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The first words Giuseppe Lanzino, M.D., said to Cary Hill were exactly what she needed to hear. "He said: 'Tell me why you want to come to Mayo Clinic. Tell me why you want to see me,'" Cary says of her initial phone conversation with the Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon. "He didn't say, 'I'm a neurosurgeon at this big, important hospital, and this is what we need to do.' He asked me why I wanted to see him, which was the absolute best way for him to start a relationship with me as a new patient."
Cary told Dr. Lanzino all about how the headaches she'd started getting a decade before had become so debilitating so quickly that she no longer was able to work or function as a wife and mother. She told him about how she had to fight with her care providers in North Carolina to get them to explore other reasons for her head pain instead of simply writing it off as migraines.
She told him about how, even after additional testing finally showed the true cause of her head pain to be a 10-millimeter brain aneurysm behind her left eye, local providers continued to show no urgency in her care. Cary finally persuaded them to surgically clip the aneurysm in December 2009. And she told him about how just four days after that procedure that was supposed to render the aneurysm harmless, it ruptured.
When she recovered from the rupture, Cary spent 12 long months in bed, trapped within the throes of a deep depression that had come with no longer being able to do the things she once did at work and at home due to the lingering cognitive effects the ruptured aneurysm had on her brain.
"Having gone through one ruptured aneurysm already, the stress and anxiety that came with watching and waiting became unmanageable."Cary Hill
Cary also told Dr. Lanzino about the new waves of fear and anxiety she was feeling after test results showed a second aneurysm had grown on her brain, and about how her local care team had once again shown no immediate concern.
"They wanted to take the same watch-and-wait approach as before," Cary says. "Having gone through one ruptured aneurysm already, the stress and anxiety that came with watching and waiting became unmanageable. It drove me right back into bed for another 2½ months. I lost 25 pounds. I couldn't drive my car because I was afraid that if this second aneurysm also ruptured, I was going to hurt someone else. I didn't want to be alone. It had crushed every ounce of spirit I had left."
Dr. Lanzino listened carefully. When she was done with her story, he assured Cary he would take a close look at her records and call her back with his recommendation. "He called me two days later," she says. "And he said: 'Based on your history and your age, we need to terminate this new aneurysm. When are you coming here?'"
Cary was thrilled.
"I was elated because I had hope again," she says. "Someone was finally being proactive with my care. That was so great because I know my body and my mind could not have handled another ruptured aneurysm."
During her first appointment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Cary's hope and her rapport with Dr. Lanzino continued to grow. "Dr. Lanzino and his resident, Megan Kaszuba, M.D., shook my hand and said, 'What questions do you have for us?' So I gave them my questions, and once again made them well aware of the anxiety and stress that had led me to them and where it was all coming from," Cary says.
Two days later, inside an operating room at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, as Dr. Lanzino and his surgical team were preparing to take the source of that anxiety and stress away, they took time to provide Cary with reassurance and comfort.
"The amount of care, awareness and compassion I was shown at Mayo Clinic was impeccable and beyond compare."Cary Hill
"As the anesthesiologist came over to put the mask on my face, everybody in the room stopped what they were doing and came to both sides of my operating table," Cary says. "Some were touching my arm; others were touching my leg. Somebody was holding my hand. I know I had tears running down my face, but they weren't tears of fear. They were tears of, 'I'm in the right place.' These people saw me. They heard me. They felt my fear. They knew where it was coming from, and they were going to do everything they could to make it right."
For Dr. Lanzino, it was the same approach to care he and his team takes with every patient. "Our philosophy is that we treat every patient who trusts us with their care like one of our own family members," Dr. Lanzino says. "So that's what we do. It's as simple as that."
When she woke up after surgery, Cary was in an ICU. But when a CT scan showed all was well, she was moved out of intensive care. From there, Cary says her recovery could not have gone better. "I was up and walking around the entire floor with my nurses later that same day," she says. "Compared to last time, I couldn't walk after my first surgery, and my care team in North Carolina never reviewed a scan to make sure everything was OK after surgery. The amount of care, awareness and compassion I was shown at Mayo Clinic was impeccable and beyond compare."
Despite her positive experience, due to the post-traumatic stress that Cary was still feeling from the treatment of her first aneurysm, she was reluctant to believe her medical ordeal was finally over. Dr. Lanzino sensed that, too.
"When he came in and said everything had been occluded and that I was now medically OK, he also said, 'But I understand if you're not ready to leave yet,'" Cary says. "So I stayed in the hospital for one more day. He came back to see me that next day and kept reiterating: 'Medically, you are OK. I promise you, you're OK.'"
That's because, even though it had been a somewhat tricky procedure, Dr. Lanzino was certain the surgery had been a success. "Her surgery was a little challenging not only because of the location and shape of her aneurysm, but also because of her previous surgery that had naturally created some degree of scarring," he says. "But she did very well, and she's been completely fine since leaving Mayo Clinic."
Six months later, Cary continues to do well, and she's doing all she can to make up for lost time. "Since I've been home, I have my life back," she says. "I can drive my car again. I can go to the grocery store. I've gone on vacations with friends. I've bought myself a new car, and I have another beach vacation scheduled soon."
"The whole hospital is just amazing and exudes such hope and compassion."Cary Hill
Cary credits her Mayo team for that dramatic improvement. "Before coming to Mayo, I was so defeated and deflated by the thought of going through all of this again," she says. "My previous care providers just weren't listening to me, but all of that changed once I got to Mayo Clinic. The whole hospital is just amazing and exudes such hope and compassion. I really cannot wait to go back and hug Dr. Lanzino again because I have so much love and respect for him."
Until then, Cary will continue living her life to the fullest. She's also taking time to tell others what it took to get there. "After coming to Mayo, I started sharing my story with other brain injury survivors through presentations and my public YouTube channel, in hopes of helping them with their own struggles," she says. "I want people to know it's OK to advocate for yourself, to ask for a second opinion and to chase your own hope. Whatever you do, do not give up. If you're facing something terminal or life-threatening, fight for your life. Fight for hope."
Note: You can hear more about Cary's story on her YouTube channel.