My reputation at my fave watering hole, M Café, is pretty solid. I am the “Energizer Bunny.” On Thursdays or Fridays at M (or at any spot for that matter that plays absolutely fab dance music), you’ll find me in front of the DJ booth, dancing with abandon. Do I care what other people think? Obviously not.
On June 30, my friend and distant cousin, Fran Ribaño, passed away. She was only 44 years old.
The cause of her death says her family, was a brain aneurysm that ruptured. The Mayo Clinic website defines a brain aneurysm as “a ballooning blood vessel in the brain.” When this swollen blood vessel leaks or ruptures, it leads to bleeding in the brain and causes a stroke. This can be fatal.
A year and a half ago, another blazingly wonderful woman and friend, singer Anabel Bosch, also succumbed to a brain aneurysm. She was just 32.
Brain aneurysms are insidious. A brain aneurysm “doesn’t rupture, create health problems, or cause symptoms,” says the Mayo Clinic. You only find out it’s there when you get tested for other medical conditions, or, at the exact moment it unfortunately bursts. It’s kind of like an ex from a bad breakup that you haven’t seen in a while who pops up just as your life is going smoothly.
Your predisposition to brain aneurysms is determined by the following:
Family history. You’re twice as likely to develop an aneurysm if someone in your family has it. Oh great, that happens to be me. My dad died in 1996 from a brain aneurysm. He slipped into a coma after an operation to clip the aneurysm (to ease the pressure) and died on New Year’s Day.
Gender. Dig this: “Women are twice as likely to develop a brain aneurysm or to suffer a subarachnoid hemorrhage as men,” says the Mayo Clinic. A subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding from the ruptured aneurysm that occurs in the space between the brain and the brain tissues.
Smoking. Aman Patel, M.D., director of the endovascular neurosurgery program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City has this to say: “If you have a known aneurysm, you have a higher risk of rupture if you smoke.”
So I am not going to be all doom and gloom here. Just because I’ve found out I have a genetic predisposition to aneurysms doesn’t mean I can’t do anything about it. In keeping with the title of my blog which is “You Can Do This,” you can do something to reduce your chances of that darn blood vessel causing your friends and family grief at your unexpected demise.
1) Be aware of the symptoms. When an aneurysm is still intact, it exerts pressure on areas in the brain. Watch out for severe headaches, blurred vision, changes in speech, and neck pain. When an aneurysm has ruptured, the signs leave you in no doubt. These are again, a sudden severe headache, neck pain, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, fainting or loss of consciousness, seizures.
2) Get tested. If you’ve mentally ticked “Yes” to all risk factors I mentioned above, see your family doctor and get yourself tested for a brain aneurysm via a Computed Tomography Angiogram (CTA) scan, which evaluates the state of your blood vessels; and a Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA). The results of these will help your doctor determine what steps need to be taken next if you do have an aneurysm. These are offered at Makati Medical City and The Medical City.
3) Stop smoking. Has anyone seen any positive health benefit or medical research extolling this habit… Duh. I didn’t think so.
4) Relax, relax, relax. Avoid or lessen the sources of stress that lead to high blood pressure.
I won’t go into the reasons that triggered the brain aneurysms of Fran and Anabel. Nor am I walking around with a cloud over my head thinking I may probably have a ticking time bomb in my own brain because of my family history.
Though I miss Anabel and Fran and look forward to the day I dance again with them in heaven, these two beautiful lives cut short have reminded me of two things: One, to take good care of myself, whether it’s through exercise or proper nutrition. What I say next might surprise you: If I exercise, it’s not because I want to live longer—which leads me to my next life lesson: Seize the moment. When I run, swim, bike, dance, or even write this blog, it’s a celebration of my body and my mind being intact and functional at this very moment. I cannot ask for more. I am already blessed. I live life fully, right here, right now. And that’s why I dance like a madwoman.
July 5, 2010
Like a lightning bolt from out of the blue, I realized again why dancing as a metaphor for life is such a strong image: Rewind to December 15, 1995. The morning of the day Dad suffered a stroke that was a harbinger of his brain aneurysm, we were all at the breakfast table, my twin sister and I, my two brothers, and my mom. Dad and Mom just came from a Christmas party the night before and Dad was all excited about a new dance they learned—the Macarena. To groans of “Daaaaaadddd! Not now!” he popped in the Los del Rio CD and wheedled us groggy-eyed kids into getting up and following him as he did the slap-your-arms-and-wiggle-your-butt routine. Little did we know that was the last we would see of him alive and vibrant. By evening of that day, he was in the Intensive Care Unit of Makati Medical Center, hooked up to tubes. That bittersweet memory of him and Macarena is why I dance like a madwoman. I embrace all that I inherited from him—my love for dancing, my confidence, my hairy arms and bushy eyebrows, the bossy attitude, and yes, the predisposition to aneurysms. Thank you for all your wonderful words. I’m glad this touched you in some way. Vamos a bailar!
—Lara Parpan is the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health. The July issue is out on newsstands right now.