Emotional support and careful consultation with her doctor helped Michelle confidently choose observation over treatment.
>> During an unrelated MRI and CT scan, Michelle was diagnosed with unruptured aneurysms.
>> Finding the Brain Aneurysm Support Group provided the emotional support that empowered Michelle to seek out care for her aneurysms.
When Michelle Jirik was first diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, she found it to be a relief - and an enormous source of stress.
"I had been training for a triathlon, and woke up with a very sharp pain in my chest one morning. By the time I got to the emergency room, I couldn't feel my right side, and thought I was having a stroke," she recalled. "They did an MRI and a CT scan - my blood pressure was unbelievable. It ended up that I wasn’t having a stroke - I had simply dehydrated myself badly. But the MRI revealed aneurysms, which nobody had suspected."
Not fully understanding the potential seriousness of her aneurysms, Michelle waited a few weeks before visiting a neurologist who advised her to "learn to live with them." She recalls being put on blood pressure medicine by her general practitioner as a precautionary measure, but the side effects made her life unbearable. "I spent two and a half months being lethargic and not able to get out of bed."
A tragedy served as the catalyst for Michelle's next action: "A young relative suffered a massive stroke, and that made all my emotions come to the surface about my condition. My husband said, 'We have four kids, you are not able to function. We can't live like this.'"
Nearly at the end of her rope, Michelle found the Brain Aneurysm Support Group at the National Brain Aneurysm Center. "I needed someone to give me knowledge to be able to survive," she remembers. "I walked in to my first meeting, and I was amazed. It was so small and intimate, and people are there to share and help. At my first support group, I received Dr. Eric Nussbaum's number, within three days I was in his office, and within a week, I had knowledge of the size of my aneurysms, where they are located, everything."
Armed with more information and support than she had received since her diagnosis, Michelle was able to make a confident decision regarding her treatment: She decided not to intervene.
"Because of where my aneurysms are located, I have decided not to have surgery. The possibility of them rupturing is small, and every six months I go in to monitor them and reevaluate my decision."
In addition, the support group has taught Michelle about her ability to rely on others in her life. "I've learned that you do have to share, that I need to let my family and friends help me. That's hard when you're a strong woman. But I believe the reason I found out ahead of time was to save me and to help others. So I have spoken many times about living with brain aneurysms. And some days, I don't even think about it hardly at all."