“We had been helping my mom clean up her house that she moved out of,” Shirley Cole says, “and I was going through some things for her, and suddenly I started feeling very dizzy, and it wouldn’t stop no matter what I did.
Shirley’s husband Jeff grew more and more concerned as they troubleshot potential causes for the way she felt. The easy answers didn’t seem to match the symptoms, and the symptoms didn’t seem to be going away, so Jeff and Shirley decided it was time to head to Decatur Memorial Hospital.
Shirley, who works for her church, bikes five to six miles every weekday, works out regularly with her youngest daughter, Gabriella, and enjoys arts and crafts projects (the latest of which provided décor for her eldest daughter’s wedding). As an active member of her family and community, the night of Oct. 14 turned Shirley’s entire world upside down in the space of a few hours.
“It was an emergency,” Shirley says calmly, almost matter of factly, three long months of recovery later. “I had an aneurysm…they did a CT-scan and saw the bleed and then took me from DMH immediately to Springfield.”
Word spread quickly throughout the family about the increasing seriousness of the situation. Gabriella went to bed that night thinking her mom would be home before too long, only to be woken up by her sister a few hours later to go to the hospital. Shirley’s sister Sheila Kerby was out of town with her husband, but after a dozen family group text messages and a phone call from their daughter in middle of the night, they began to debate turning around and flying home.
At that point, the surgery team was planning to treat the aneurysm through coil embolization, a minimally invasive endovascular surgery that reduces the risk of bleeding. But the state of Shirley’s arteries was too challenging for that kind of treatment, and open surgery became the only option. Sheila and her husband returned home, joining other family members in the hospital not 24 hours later.
According to Springfield Clinic neurological surgeon Hayan Dayoub, MD, the other challenge to Shirley’s treatment was the location of the aneurysm, which was deep within the cerebellum. But, Dr. Dayoub and the operating room team had no other choice but to get to work right away on the open repair.
“It was a long night,” Shirley’s daughter, Gabriella, says, “and we didn’t get any sleep at all. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat for two days, I was just worried sick. I was just anxious, just absolutely like a wreck.”
Around 8:30 that night, Dr. Dayoub came out to talk to the family about Shirley’s status. Dr. Dayoub says that in these situations, he has to tell families to think of this like a marathon, a long-term process that may involve multiple setbacks. The family found Dr. Dayoub’s honesty and straightforwardness comforting during a very stressful time. “He was just so thorough, so compassionate…And I just felt so much better after talking to him,” Sheila says.
“At a time that was just so stressful,” Gabriella says, “and anxiety was taking over everyone, he was so calm for us.”
Not long after surgery, Shirley was moved to a hospital room to begin her recovery process. As soon as she woke up and was aware of what was going on again, she began rehabilitation with speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and recreational therapy. “The first few days were really hard,” Gabriella says. “Not being able to communicate with her was huge.”
Shirley herself found recovery a difficult process because she was so used to being on her feet all the time, working and exercising daily. But, she made progress little by little and each day got a little more hopeful. She was finally able to meet Dr. Dayoub at a follow-up appointment and, like her family, was struck by his manner. “He’s a very soft-spoken, quiet doctor who explains things well,” she says. “He seemed to be very patient and very kind, compassionate and caring.”
Dr. Dayoub says a positive outcome like Shirley’s is a multidisciplinary effort among the operating room team, the ICU team and the neurological surgery team. “It’s very rewarding, and at the end of the day, it makes getting up in the morning and coming to work worthwhile,” he says. “There are a lot of difficulties every day because of the nature of the specialty. But something like this, it makes it worthwhile.”
Things are looking up every day. Shirley came back home just before two big family holiday celebrations, and while she was only able to spend a short while at Thanksgiving, she was able to stay out much longer on Christmas. “She is a very strong person,” Sheila says. “And bound and determined, she’s going to get back to her daily living and what she normally did before.
Sheila is overwhelmed by her sister’s recovery, and now that her family is past the worst part of the whole event, wants to share Shirley’s story with others and give them hope. “It’s not a doomsday diagnosis,” she says. She also wants patients who may be facing any type of brain surgery to know about the kind of care they can expect to receive from Dr. Dayoub. “I felt that he had saved her life….he’s an awesome doctor, and [patients] can feel reassured that they’re going to be in the right place and that he’s going to take care of them.”