment Phone: 410-955-1506
Expertise, Disease and Conditions: Acute Stroke Care, Aneurysm Repair, Aneurysms, Arteriovenous Fistulas (AVF), Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM), Brain Tumors, Carotid Artery Stenosis, Carotid Artery Stenting, Cavernous Malformations, Cerebral Aneurysms, Dural Arteriovenous Fistulas, Endovascular Surgery, Moyamoya Disease, Neurosurgery, Stroke, Subarachnoid Hemorrhage
 
Dr. Rafael TamargoDr. Rafael Tamargo, director of the Aneurysm Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Brain Aneurysm Services

The Johns Hopkins Aneurysm Center offers innovative, minimally invasive treatment options that help you recover faster with less pain and decrease the likelihood of an aneurysm recurring. Our experts make Johns Hopkins one of the top facilities in the country for diagnosing and treating brain aneurysms.

Read more.

Brain Aneurysm Information

Aneurysm as seen in a brain scan

A brain aneurysm occurs when a weakness in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain balloons and fills with blood. An aneurysm can take years to grow and may never cause any symptoms or issues unless it ruptures. A ruptured aneurysm requires emergency medical care. Learn more about brain aneurysms.

 

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