Teenager Miele Alexander of South Floral Park is alive today thanks to her mother rushing her to the hospital when she complained of severe head pain and a team of surgeons acting quickly to diagnose and treat a ruptured aneurysm.
“If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here,’’ the 13-year-old said this week when she came back to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park with her family to meet the press alongside her doctors, Mark Mittler, MD, and David Chalif, MD.
Alexander was happily packing on June 9 for her senior trip when at about 11 p.m. she suddenly collapsed from the pain of an agonizing headache. Her mother, Lorrie Mckie, then rushed Alexander to the emergency department at Cohen.
During a press conference Tuesday at the hospital, Alexander and her mom shared their stories and listened intently as the two surgeons who saved her life explained the complicated process of diagnosing a life-threatening brain aneurysm, not a common condition for a teenager. About 30,000 people in the U.S. suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm every year and only five percent of these cases occur in children.
“The usual age of a patient experiencing an aneurysm of this type is between 55 and 60,” said Dr. Chalif, a neurosurgeon at North Shore University Hospital who specializes in brain aneurysms.
Admitting that she remembers very little after telling her mother that “something is happening inside my head,” Alexander recalled that the pain was so intense that she lost all control of her body. Once she arrived at the hospital, she was closely monitored and continued to experience excruciating headaches, weakness and nausea.
Dr. Mittler, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Cohen, ordered a CT Head and CT Angiogram that proved his suspicion — a ruptured brain aneurysm. A brain aneurysm, a weak area in a blood vessel wall of the brain that causes the vessel to bulge, could lead to a small amount of blood in the brain, which is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. This was the cause of Alexander’s headache. The test result led to Alexander being rushed to surgery, where Mittler inserted a draining tube into a ventricle in the brain to relieve the pressure caused by the buildup of excess fluid.
Following that procedure, Alexander was transferred to North Shore University Hospital, where a cerebral angiogram on June 11 helped further clarify the location of the aneurysm. Due to its location and size, it was determined that Alexander’s aneurysm would best be treated by surgical clipping. In this procedure, a craniotomy is performed through a small opening in the skull and the neurosurgeon places a clip around its base, cutting the blood flow to the aneurysm and allowing proper flow through normal vessels. The surgery was performed that day by Chalif, and Mittler.
A cerebral angiogram the next day revealed that the aneurysm was no longer present. After a 10-day ordeal, Alexander was discharged on June 21, just in time to enjoy her summer vacation.
“I’ve seen this in young people maybe three or four times in my entire career. From the bottom of my heart if someone asked me why I became a doctor it’s because of this. This is a story that really touched me as a doctor,” Chalif said.