Defying the Odds: He Survives Twice-Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

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July 9, 2019

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A network engineer and father, Javier Quintana, 53, was very active and physically fit, playing tennis regularly and weight training three times a week. But one day while playing tennis, he felt that worst pain of his life — despite suffering from migraines since a child.

“It came up the back of my neck into my brain,” recalls Mr. Quintana, who did not suffer from high blood pressure or other serious risk factors. “And it felt like somebody was reaching in and squeezing. It was the worst pain I’ve ever had.”

Over the next several days, after two trips to the hospital, a CT scan and a MRI ordered by his primary care physician, Mr. Quintana got through a series of events that — statistically speaking — he should not have survived.

(Watch now: The Baptist Health News Team hears from patient Javier Quintana and interventional neuroradiologist Guilherme Dabus, M.D. Video by Steve Pipho.)

As it turned out, the pain he felt while playing tennis was a ruptured aneurysm that stopped bleeding on its own, a somewhat rare occurrence, says interventional neuroradiologist Guilherme Dabus, M.D., at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center and Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.  More than a week later, Mr. Quintana was home when he started having stroke-like symptoms, including face drooping, slurred speech, loss of balance and weakness on one side.

Mr. Quintana was rushed to Baptist Hospital of Miami, where physicians would discover that an aneurysm had ruptured for the second time. Mr. Quintana’s remarkable ordeal culminated in a seven-hour procedure that saved his life.

Since the aneurysm was large in width, a minimally invasive procedure was ruled out by a multi-disciplinary team from the Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, that included Dr. Dabus and Vitaly Siomin, M.D., neurosurgeon with Miami Cancer Institute. Dr. Siomin performed a craniotomy on Mr. Quintana, which involves the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain.

The aneurysm was treated with microsurgical “clipping,” which involves a small metal clip. The clip is placed on the neck (opening) of the aneurysm to obstruct the flow of blood, and remains inside the brain.

“Javier is extremely fortunate for someone who had an aneurysm that ruptured (twice),” says Dr. Dabus. “About 20 to 30 percent die immediately without even making it to the hospital. Of the people who survive, about 30 percent will still die from it; 30 percent will survive with a disability and only 30 percent will basically go on with their lives similar to what it was before.”

Mr. Quintana says he is slowing getting back into the rhythm of a normal life, but not quite to the point of resuming the active lifestyle he enjoyed previously. “I definitely have a message: If you ever have a pain and it’s the kind of pain you’ve never had, then you should go to the emergency room,” he says. “It doesn’t hurt to go and make sure you’re fine.”

Mr. Quintana adds that he is feeling very grateful these days. “I’m very grateful to the nurses — obviously the doctors were phenomenal — but the nurses were equally phenomenal. I am very grateful,” he says. “They helped me deal with this. This has been very painful and emotional. So I’m extremely grateful.”

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