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Dome - The Power of Compassion

Dome May 2014

The Power of Compassion

Date: May 1, 2014

Karlyn Rittmeyer
Karlyn Rittmeyer, center, is grateful for the exceptional—and empathetic—care she and her family received. Photo by Robert Smith

Eric and Karlyn Rittmeyer began their evening the same way they had dozens of times before: at field hockey practice with their two preteen daughters. While the girls practiced, Karlyn, 35, sipped hot chocolate and caught up with her friends. It was late October, and the air was chilly. Before long, Eric suggested that his wife sit in the car to warm up.

After practice, Eric and the girls found Karlyn with her head in her hands. “I felt enormous pressure between my eyes. I couldn’t see, and my arms went numb,” she remembers. She started having seizures. Terrified and confused, Eric called 911.

Karlyn was taken by ambulance to a hospital near their Baltimore County home. When staff discovered bleeding in her brain, she was flown to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

An angiogram confirmed that Karlyn had a ruptured aneurysm, a condition that kills one-third of people before they are even able to make it to the hospital. Just after midnight, Geoffrey Colby, a neurological surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Aneurysm Center, told the Rittmeyers he was clearing his schedule for emergency surgery. “Time stood still,” Eric remembers. “Karlyn was so young and healthy. She worked out five days a week. How could this be happening? What was I going to tell our girls?”

An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel. If the wall becomes too thin, the aneurysm ruptures and bleeds into the space around it.

Colby and Judy Huang, vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Hopkins Bayview, conferred about how best to treat Karlyn. They decided to perform microsurgical clipping, a complicated surgical procedure that uses small metal clips to stop the blood flow into the aneurysm.

Now, six months later, the Rittmeyers say that it was more than the doctors’ expertise that eased their fears about the surgery. “When Dr. Colby was explaining everything to me, I felt his compassion,” says Eric. “It made me feel comfortable, because I felt like he really cared.”

The surgery was successful, but Karlyn’s recovery was long and difficult. She spent two weeks in the neurosciences critical care unit before she was discharged. Then she followed up with outpatient rehab to regain her strength and function. “Therapy was tough,” she says. “In the beginning, it was hard to even hold my head up, but I made myself do it.”

Although there are a few lasting effects from her ordeal—she is now legally blind in one eye—she considers her recovery miraculous.

The Rittmeyers seem equally impressed with their care. “Every single person we came in contact with inside Johns Hopkins Bayview was incredible,” says Eric. “We went through a horrifying situation, and I just can’t believe how well we were treated.”        

The couple’s positive experience led Eric to join Johns Hopkins Bayview’s newly formed Patient and Family Advisory Council. This group seeks the input of patients and family members to help shape overall medical center policies, programs, facility design and even daily operations.

Through his role in the advisory council, Eric hopes to share his perspective on what made his family’s experience so positive and how that experience can be replicated for future patients.

“It’s simple. Show me respect, make me laugh, earn my trust,” says Eric. “That’s how people want to be treated, and that’s how we were treated during our stay.”

—Sara Baker

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