On January 11, Kevin Farhat suffered from severe headaches and neck pain radiating down his back. The pain brought him to his knees. He managed to call a friend to go to the hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Hilda Guerra, MD, a neurocritical care specialist at Spectrum Health, and the health team identified Kevin’s problem – a burst aneurysm and stroke. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
About 1 in 3 people who have an aneurysm and a stroke will not make it to the hospital alive. Those who arrive at the hospital, however, have a good chance of survival. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kevin needed immediate microsurgery performed by Paul Mazaris, MD, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon with Spectrum Health. He has a slight scar along the hairline. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Dr Guerra specializes in the treatment of critically ill patients. This usually affects patients with stroke or those with blood clots in the brain, brain hemorrhages and ruptured aneurysms. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“We know what to expect and how to treat them to keep them alive and prevent further medical problems,” Dr Guerra said of his patients who have had brain surgery. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I am very, very lucky,” Kevin said. “Based on what I read about what I had, I could have looked at six to eight months of recovery, perhaps with a feeding tube and a ventilator.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kevin Farhat, 56, admits he’s a lucky man.
On January 11, he suffered from severe headaches – later described as a thunderclap – and neck pain radiating down his back.
The excruciating pain brought him to his knees. He managed to call a friend for a ride Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, where he quickly underwent a CT scan.
The health care team identified the problem – a burst aneurysm and a stroke.
Farhat needed immediate surgery.
His experiences were common for someone with a burst aneurysm followed by a stroke, said Paul Mazaris, MD, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon with Spectrum Health.
About 1 in 3 people who have an aneurysm and a stroke will not make it to the hospital alive. Those who arrive at the hospital, however, have a good chance of survival.
Recovery is a team effort.
Dr Mazaris and his surgical team lead the initial care, which is immediately followed by treatment in the intensive care unit.
“Everything is happening very quickly,” said Hilda Guerra, MD, specialist in neurocritic who at Spectrum Health. “It takes a team of doctors and assistants, respiratory therapists and nurses working very fast to take care of these patients.”
Dr Guerra directs the treatment in the intensive care unit.
“There’s a lot going on every time there’s a bleeding or a stroke,” she says.
The decision to have brain surgery should be made within 24 hours of the aneurysm or stroke bursting.
The extent of damage from rupture is an important factor in determining survival and recovery, although a patient’s age and health are also factors. Younger, healthier patients have a better chance of recovery.
After the surgery, Farhat spent about two weeks in intensive care.
Dr Guerra, neurosensitizer, specializes in the treatment of critically ill patients. This usually involves patients with blood clots in the brain, hemorrhages in the brain, and ruptured aneurysms.
Sometimes a patient goes straight from the emergency department to Dr. Guerra, who can determine if surgery is needed. But there are also times when doctors in the emergency department call the surgeon.
Ultimately, any patient with a brain hemorrhage will be looked after by Dr. Guerra.
She follows the patient throughout the health journey, making sure their vital organs are functioning properly and guarding against organ shutdown.
The intensive care team performs a myriad of essential functions.
“We have installed breathing tubes, central lines, broad IV lines,” said Dr Guerra. “We perform a variety of procedures to treat patients depending on the type of brain problem and the side effects they are experiencing.”
Fortunately, many of the medical challenges in the intensive care unit are predictable and treatable.
“We know what to expect and how to treat them to keep them alive and prevent further medical problems,” Dr Guerra said. “We run things very tightly so people don’t develop complications.”
Farhat returned home after 14 days of intensive care.
While he wasn’t necessarily in poor health before the aneurysm burst, he’s already working to make a number of changes to ensure a full recovery.
Before this experience, he had not seen a doctor regularly. This will change, he said.
He also plans to attend all follow-up appointments.
He cut the alcohol and quit smoking. He strives to reduce his intake of salt and sugar. He plans to follow a high protein diet and stay away from fried foods, burgers and similar dishes.
“All the things I enjoyed a few months ago,” he said.
He also rests more.
He owns three bars in the Grand Rapids area, but has significantly reduced his own working hours from 70 hours per week to around 25 hours.
He recognizes that many people are dying from what he went through. It is a blessing not only to be alive, but to be alive without major side effects.
“I am very, very lucky,” he said. “From what I read about what I had, I could have looked at six to eight months of recovery, maybe with a feeding tube and a ventilator.”
He has a lot of family to enjoy, including a brother, three sisters, two nephews and a niece.
“I have a lot of reasons to live,” he said. “I’m quite successful and I have a lot of people praying for me and these prayers obviously help me.”
He also credits what he calls an amazing medical team.
“I am grateful to live in a city that has this level of expertise in neurosurgery,” he said. “In my opinion, it is incomparable.”