Amazing Medicine

Arlen Sage, Springfield, Oregon

Endovascular treatment of brain aneurysm

Arlen Sage of Springfield is back at work as a truck driver for Umpqua Dairy, slightly more than a month after he suffered a potentially fatal brain aneurysm.

In fact, Sage was walking and talking the day after he underwent minimally invasive endovascular brain surgery at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing and potentially ending his life.

“All I can tell you is, I’m a very lucky man,” Sage said.

Sage was working in his shop the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010, and felt a “pop” in the back of his neck, followed by the worst headache of his life. He assumed it was a migraine and went inside to lie down.

“When I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t get my balance. The pain in the back of my neck got more and more intense,” Sage, 56, said. “My body was shaking, and the pain was so severe.”

Sage’s wife, Cheryl, researched his symptoms on the Internet and suspected he might be suffering an aneurysm. She drove him to his doctor’s office immediately. The doctor sent the couple to McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center for a CT scan, which indicated possible bleeding in his brain. He was taken by ambulance to Sacred Heart at RiverBend for treatment.

At RiverBend, endovascular neurosurgeon Erik F. Hauck, MD, PhD, diagnosed Sage with a brain aneurysm on his right carotid artery. “An aneurysm is like a blister on a blood vessel, and like a blister it can burst or pop,” Dr. Hauck explained. “Half of patients with an aneurysm rupture die as a result.” Sage’s aneurysm was leaking blood into his brain.

Brain aneurysms can be treated through traditional open surgery, during which the surgeon creates an opening in the skull near the temple about the size of a half-dollar. The surgeon uses a metal clip to seal shut the mouth of the aneurysm, preventing blood from flowing into it and avoiding rupture.

A second, less-invasive option involves a needle poke in the femoral artery at the groin. The surgeon threads a small catheter through the blood vessels to the mouth of the aneurysm and carefully feeds a platinum thread into the blister-like pouch. The thread is as thin and flexible as a human hair, and creates a coiled ball that fills the aneurysm and prevents rupture.

This is the procedure Dr. Hauck performed on Sage within an hour of his arrival at RiverBend. Using Sacred Heart’s state-of-the-art neuro biplane imaging suite – the most advanced imaging equipment available in the region – Dr. Hauck mapped Sage’s vascular system using three-dimensional rotational imaging that allows the surgical site to be viewed from different angles. The procedure was successful, with no complications.

Sage, who was discharged from the hospital just eight days after the procedure, said the experience was painless and simple. Dr. Hauck worked closely with Sage’s family to explain the procedure and keep them informed of his progress. Sage called Dr. Hauck, who joined Sacred Heart’s medical staff in April 2010, “a godsend.” Before Dr. Hauck’s arrival, patients had to travel to Portland or San Francisco for this sort of treatment.

“I’m thankful that RiverBend has the capability and facility to handle this kind of trauma because I don’t think I would have made it to Portland,” Sage said. “I’m just glad they’ve given me a second lease on life to be able to fulfill my destiny.”

Learn more about Endovascular Neurosurgery at Sacred Heart

Tell us your story