California Woman Has Surgery for Complex Brain Aneurysm at Barrow

A neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix has successfully removed a complex brain aneurysm from a 34-year-old Burbank, California woman who was facing paralysis and possibly death. Meghan Sanchez flew to Phoenix last month for the high-risk surgery performed by Barrow President and CEO Dr. Michael T. Lawton, an internationally renowned neurosurgeon who has performed more than 4,000 operations on brain aneurysms.

Sanchez underwent a 12-hour operation – a superficial temporal artery to middle cerebral artery bypass – on Aug. 21. After a few days in the hospital, Sanchez returned home, and in the month since she has been headache-free and has returned to work as a Hollywood makeup artist.

“It was pretty miraculous, because when they did my surgery, they encountered a lot more difficulties than they expected,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez had been experiencing severe migraine headaches, but the cause confounded several doctors in Los Angeles; she says one doctor, after examining her test results, told her she didn’t have an aneurysm “because it’s not in the right place.”

Further tests revealed an aneurysm measuring 11 millimeters. A brain aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel and is life-threatening it if bursts.

Doctors told Sanchez that, given the location of the aneurysm, surgery would be too risky. “They thought they were going to kill me if they operated on me,” Sanchez says. “The option was to live with it and hope that it didn’t burst. I felt like I was just going to walk around waiting to die.”

A brain aneurysm ruptures every 18 minutes in the United States, and 40 percent of those ruptures are fatal. Two-thirds of survivors suffer permanent neurological deficits.

Sanchez’s doctors sent her test results to Dr. Lawton, who reviewed them and immediately recommended surgery.

Dr. Lawton used a rare surgical method to safely deflate the aneurysm and minimize risk.

The superficial temporal artery to middle artery bypass is a technique that allows the blood supply from the extracranial carotid circulation to be routed to the distal middle cerebral artery branches. The procedure allows blood flow to bypass proximal lesions of the intracranial vasculature. The performance of this bypass requires specialized microvascular training and the use of microvascular techniques.

“These types of brain aneurysms are very complex, and the surgery is very rare,” Dr. Lawton says. “The aneurysm is typically located very deep inside the brain near several arteries, making it difficult to treat. Very few surgeons can perform this type of surgery, but because of Barrow’s expertise treating brain aneurysms, Barrow surgeons have popularized the technique.”

Barrow performs more neurosurgeries annually than any hospital in the U.S. and is routinely listed by U.S News & World Report as among the best hospitals in the nation for neurological and neurosurgical care. Barrow is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

Sanchez says she briefly had speech problems after the surgery, but those soon subsided. She hasn’t had a headache or experienced the dizziness that plagued her before the operation.

“I’m delighted at Meghan’s speedy recovery,” Dr. Lawton says. “Barrow is the place that patients anywhere in the world can come to when they need neurosurgical expertise, especially for complex procedures such as the one we performed on Meghan.”

“My case was complex and different,” Sanchez says. “The options, for me, were pretty grim. But it seemed like a breath of fresh air because Dr. Lawton said he could help me. It was a blessing.”

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