'A time bomb in the middle of my brain' 

Aneurysm survivor Linda Inglett is on a mission to help others

When Linda Inglett was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain aneurysm, she thought at first her doctor was speaking to someone else. After all, she was seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist about a problem with her vocal chords, not a neurologist about her brain.

“He said, ‘Linda, I’m very sorry, but you have an aneurysm’ and I was looking all around me to see who he was talking to,” Inglett remembers with a laugh. “I couldn’t imagine that he was talking to me.”

Inglett, 57, was so stunned at the news that at first she thought it had to be a mistake. Then she saw the scans of her brain, which clearly showed a large aneurysm.

The next day, Inglett passed out and was found on her bathroom floor. She was rushed to the hospital, but was told surgery wasn’t possible. She took medicine for a while, then passed out again.

Because the aneurysm was located in the center of her brain, traditional brain surgery wasn’t an option because it would cause severe brain damage. At first, Inglett had no idea where to turn for help, so she began calling hospitals and medical centers around the country.

Finally, when Inglett called Boston, she got an answer. “The woman said, ‘It’s showing a Dr. Jay Howington right there in Savannah,’” she says.

Inglett was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Howington performed a fairly new type of surgery called an edovascular embolization, in which platinum coils and stents were inserted into her brain. She has a year to go in the recovery phase, but so far her recovery has been remarkable and she says she feels as good as new.

As frightening as the diagnosis was, as hard as it was to face brain surgery, the thing that scares Inglett the most is this -- her aneurysm was discovered purely by accident. If her ENT hadn’t decided to scan her entire head instead of just her vocal chords, it wouldn’t have been found in time to save her life.

“I had a time bomb in the middle of my brain,” Inglett says now. “The walls were beginning to weaken when they found it. I really don’t think I would have had another six months. New technology saved my life.”

Since her own diagnosis, Inglett is determined to help others. She operates two Web sites, visits neurology patients and their families to offer advice and support, and raises money for equipment to diagnose and treat aneurysms and other neurological disorders.

“My goal is to find people who’ve had strokes,” Inglett says. “Let’s get together in some way and let people know they don’t have to leave Savannah to get help.”

Inglett also wants to promote early diagnosis. “Mammograms have become routine,” she says. “Why not brainograms? There are tests that can be done to detect aneurysms.

“Maybe if they looked at a person’s brain every two or three years, these things could be treated before they caused so much damage,” Inglett says. “I’m very lucky I had an early diagnosis.”

Inglett’s symptoms weren’t bothersome enough for her to have them checked out. “Now when I look back, I had pains in my head and my eyes became sensitive to bright light,” she says. “But it wasn’t anything bad enough to make me go to the doctor.”

Inglett is particularly grateful to Howington. “He didn’t give up on me,” she says. “He’s straight up and tells it like it is.”

She’s also thankful for the care she received in the St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Institute for Neurosciences. Inglett plans to help the hospital raise money for its new neurological intensive care unit.

Hospital staffers are extremely proud of the new facility. “It was dedicated April 10,” says Sister M. Kristen Lancaster, administrative representative at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “We moved here April 17 from the other unit.”

The previous neurological intensive care unit was good, but the new one is spectacular. “It’s like going from the Motel 6 to the Ritz,” registered nurse Dana Welser says.

“This unit is literally four times the size of the old one,” Welser says. “Everything is modern and updated. We can care for 12 patients with any kind of brain trauma.”

The staff had been waiting for the new unit for about three years, Welser says. “Once we saw the blueprints, we got so excited,” she says.

“It’s bigger, more state-of-the-art, with newer technology,” Welser says. “And it’s much more family-friendly.”

Each patient room contains a futon, recliner and chair, plus an end table with a lamp for the patient’s family to use. “Research has shown that patients get better quicker with 24-hour availability to their families,” Welser says.

Each room has a ceiling-mounted, multiple-support “tower” with access to oxygen and other gases, suction, electrical receptacles and data ports. The patient’s bed and the tower both are in the center of the room.

So far, St. Joseph’s Hospital is the only hospital in the country to have this kind of set-up. The arrangement allows 360-degree access to the patient, says Diane Hinely, nurse manager of neurosciences. “When we have to get to a patient, we can get to the patient,” she says.

“When the neurologist needs to get to the patient’s head, he can. The bed can be turned and angled more easily than beds in a typical intensive care unit.

“The doctors really like it,” Hinely says. “We have patient care lifts in every room and can lift patients up to 550 pounds, which is good for the nurses as well as the patients.”

Each nurse in the unit is assigned two patients. The nurse sits at a pod that is located strategically between two of the patient rooms, providing a view of both patients at all times.

“One room is set up for dialysis,” Hinely says. “When someone is ill, their organs don’t function as well as they should, and some patients need dialysis.”

The unit is designed for immediate critical care, and once patients are stabilized, they’re moved to a step-down unit. Because the patients in the unit are so critically ill, the rooms were designed to be large enough to hold all the equipment needed to treat them.

Most patients are admitted to the unit for treatment of brain aneurysms, strokes, brain tumors and seizure disorders. “Time is of the essence,” Hinely says.

“You have a three-hour time frame between the time you have a stroke and the time you begin bleeding or have a clot. There is medication that can dissolve the clot.”

Anyone who thinks they might be having a stroke should be taken to the nearest emergency department immediately, Hinely says. What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Hinely uses the anagram FAST to explain them: “F” is for face, If your smile is uneven, there is facial droop or numbness or vision disturbances, you could be having a stroke.

“A” is for arm and leg. If you have weakness in a limb or difficulty walking, you could be having a stroke.

“S” is for speech. If your speech is slurred, you use words that are inappropriate for the sentence or you suddenly become mute, you could be having a stroke.

“T” is for time. Time is critical, so call 911 immediately if you think you are having a stroke.

“You don’t have any pain with a stroke,” Hinely says. “With a heart attack, there is discomfort, so people don’t think they have to do anything. But if you have any kind of numbness, tingling in the extremities or trouble speaking, get help. You can have a brain attack just like you can have a heart attack.”

While the rooms are stocked with lots of new equipment, there are needs yet to be met. “We have only so many funds,” Hinely says. “We had to prioritize.”

An upgrade in the step-down unit already has been put on hold because of needed updates in the emergency department. “We’re seeing twice as many patients in the ER as two years ago,” Hinely says. “The population is growing, and there’s been an increase in strokes and heart attacks.We’re bursting at the seams.”

Inglett is hoping to raise enough money to put even more equipment in the new unit. “If 50,000 people each just sent in $1, that would finish this unit,” she says.

Any and all fund raising or philanthropic efforts are appreciated, says Becky Cheatham, director of the St. Joseph’s/Candler Foundation. “Our job is to help bring resources into the hospital,” she says. “Hospitals are having a hard time making it strictly on patient revenues.”

Revenues are steadily dropping, Cheatham says. “We’re not getting the same level of reimbursement, yet we’re asked to treat more and more patients,” she says.

The St. Joseph’s/Candler health system continues to benefit from Mary Telfair’s 1875 bequest to found a women’s hospital. More recently, the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer Pavilion was opened because of the Lewis family’s generosity.

“Look what Mary Telfair did for us,” Cheatham says. “Long after she died, her money bought the first mammography unit at the Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital. She could never have foreseen that she would still be helping us more than 100 years after her death.”

Persons who are interested in making donations or setting up bequests should contact the foundation to find out what options there are, Cheatham says. No donation is too small, she says.

For more info on Linda and her brain aneurysm awareness campaign, call 844-3339, e-mail Bafound@comcast.net or visit www.Bahelp.com

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Linda Sickler

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