An Unforgettable

Chapter

- Never defined by tragedy, we are shaped by it 

You can never pass up on a powered day, especially when it’s Christmas eve on Blackcomb Mountain. I had been riding with my housemates and a few friends, although just after a couple runs, my binding broke. I said I was going to meet them down at the Crystal Chair after having it repaired outside of the Rendezvous. Once I had it repaired I started heading down Springboard near the Solar Coaster chairlift. I had made it nearly a third of the way down when I experienced extreme tunnel vision, a severe pain throughout my head, almost like a ‘Boom’, and started to see what looked like stars and bright flashing lights. I collapsed. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move, I was disoriented. I sat in the same spot with snow covering my legs and others passing by for what felt like a lifetime. I tried to wave someone down, but I had very little strength in my arms and no one noticed. Someone on a distant chairlift yelled out “Are you okay?” as they saw the snow piling up on me, but since I couldn’t speak, I tried to make a gesture, as if ‘come here’, and waited but no one came. During this time, my friends had been calling my phone. I was able to swipe it to answer but I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t even think properly to put a text together.

 

Eventually, I regained some ‘consciousness’ and strength. The tunnel vision disappeared and I managed to dust the snow off and get up on my board. I wasn’t stable or balanced. I fell many times. It was then when the illness came on. I was very sick heading down the hill. Many people passed by me once again, although this time giving me awful looks as if I was hungover. I took many rests but eventually made my way to the bottom of the hill. To this day I don’t know how I managed to snowboard down a mountain in this state, but I did. 

 

Once at the bottom, I was feeling slightly better. The vomiting had stopped and the stars had disappeared. Due to having a fear of hospitals, I made an awful choice and took a taxi home. The headache was still brutally there though. I knew something was awfully wrong but never thought of how serious it could be. I remember thinking it must have been a serious migraine of some kind…

That evening I secluded myself to my room, where I started to continually vomit again. At this point, a blood vessel had ruptured in my eye. My only relief from the discomfort was a cold facecloth over my face while lying flat on the floor. Throughout the evening it was a continuous routine of being ill, refreshing the facecloth, and lying back down on the floor. 

 

It must have been around 6AM when I heard my housemates wake up. I knew I had to do something. They were in the living room when I asked them if they could take me to the hospital on their way to work. And thankfully they did. 

 

Once I arrived I was admitted to emergency and a nurse assisted me right away. The nurse knew right at that instance that something terrible had happened after hearing my symptoms. It was only when she asked if my neck was stiff, and I had said ‘yes when she dashed to arrange an ambulance and rushed me to Lions Gate Hospital in Vancouver. I swear we made it there in record time, which we probably did.


Once we arrived I was rushed to have a CT scan to diagnose exactly what had happened. While waiting, the nurses were preparing the needle for a spinal tap. I had heard of these before and had only heard awful stories of how painful they were. The nurse wiped down an area on my back, and just as she was about to puncture the

skin, the doctor came with news that the spinal tap was no longer needed. My parents had also just arrived at this time. He sat them down first and told them that a blood vessel had ruptured in my brain. It was an absolute shock. How could this happen? Why did this happen? The doctors recommended that it wouldn’t be best to perform surgery at that time due to the size of the hemorrhaging and to first allow some of the blood to reabsorb. That night I was put under watch in the ICU and was being relocated in the morning.

 

It was now December 25th, Merry Christmas.

 

Christmas Day I was relocated to Royal Columbian Hospital. Some of the best neurosurgeons in the country reside here and my parents were relieved to know I would receive some of the best treatment.  

 

Even through the pain relief I was being given, I experienced the most excruciating headaches over the next few days. Even pressing my head so far into the pillows thinking this would stop the pain, but it didn’t. I went through more CT scans and an MRI for the doctors to pinpoint the raptures location and create a plan. Apparently, it wasn’t going to be an easy fix. The doctors had mentioned that where the rupture had occurred, they would only be able to ‘glue’ 80% of the ruptured vessel. Although due to its location, and

now knowing it was an AVM (Arteriovenous malformation), that had formed since birth, the other 20% would have to allow nature to take it’s course until a second surgery was to be arranged in the future.

On December 30th, I was admitted for surgery. The doctors and nurses were hilariously amazing. So full of life which made the whole experience a breeze. Even told me at that point how lucky I was escaping death, and that I should buy a lotto ticket. Which I later did and won $5!… I was absolutely amazed by how far medical treatments have come. Many would think that by performing brain surgery that they still go through the skull, but that was not

Surgery went well and I was in recovery. At this point, I was still experiencing excruciating headaches, but luckily the pain relief was starting to work. Unfortunately, the medications had made me ill which caused pressure in the groin where the surgery had been performed and caused a large hemorrhage, the size of a grapefruit, to form. The nurses rushed to put pressure on the area to stop the hemorrhaging, which luckily they did, although it came with more pain and discomfort. Once again I was under watch for the evening.


Over the next few days, I had a physiotherapist, a psychiatric nurse, a speech therapist, and an optometrist visit me in the hospital. At this time I hadn’t walked in a week, which was very surreal. My legs were very weak and it was difficult to even take a few steps, although the physiotherapist assisted and my strength came back very quickly. Surprisingly, throughout this whole experience, I stayed very positive which I believe

made me strong and heal faster than expected. Now when it comes to ruptured cerebral aneurysms there is a high chance of either brain damage, speech impediment, sight impairment, and even death. Now, this is where I feel very lucky. At this time I had

the case at all. The whole surgery was performed by going through my main artery in my groin and working their way up. Absolutely fascinating!

 

escaped any brain damage, any speech difficulties, and thankfully death. Unfortunately, due to where the rupture occurred, the bleed had impaired my peripheral vision in my left eye. But if you think about it, I would take that over anything else. 

On January 4, 2011, I was moved into the recovery ward. My headaches had subsided and I was feeling better. And on January 5th, I was allowed to go home! Even though the year ahead would be filled with many hospital visits, tests, and check-ups, it was also the start of new beginnings.

Once released and after recovering, I decided to go back to school and further my education, accept an internship to progress my career and focus on my love and passion for photography. 

 

During this time I was still experiencing severe headaches, followed by kaleidoscope vision, where my vision all of a sudden became altered and very colourful. At first, this occurred almost daily but later subsided to only a few times a week. 

 

Later that year I took a trip with a few lfriends. We had an incredibly memorable time, although upon returning I felt uncomfortably strange. It wasn’t until I was walking around Oakridge Centre the day we returned when I felt almost faint. I knew I needed to go home, so I made my way back to the Canada Line. Just as I went down the stairs, my vision went blurry and I was trying to hold on to the wall to keep myself up. I remember a lady who ran to me, asking me if I was okay, and if I was on anything, and the next thing I remember was waking up at Vancouver General Hospital only to find out that I had a seizure. This was the first time I had ever experienced one but the doctor insisted that I continue to take anti-seizure medication for the rest of my life, I refused. I’m not saying everyone should do this, but knock on wood, I haven’t had a seizure since.

 

On June 21st, 2012 I went for a second surgery. It was nothing like the first. For the past year, I had been living with the chance of another bleed from the remaining AVM which still needed attending to. As the area was still inaccessible, the doctors had chosen to perform radiation therapy at the BC Cancer Agency. What this would do is create a scar-tissue over the remaining open vessel of the cerebral aneurysm, and therefore create embolization of the AVM which ideally would make it disappear. For this, I was awake for the surgery. Surgery went well, although unfortunately later lost four-quarter sized pieces of hair from the radiation.

 

The year after the radiation therapy, scar-tissue had built up over the blood vessel and the embolization of the AVM started to occur. The doctors were surprised how fast and far ahead I was in the recovery at this point. Unfortunately the following year, progression had subsided and the AVM hadn’t decreased in size as much as the doctors had hoped.

 

I continued my life to the fullest over the next few years, progressing in my career, continued my education, and took advantage of as many travel opportunities around the globe as possible. Even met the love of my life. 

 

Four years after the second surgery, and after numerous MRI’s, CT’s, three angiograms, and continuous check-ups, I sat down with my parents and my neurosurgeon to receive the news we had been waiting. Six and a half year later, May 30th, 2017 marked the day when I was given the all clear and that the AVM had completely been destroyed; there was no chance of a recurring bleed. My neurosurgeon was even surprised how quickly I had healed and mentioned he rarely gets the chance to give his patience this news.

 

I cannot thank those enough who were there for me and gave me their continuous support during this dark time fo my life, especially my incredibly strong parents. From my initial hospital visits, to home visits, to just being there and comforting me when needed. Thank you. You will always be apart of my life, and I have never, or will never forget you.

Now it is crazy to think that sometimes the most frightening situations in life can steer you in the right direction. I can honestly say I wouldn't be where I am today without this horrifying chapter occurring in my life, although I do consider myself extremely lucky than most. Therefore I feel the need to share the stories of others physically affected, and those who have been affected through photos and stories of their own journies.

 

The main take away from this awareness project, as cliche as it is,  is you must try to live your life to the fullest. No matter what.

 

As mentally difficult as it was for myself, family, and friends to have dealt with this, I tried my hardest to continue with my life in the most positive way.

 

Other than photography, travel has always been my second passion. I ensured something like this wouldn't stop me from continuing to do the things I love. Since my rupture, I have traveled to Thailand, Philippines, Hawaii,  France, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, USA, and throughout BC. I have even lived in Vancouver, Whistler, Pemberton, Australia, and New Zealand, and even recently became a homeowner and married the love of my life. 

Live Your Life

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