In 2015, California high school student, Brianna Atkins, was preparing to play a soccer game, when she began to exhibit a severe headache. She was transported to a nearby hospital, where she was examined and told that her symptoms were probably the result of the flu. Thankfully, her mother urged the emergency room staff to delve a little further into Atkins’ condition.
Atkins’ brother, who had also suffered similar headaches, died in his teens as a result of brain cancer. After undergoing a CAT scan, doctors told Atkins that she had a large brain aneurysm that would require surgical intervention.
Aortic aneurysms are more common than any other type of aneurysm and linked to nearly 1,3000 deaths in the United States each year. An aneurysm occurs on the inside of an artery, blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the body. The balloon-like bulge will grow large and eventually dissect or rupture, causing bleeding inside the brain or body.
Atkins underwent an experimental procedure at the Johns Hopkins Hospitals one month later. A surgical team headed up by neurosurgeon Alexander Coon performed a minimally invasive surgery that is similar to treating carotid artery aneurysm, where a thin, flexible tube is inserted into a blood vessel and threaded into the heart.
“It’s a very daring treatment,” said Coon, a specialist in the cerebrovascular field in Hopkins’ Department of Neurosurgery. “We spared her months of recovery and not only was this aneurysm cured but she’s gone on to live a very normal life and will live a normal life because of it.”
Coon has now performed three to four similar procedures and submitted a paper in the Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery. He went on to say that Atkins’ surgery was unique because of the location and size of the aneurysm. The aneurysm was located near the part of the brain that controls wakefulness and breathing. The location of the aneurysm made things more complicated. If the clipping procedure, closing off the aneurysm with coils, was utilized it could cause permanent disabilities.
The aneurysm’s size meant that the coils would potentially fall out, so Coon chose to combine the coils with a pipeline embolization device, performed through the femoral artery. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) approved the device for treating carotid artery aneurysms. The surgery had been performed only a few times before by other neurosurgeons.
Atkins’ only post-surgical complaint was left leg immobility, but gained full use after nearly six hours.