A Family History of Stroke Leads to a Lifesaving Surgery

Barbara's Story

“Thanks to Dr. Croci, following my own gut, and the support of my community, I can now relax and enjoy life again!”​

Barbara lost 7 family members to stroke, and with her history of high blood pressure, she knew her chances of experiencing one herself were high. She followed her instinct and requested an MRI. Dr. Davide Croci, Lakeland Regional Health and USF neurosurgeon performed an MRI, and what he found could have killed her, but what he did saved her life.

Living an active lifestyle was always part of Barbara’s plan. As she traveled all across the county with her family, dipping her toes in the Pacific, hiking the waterfalls of Maine, admiring the mountains of the northwest, or shopping the streets of her home city in Chicago, Barbara leaned into her life of faith, family, community, and a dash of playful sarcasm.

After living for 60 years in Chicago and a few more for her retirement in Tennessee, she decided it was time for a change after her dear husband’s passing. She headed down to Florida to be closer to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She now enjoys the palm trees and summer breezes of Lakeland year-round, while occasionally missing the cool fall nights and the quiet first snowfall of winter.

Barbara adjusted quickly to life in Florida and the new community she found in her welcoming neighbors. She enjoyed water aerobics each morning, karaoke once a week, themed dinners with her friends, and sharing her musical talents at church.

Life was going well and at times she struggled with blood pressure, but that was common in her family, so she knew to keep it under control. However, things began to shift in her health when reality struck last December.

Barbara began to notice her blood pressure spike and drop an unusual amount. She reached for her at-home BP monitor more frequently and grew concerned over the increasing numbers.

“One day, I took my blood pressure and it showed 205/108. Then it began going on a rollercoaster. I was scared and knew I needed to go to the hospital.”

When her medical team got her blood pressure under control and adjusted her medication, she decided she needed to chat with her Primary Care Provider about her family history.

Barbara sat in the doctor’s office, looking around at the brochures discussing healthy habits, hand hygiene, and adding more color to your diet. She noticed a brochure tucked behind the acrylic pane that said, “Talk With Your PCP About Your Risk for Stroke”. She raised her eyebrows and softly chuckled. That’s exactly what she planned on doing today.

Her doctor listened as Barbara recounted her family history of stroke. Her mother, two grandparents, and four aunts and uncles all passed away from a stroke. She knew with her blood pressure acting up that an MRI would be the best choice and her primary care provider agreed. Her primary care provider referred her to Dr. Davide Croci after having performed an MRI of the brain. She underwent the MRI this past December and her instincts were right.

Her MRI showed two aneurysms on each side of her brain.

Dr. Croci delivered the news to Barbara and her daughter, sharing the details of the next steps for her treatment. Barbara thought this was the end. She didn’t know about the life-saving advancements in treatment. Dr. Croci would perform two surgeries to occlude the aneurysm with clippings three months apart to give her time to rest and recover in between.

The decision to treat the aneurysm was based on her higher risk of aneurysm rupture due to the size, location, medical history, and especially her family history of ruptured aneurysms.

Her first surgery was performed in January and lasted over 5 hours. Dr. Croci performed open brain surgery to clip the aneurysm on the brain’s left side. This aneurysm was 5.7 millimeters, almost ¼ of an inch. This surgery took longer than usual because Dr. Croci discovered another small aneurysm forming close to an artery branch that needed to be preserved. She was discharged home on the second day after the surgery. Her second surgery was performed in mid-May and was again successful. Her right-side aneurysm was 4.5 mm in size and was occluded with clipping. She was discharged home the day after the surgery.

After her surgeries, she feels so relieved that the three silent aneurysms that could have killed her are gone. Her friends and family asked what her symptoms were and if she experienced headaches or numbness. Aneurysms do not exhibit symptoms until they rupture, so Barbara did not experience any symptoms. She encourages anyone who has a family history of stroke or high blood pressure to discuss it with their doctor.

Now in recovery, Barbara is eager to get back to the life she enjoyed.

“I take my doctor’s order very seriously. I don’t lift heavy things right now and am rebuilding my stamina. I am counting down the minutes until I can swim again. My daily water aerobics are calling my name and I am impatient, ready to get back!”​​

This experience was eye-opening for Barbara, and she has a new perspective on the blessed life she lives.

“This has taught me that you just don’t know what’s around the corner, but my family and God are the most important things in my life. Beyond that, it’s just possessions, those are replaceable. Family and God aren’t replaceable to me.”​

Her community and family continue to rally around her through her recovery. With yummy food, welcome company, and walks around the neighborhood with her friends she feels loved and cared for every day.

“I have so much extra support; I never go hungry with my friends around!”​

She will have regular screenings to ensure her brain remains clear, but Barbara has so much relief knowing her aneurysms are gone and her blood pressure is stable. In fact, she is planning on hitting the road again this fall to visit family in Chicago and then hopping across the pond to see her daughter in England.

“Thanks to Dr. Croci, following my own gut, and the support of my community, I can now relax and enjoy life again!”​

Expert Care, Close to Home

Together, USF and Lakeland Regional Health offer our community an entire team of neurosurgeons who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and complex illnesses of the brain such as aneurysms, tumors to the brain and the spinal cord, as well as complex pathologies and injuries to the spine. When you need specialized neurosurgical treatment, you can have confidence that we will provide the highest level of care for you and your family.