Aneurysms and Awareness

Review the symptoms and be a survivor

By Rose Dorcey

On December 15, 2016, I was out flying a Cessna 172 with John, my favorite flight instructor, better known as my husband. We had been working on the final prep for my commercial checkride that I had scheduled with Harold “Duffy” Gaier in Marshfield on December 21. As some of you know, that checkride never happened.

Our training flights were going so well! That day, I performed eights-on-pylons, steep turns, chandelles, and lazy eights. Not flawlessly, but it went well. Our maneuvering had us inching ever closer to Fond du Lac, so we stopped for fuel and a break. It was a crisp December day, and fuel prices are generally lower at Fond du Lac than Oshkosh, plus they’ll pump. On a cold day, that made sense. We went inside the FBO, warmed up, and I took a picture of our plane, N7770G, in the setting sun on the FLD ramp. Other than the cold, it had been a beautiful day, and I was feeling confident I was ready for the checkride.

Right about 4 p.m., we returned to the pattern at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh, where 70G is based. Unusual for us, I requested Runway 31, which allows the most direct route to the north tee hangars. When we shut down at the hangar, John said, “You do the paperwork, and I’ll get the tow bar.” He hopped out, closed the door, and ran to the hangar. I reached behind the seat to grab the aircraft log, and then leaned over to record the Hobbs. The next thing I remember is coming out of a fog and seeing John pounding on my window, calling, “Rose, are you alright? Open the door.”

He told me weeks later that when he returned to the airplane, I was slumped over and holding my head in my hand. I remember telling him, “I have the worst headache of my life.” But I don’t remember the pain. He asked me to unlock my door, and as I reached behind me to grab the handle he knew by my shaking hands that something was wrong. I don’t remember exiting the aircraft, but I do remember him helping me to our car. I was so weak! When we got there, he helped me into the seat, and turned on the heat. “I’ll be right back, and then I’ll take you to the hospital,” he said, as he went to put the airplane in the hangar. As he ran to the airplane, I started beeping the car horn. He came running back. I told him, “We have to go right away, something’s wrong. I can feel knocking in my head.” I remember telling him that, but I don’t remember the feeling.

John dropped everything, leaving the plane in the center of the hangar row. I was losing consciousness, but I looked up and saw the airport fire station, maybe 300 feet ahead of me. I remember asking, “Do you think the paramedics are in the firehouse?” And that’s where he took me. It was maybe four minutes since we had landed and I was getting medical care.

The rest is a blur. I remember the paramedics coming to help me out of the car. I remember vomiting in the firehouse. And I remember waking ever so briefly and feeling my neck and body being positioned into the ambulance to take me to Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh. I don’t remember when I stopped breathing. I don’t remember the ThedaStar helicopter ride to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center in Neenah that evening. Nothing until about a week later when I heard my son, Luke; my daughter, Sister Maria Caeli; and John telling me comforting words. Their loving voices sounded so sweet.

It’s still hard to recall many moments of the next 21 days while I recovered at ThedaCare. But at some point I was told that I had suffered a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. It wasn’t a large aneurysm, my doctors said, but it caused a significant bleed. It was a basilar tip aneurysm, located on the basilar artery, treated with an endovascular coiling procedure. A catheter is passed through the groin and up into the artery containing the aneurysm, and platinum coils are inserted through the catheter and placed within the aneurysm. The body responds by healing around the coils, which helps block the flow of blood into the aneurysm, preventing it from leaking.

In coming weeks, dozens of people would send flowers and cards with uplifting messages. Dozens more prayed for me. Family and friends brought food and in time, came to visit. I am so grateful for every kindness toward me! I know it contributed to my survival, with no deficits, along with the excellent care of my doctors and staff at ThedaCare. Dr. Phil Yazbak of Neuroscience Group in Neenah was one of my doctors, and one of John’s recent flight students. We are so thankful that he put together an “A-Team” to influence and provide for my care.

As you might guess, I’m currently without a medical. John and I have flown once since it happened, to the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social at Wisconsin Rapids to show our grandson, Logan, the airplane. He loved it, and so did I! At some point, I would like to go back to my commercial training. There’s a mandatory one-year wait before I can apply for an FAA medical, and they’ll want almost every medical record regarding my “event” from the time I was with the paramedics to my last cerebral angiogram in June. As the one-year anniversary draws closer, I have much to consider about medicals. Special Issuance or BasicMed? I’ll be careful about what I do.

Many people have told me they read the story Duane Esse wrote about me in the Winter 2016 issue of Forward in Flight. Some suggested I write a “rest of the story.” I wasn’t inclined to do so. But September is Aneurysm Awareness Month, so it seems a good time to share it. Please review the symptoms above. Thank you, bless you, and be well.

Reprinted from Forward in Flight, Fall 2017