Woman, 24, Almost Dies After Her “Brain Exploded”

A young woman was looking forward to starting law school and working towards her career goal of becoming an attorney when the unthinkable happened.

It all started as Morgan Bailey, 24, felt a searing headache and numbness down her right side. She had a stroke at the age of 22. She now remembers it as the day her “brain exploded.”

“I was working at a school when my stroke happened. It was their graduation and I was working to get everything done as the ceremony was starting 10 minutes later,” said Bailey.

“I didn’t feel good all day but suddenly my arm and entire right side went numb. I had an excruciating headache, and I knew something was wrong. I went and told my friend, but I don’t remember anything that happened after that for a month.”

What Is an Arteriovenous Malformation?

The cause for Bailey’s stroke at such a young age was an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). These are abnormal clusters of blood vessels, usually found in the spinal cord or the brain, which disrupt the connections between the arteries and veins.

Most cases of brain AVMs are congenital, although in some instances they can appear later in life. It’s thought that they affect around 1 percent of the general population, though many people aren’t aware that they have an AVM until it bleeds.

Bailey was aware that she had an AVM since she was 18, after a fall at school led her to wake up the next morning paralyzed on the right side. Hospital scans revealed the AVM with three brain aneurysms, but when the paralysis subsided doctors hoped that Bailey wouldn’t suffer any more complications from the malformation.

Four years later, the numbness returned, the headaches started and Bailey grew irritable in the lead-up to her stroke.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that significant symptoms of an AVM include a hemorrhage, which can cause a stroke and subsequent brain damage. The range of symptoms of an AVM include seizures, headaches, pain, visual problems, speech problems and muscle weakness.

Morgan Bailey in hospital after a stroke
Bailey in the hospital following the stroke in May 2021. Two years later, Bailey is still dealing with the aftereffects of her stroke now. @livingwithanavm

Treatment for an AVM varies depending on the case, but after Bailey’s stroke she underwent a craniotomy to remove 75 percent of the malformation, and gamma radiation on the remaining portion that couldn’t be removed.

“I had multiple angiograms, MRIs, CT scans, a craniotomy which took away 75 percent of my AVM,” she said. “The other 25 percent was still in there, so I had gamma knife radiation treatment that’s supposed to get rid of it.

“I was in the Intensive Care Unit for four weeks, and then inpatient rehabilitation for three weeks. I did intense physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy for over a year, like it was my job.”

After a full year of learning how to do everyday things again, like walking and speaking, Bailey is still paralyzed on her right side. She has also had to recover from severe aphasia, so she’s now very thankful to be able to maintain a conversation again.

Bailey continued: “I had no idea what this was before it happened, I didn’t even know what an AVM was or how they happen. Before, if you would have asked me if someone can have a stroke aged 22, I would have said no way.

“I had to re-learn everything, including how to walk and how to speak properly. I had to learn how to write with my left hand as I can’t use my right.

“It was very difficult, and that was when I found Entire Care, a therapy place in Sedona, Arizona. There were days when I would show up and wouldn’t want to do anything, but somehow I’d leave feeling regenerated.”

Morgan Bailey in a wheelchair after stroke
Bailey in a wheelchair after the stroke. Bailey had to learn how to walk again. @livingwithanavm

Dr. Reza Karimi, a vascular and endovascular neurosurgeon at New Jersey Brain and Spine, believes he has treated approximately 150 AVM cases over the last 11 years.

Dr. Karimi explained that most people who have an AVM won’t know unless it bleeds, which can happen “seemingly out of nowhere.” The hemorrhage could be triggered by physical exercise or an activity that raises blood pressure, but he has also dealt with cases where it’s happened in the person’s sleep.

“AVMs are thought to occur at some point during childhood,” Karimi told Newsweek. “Brain AVMs are particularly dangerous since they can bleed into the brain and cause a tremendous amount of brain injury.

“The recovery process after a brain AVM hemorrhage is variable, it depends largely on where the AVM is located and how much brain injury has occurred. Some are better off than others. When a small amount of brain hemorrhage occurs in a less sensitive area of the brain, they can make a near perfect recovery over time.

“In others with profound weakness, paralysis, loss of speech, or coma from the initial brain hemorrhage, the recovery process can take up to two years and they will usually only be able recover part of what function they have lost.”

Although there can be a number of symptoms, including headaches, memory loss or a pulsating sound in the ears, most of the time a brain AVM is only found after it’s already hemorrhaged.

“Brain AVMs that have not bled are often discovered incidentally on brain scans that were ordered for other reasons. But unfortunately, the most common way to find a brain AVM is only after it has already bled, and the person now finds themself in completely unexpected life-threatening situation.”

Morgan Bailey had a stroke in 2021
Bailey pictured after recovering from her stroke. Now that she has regained her physical strength back, Bailey enjoys hiking again. @livingwithanavm

Going through a stroke at such a young age has been life-changing for Bailey. She told Newsweek that her “life has completely flipped upside down” since May 2021. Despite the grueling recovery, which is still ongoing, Bailey has found positives from the experience and now hopes to educate others.

One year into her recovery, Bailey started detailing what she went through on social media (@livingwithanavm) and on her blog, Living With An AVM.

“I now don’t want to do anything that I was planning on doing with my degree in forensic psychology and a law degree,” she continued.

“I know that I want to help people who are in a tough spot, who have had strokes, who have AVMs and more. I’m happy that my life changed after the stroke, it’s much simpler now. It’s not all about the hustle and bustle that I was chasing before.

“We need to live life to the fullest because you never know what’s around the corner.

“I started my social media one year after my ‘alive date,’ or the day that my brain exploded. I knew that I wanted to start something, whether it be social media or a blog, so I did both. I want to educate others and spread information explaining what to do if someone is having a stroke.”

Source: https://www.newsweek.com/woman-almost-died-stroke-brain-explodes-stroke-1797398

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