It had been a long day and former ‘The Apprentice’ star, Stacie J., was preparing to go to bed Unlike most evenings when she and her children would have already been asleep, Stacie had a houseguest who was staying over for the night. It was while in the middle of wishing this friend a good night that Stacie passed out cold. By the time she regained consciousness she was in Mount Sinai hospital in New York. Turns out, Stacie had a seizure when an aneurysm ruptured in her brain. But the worst wasn’t over yet. The aneurysm lead to three additional strokes. Fortunately for Stacie, she got to the hospital quickly, which is extremely important when dealing with ruptured aneurysms because of the damage caused when blood leaks onto the brain. Even more important is that Stacie got to the right hospital where they specialize in ruptured brain aneurysms. According to Dr. Joanne Fifi, the neurosurgeon that operated on Stacie, “We get about 120 ruptured aneurysms a year. So when people get ruptures in any of our network hospitals they get transferred to us.” Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Dr. Fifi and her team immediately got to work, coiling off the bleeding, and after four days in an induced coma, Stacie survived. To appreciate just how miraculous that is, you must know the statistics.
Christine Buckley of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation (BAF) explains, “Half of all victims of ruptured brain aneurysms die, and ⅔ will suffer various forms of disabilities where they will never be the same as before the rupture. They are more prevalent in women at a rate of 3-2, and African Americans have the highest rupture rate.”
So being an African American woman, it wasn’t such a stretch that Stacie suffered a brain aneurysm rupture. But how did she get it?
According to research done by BAF, 1 in 50 people (6 million) have them, about 30,000 a year rupture. Most people can live their whole lives with no symptoms, and never know they have an aneurysm. Some causes are family history, high blood pressure, smoking and drug use- none of which Stacie can claim. Though she can’t completely rule out heredity because her parents have never been tested. She did, however, have one of the biggest aneurysm symptoms.
“About 11 days before the rupture, I got a headache that persisted daily. But I dismissed it, thinking that it had something to do with wine I drank one evening,” says Stacie. “A few months before that, I was jogging and had to stop because of a ringing in my head.”
Headaches that are different than normal, as well as neck and eye pain, and general flu-like symptoms, are all signs to be aware of. Stacie finally did go to the hospital at the insistence of her children’s father, just a few days before the rupture, and got a MRI brain scan, but they missed it. Later, she was told that an MRA scan would have been a more accurate test because it gives a more detailed look inside the brain.
“If you’re having an unusual headache push for an answer and make sure they do the right test because catching an aneurysm early can prevent them from rupturing,” says Dr. Fifi. BAF’s Christine Buckley says, “Part of the problem is that doctors aren’t trained to rule out aneurysms so 23% of people with symptoms get misdiagnosed. People were not aware of heart attack and stroke symptoms some time ago, but now people are aware and more educated. So the hope is to bring this same awareness to brain aneurysms. One day we hope there will also be a protocol for mandatory screening.”
The medium-sized aneurysm that they discovered in Stacie- estimated to have been growing 25 years- changed her life significantly. And while she is grateful to be alive, she’s had extreme challenges in the 2 ½ years since it happened.
“When I woke up from the coma, I couldn’t walk or move the left side of my body,” recalls Stacie. “My left eye was completely shut, my speech was impaired and I had a hard time remembering simple things.”
Dr. Fifi says, “How well someone recovers is based on a few factors. One is the amount of actual damage done to the brain from the shock of the blood, hemorrhaging and strokes, and the rest depends on attitude. Seeing a lot of patients it’s a mindset that determines how functional they can be returning back to their life; some people have more incentive than others.”
Stacie had all the incentive she would ever need in her daughters, Rylie and Codie, who were ages 6 and 2 at the time. “My daughters were my reason for living,” she says. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would have pushed through.” Thankfully, Stacie not only pushed, she gave recovery everything she had.Fortunately, she didn’t have to do it alone. She had her mom Diana, and sister Richelle by her side. But it still wasn’t easy, and her mom struggled in the beginning…
“There was this initial feeling of helplessness and guilt because I couldn’t do anything to help my daughter,” says her mom. “But I realized that it wasn’t about me, but Stacie recovering for her two babies.” Her sister had her own realization as well.
“The whole situation was new to us so we had no idea what to expect. When Stacie came out of intensive care and began rehab, I didn’t know exactly how bad it was until I saw that she couldn’t remember letters of the alphabet or do simple math. It became clear to me how much help Stacie would need to recover.”
They stepped IN. “We didn’t even think twice about it,” says Richelle. “My mom stayed at Stacie’s house and cooked, cleaned, and did homework, while I ushered Stacie to doctors appointments and took the kids to school and all their activities. I can’t imagine people who don’t have that type of support.”
Stacie used the time wisely, taking full advantage of physical therapy. Before long, she was able to walk again, and regain use of the left side of her body. Her vision was improving slowly, as was her memory. Things were moving along nicely when she hit an unexpected snag. Eight months into recovery, her insurance ran out.
“I was devastated that the insurance that I had come to depend on had stopped. But I couldn’t let that stop me, so I began doing a light yoga program online and everyday I played mental games with myself to strengthen my memory,” Stacie explains.
The work that Stacie did and continues to do has paid off one-million fold. While she still receives some help with the kids, and she will tell you that she’s not completely back to her old self, she is now able to care for herself, and she and her sister have relaunched the Jones Insurance Company that they run together.
“After what happened to me it’s more important than ever that I help people get the proper insurance they need in case of death or unforeseen health emergencies,” says Stacie. “You want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, and your family, while you’re still healthy.”
Stacie is also passionate about using her story to spread awareness about brain aneurysms. “It’s extremely important work,” explains Christine Buckley of BAF. “We need people like Stacie to advocate for brain aneurysm because she has recovered well and has a story to tell that can save others.” Indeed. And it takes a special person to talk openly about her disabilities, especially a former model and television personality like Stacie.
As a follow-up, Stacie gets checked annually by Dr. Fifi to make sure that the aneurysm is still coiled off and no new aneurysms have formed. With the exception of having to recoil a portion of the aneurysm the first year, everything has been fine. However, checkups will be a lifelong process.
Ask Stacie and her family how the experience has changed them and they are positive.
“We were close before, but this brought us even closer together,” answers her sister Richelle. Stacie’s mom says, “Helping to raise small children has given me a new perspective on patience and unconditional love. It’s also strengthened my faith in God.”
As for Stacie, this situation has shown her just how much God is present in her life because of the miracles surrounding her aneurysm rupture. First, her friend was staying over at her apartment, when on a normal night Stacie would have been in bed already, leaving her kids to discover her body in the morning. Then there was going to Mount Sinai which happens to have one of the best neurological teams in the country. And then we’re back to her family, and children’s dad, who have been with her every step of the way.
Stacie says, “I used to worry about a lot of things, but since this happened I’ve been reborn, and those things don’t bother me anymore. Just to wake up, feel my toes, breathe, and hug my kids, is such a blessing.”
For more information on brain aneurysms, visit The Brain Aneurysm Foundation website at www.bafound.org. For more on The Jones Insurance Agency visit www.thejonesinsuranceagency.com