Severe Headache Leads to Serious Diagnosis

Dr. Tsoumakaris and Judith

Dr. Tjoumakaris and Judith

Judith Rivers had been suffering from sinus problems all autumn when, suddenly, she started to experience an unusually severe headache. The headache was so painful that she decided to take her blood pressure. When the reading was in the range of 200/120, she knew she needed help right away.

At a local emergency room, a doctor performed a CT scan. Expecting nothing serious, Ms. Rivers was surprised when the ER doctor told her she wasn’t going home. When they suggested transferring her to another hospital, the long-time Jefferson employee knew where she wanted to go. “There was no way he was going to send me anywhere [but Jefferson],” Ms. River recalls.

Before she knew it, a JeffSTAT ambulance arrived to take her to Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience, the region’s only hospital dedicated exclusively to neurology and neurosurgery. There, cerebrovascular and endovascular neurosurgeon Stavropoula Tjoumakaris, M.D., discovered Ms. Rivers had an aneurysm that had ruptured, causing a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

An aneurysm is a weakening of the wall of a blood vessel, leading to the protrusion of a small balloon-like shape. If the aneurysm ruptures, it causes severe bleeding. Aneurysms are the leading cause of subarachnoid hemorrhages, one of the most severe forms of hemorrhagic stroke.

Like most people with aneurysms, Ms. Rivers was unaware of her condition. Most aneurysms cause no symptoms until they rupture. When they do, the results are often deadly. Recalling her case, Dr. Tjoumakaris said, “She’s very lucky she survived. With a ruptured aneurysm at home, she probably had about a 50 percent chance of dying. As a matter of fact, 15 percent of these people die before they even reach the emergency room.”

Dr. Tjoumakaris, an endovascular neurosurgion who completed her entire medical education and training at Jefferson, can treat aneurysms using a minimally-invasive interventional radiology technique or by clipping the aneurysm after performing a craniotomy. Ms. Rivers underwent the craniotomy.

Dr. Tjoumakaris quickly took the patient to the operating room and performed a craniotomy to access the site of the ruptured aneurysm. Once she reached deep in the brain, where the blood vessels are located, she placed a clip over the neck of the aneurysm, correcting the abnormality.

After the procedure, Ms. Rivers was transferred to the hospital’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit. She remembers “the concern of all of the doctors, especially Dr. T. There was always someone coming into my room to check on me.”

Her daughter, Sydney Jones, was touched by the level of care her mother received. “Please take comfort in knowing that you all are extraordinary, deeply appreciated, and deserving of the eternal love and respect that will endlessly stay in our hearts,” she wrote in a letter to Jefferson staff.

Ms. Rivers, who experienced her stroke in October, was discharged straight home. As to the extent of her recovery? It might be enough to say that she asked Dr. Tjoumakaris if she could resume aerobics at her most recent follow up. The answer was yes.

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One Response to Severe Headache Leads to Serious Diagnosis

  1. Michele DiCola March 11, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    Ms. Rivers was very smart and very lucky!

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