JOLIET – It was an otherwise normal September morning for Joliet resident Bridgett Gardeakos, a 34-year-old mother of two, until she stepped out of the shower.
“It felt like someone hit me in the back of the head and stabbed me in the eye,” Gardeakos said, “and my peripheral vision was off. I’ve never had anything happen like that before. I’ve never even had a migraine.”
Gardeakos said she had noticed an ache in the back of her head when she laughed – unusual for her – but this was a whole different level of pain, and now she couldn’t walk straight. Her husband immediately took her to Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.
“I was really nervous about going to the hospital because I thought they were going to laugh at me for going to the emergency room for a migraine,” Gardeakos said.
But what Gardeakos was experiencing was no migraine. It was a rupture of a vein in her brain from an undiagnosed arteriovenous malformation. The good news was that Gardeakos could receive treatment in Joliet.
neuro care available LOCALLY
Both Presence and Silver Cross Hospital have state-of-the-art neuroscience programs that treat stroke, brain trauma, AVMs, tumors and a wide range of brain and spinal cord conditions.
That wasn’t the case 10 years ago.
“There was no neurosurgery in Joliet before 2004 when we started the program,” said Kelly Morris, a nurse at Presence Neuroscience Institute. “There were no cranial privileges at the hospitals and no cranial surgeries because of insurance matters. ... There were none in Will County at all. People were flown to Peoria or other locations, which placed the patients in a bad situation.”
Gardeakos said she knew her situation was serious when Presence Neuroscience Institute’s Neurosurgery Medical Director, Dr. Tamir Hersonskey, appeared by her side in his scrubs “very concerned” and explained the situation to her.
An AVM is a congenital condition where there is an area of abnormal connections between arteries and veins in the brain. In the condition, arteries directly connect to veins without passing first through a network of smaller vessels.
“The veins are unable to take the arterial pressure,” Hersonskey said.
Over a period of two months, Hersonskey and the team at the institute stabilized Gardeakos, injected a biological glue into the vessels in November 2014, and in December 2014 opened her skull and surgically removed the vascular formation.
Gardeakos is fine today and is glad there was a skilled neuro team so close to home.
“I can’t drive yet while my peripheral vision is still coming back,” Gardeakos said, “but I have two neighbors who do some of the driving.”
Gardeakos said before her surgery, she asked around for references in the Chicago medical campuses and was told she need not look beyond the Joliet area. The benefits to area residents extend beyond convenience.
More than convenience at stake
Time is brain, Morris said, when it comes to strokes and other conditions that affect blood flow in the brain. Neurons die quickly, and getting immediate treatment can mean the difference between life and death, or between being disabled or living an easier life.
Hersonskey helped begin the Presence program 10 years ago as a joint affiliation with the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is still assistant professor of neurosurgery. The department now has neurosurgeons, stroke neurologists and a dedicated neuro-ICU.
“We’ve been continually saving lives ever since,” Hersonskey said. “Before, people would simply die.”
Silver Cross Hospital developed its own program in 2012. It is also state-of-the art and has the surgeons and physicians to place the Silver Cross Neuroscience Institute high on the map of neuro care.
As does Presence, Silver Cross’s institute has a biplane angiography system, noninvasive optimal vascular analysis, transcranial Doppler ultrasonography and other technology to give immediate treatment to patients with brain and spinal cord injuries.
Silver Cross Hospital Neuro Interventional Surgery Program Medical Director Dr. Harish Shownkeen, who was a professor at Loyola University before he began at Silver Cross, said the hospital’s latest addition is the biplane angiography system, which doctors use to diagnose and treat strokes and other neurological diseases.
“Using this new technology, endovascular and surgical procedures can be performed more quickly and with an even greater level of safety for patients by cutting the procedure length and radiation exposure in half,” Shownkeen said.
With the medication tPA and the technology, Shownkeen said good outcomes can now be seen eight hours or even longer after a stroke, whereas before, the window might have been only three hours.
“We can pull out the clots now in five minutes,” Shownkeen said of procedures his team uses for strokes. “The quicker you can get oxygen to the brain, the better. Millions of neurons are dying every minute.”