Fixing Aneurysms in Kids

September 2, 2009 6:00:40 PM PDT
Every year, as many as 15 million Americans suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm. Pressure builds up in a blood vessel until it bursts. For children, surgery to fix the aneurysm can be as dangerous as the bulging vessel itself, but doctors developed a new approach that can help their smallest patients.

Three-year-old Amanda Anderson is also known as miracle girl. Her parents took her to the hospital thinking she had the flu. Doctors told them an aneurysm ruptured behind her eye and it was bleeding into her brain. Surgery was her only option.

"It was nerve-racking," Shanna Anderson, Amanda's mother, told Ivanhoe. "We were just not sure. There were still a lot of unknowns: Was it going to be successful? Was it going to fix the problem? Was she going to have another bleed? We have to be aware that we could lose our little girl."

Robert Spetzler, Director of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., used a less invasive technique -- removing a small piece of bone above the eye then going under the brain -- to fix the bulging blood vessel.

"We took a little blood vessel that was not essential from the other half of the brain and cut the end of it in such a way that we could, with tiny little sutures, create a patch for where the aneurysm was and make that blood vessel hold," Dr. Spetzler said.

The approach lowered the risk of causing brain damage.

Amanda bounced back quickly.

"She brings so much joy to our life," Shanna said. "It's a miracle to us that she's been through this and recovered with such flying colors."

A little girl who has a second chance to grow up.

It's not clear what causes brain aneurysms. Most never cause any problems at all and cause no symptoms. In more serious cases, symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm can include headache, nausea and vomiting.

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