Seattle Woman Reboots Her Brain After Aneurysm at 35

Maria Ross writes memoir after suffering brain injury at 35.

ByABC News
August 25, 2012, 9:25 AM

Aug. 27, 2012 -- It was 2008, a chaotic time for Maria Ross, a 35-year-old marketing expert who had just started a new job and moved into a new house in Seattle. She ignored the headaches that had been plaguing her and just attributed them to stress.

"Suddenly, a migraine hit me after a theater audition," said Ross, an amateur actress. "One minute I was fine and the next I was grabbing on to a pole. It was like my brain was shooting out of my head and rushed to my feet."

"I pulled myself together, thinking it was nerves," she said. "I have a history of high blood pressure and a type A personality. We'd had a lot of stress in our lives."

It wasn't stress, but the symptoms of a brain aneurysm that would hit her a month later when Ross's husband found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. She suffered blindness and depression before she was back on her feet again.

Today at 39, Ross is back at work, running her own business, Red Slice Branding. She has mostly recovered from the aneurysm that nearly killed her and has self-published a memoir, "Rebooting My Brain," which offers hope and humor to others with brain injuries.

"There are people in rehab who can never go back to their jobs again," said Ross. "Some can't speak or walk. I wrote the book for them."

"Is not a medical book, but I cite information and resources that worked for me," she said. "The biggest advice I give to people is get therapy. That's what helped me get into life again."

A brain aneurysm or cerebral aneurysm is a weak bulging spot on the wall of the brain artery, much like one on a balloon or an inner tube. Over time, the artery pounds against the thinning wall and an aneurysm silently forms. The pressure may cause it to rupture.

An estimated 6 million Americans -- or one in 50 people -- have an unruptured brain aneurysm, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. About 30,000 of them suffer a rupture each year, nearly half of them fatal. An estimated 10 to 15 percent never make it to the hospital, and those who do can have permanent neurological damage or other disabilities.

Ross suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which caused bleeding into the compartment surrounding the entire brain. In the most serious cases, the bleeding can cause brain damage, paralysis or a coma, and often death.

Doctors don't fully understand what causes a person to develop an aneurysm, but suspect a genetic tendency that is exacerbated by environmental factors like smoking and high blood pressure.

After Ross's migraine-like headache at the theater, more headaches came and went. She saw a doctor, but he didn't know her patient history because she had just moved to Seattle, and only monitored her blood pressure and recommended yoga and acupuncture.

But a month later, another headache struck, one so severe she began vomiting and collapsed, slipping into a coma.

"My husband had decided to come home early that day," said Ross. "He called the ambulance right away to the hospital, and as fate would have it, I was only five miles from one of the best in the country."

When Ross arrived at University of Washington's Harbor View Medical Center , she was comatose and had the lowest possible score to evaluate her chances of survival, according to Dr. Raj Ghodke, co-director of the Brain Aneurysm Center and an neurointerventional surgeon.

"In the other classification system for aneurysms, she had a grade 4 out of 5 and had a very big bleed from the aneurysm," he said. "Based on that grading system when it was written, 80 percent would die, but with medical advancements it was down to 30 to 40 percent. She did beat the odds."