“Life is too short for anything but love”

Part 2 of a brain aneurysm patient’s journey

Poole hospital 1 blog

Donna Poole, recovering from her aneurysm surgery at U-M early in 2013.

This is part 2 of a two-part blog entry submitted by U-M brain aneurysm patient Donna Poole. Read Part 1 here.

On the day of my aneurysm surgery, my family waited for many hours as Dr. Gregory Thompson and his crew took me apart and put me back together.

The big words for what happened in surgery are right-sided supraorbital craniotomy for aneurysm clipping. Essentially, it involved immobilizing my skull, cutting through skin and scalp, drilling through my skull, opening the protective membranes that surround the brain, and gently continuing down until they got to the aneurysm on the anterior communicating artery at the bottom of my brain.

Later, Dr. Thomspon told me later that the aneurysm was so close to rupturing he did something he seldom does. He used a temporary clip. He then used three permanent clips to deprive the aneurysm of its blood supply.

When the surgical team finished they backed their way out, using four way flashers. OK, kidding about the flashers. But when it was done, they closed the skin with temporary staples. Our daughter counted 48 of them. I wish I had saved them but didn’t think to ask for them at the time. They may have come in handy for deck repair.

The staples in my head looked like a zipper, making me a proud member of what our aneurysm support group calls the Zipperhead Club. I also have 13 pieces of permanent hardware in my head.

The surgical team sent me off to the ICU with instructions for frequent “neuro checks”: that’s hospital code for bug the patient with questions day and night. After repeatedly answering the same questions I decided the serious team of University of Michigan doctors and nurses needed a laugh.

So, when they asked for the umpteenth time if I knew what hospital I was in, I answered I was at Ohio State. There was a moment of shocked silence… before the room exploded with laughter. Dr. Thompson said, “I was going to tell you that you were one of my favorite patients, but not now!”

I loved the competent, compassionate U-M neuro nurses, especially the sweet, short one with the Scottish accent. She challenged me to do what I needed to do to get out of the hospital and sent me home with a hug and a kiss. Hug a nurse the next time you get a chance.

A mere 48 hours after surgery found me home in bed, with flowers, meals, calls, cards, gifts, and visits from family and church family surrounding me like a blanket of love.

A month ago, I marked six months since surgery. Unlike many aneurysm survivors I do not have serious handicaps, but I am not exactly as I was before.

Things that were simple before confuse me now. I cannot smell, which comes in handy because of the mountain of manure that sits behind our backyard. Nothing tastes the way I remember, but it doesn’t stop me from eating. My balance is still a bit off, and my short-term memory problems could give three comedians enough material for full-time work.

They tell me that it takes 18 months for complete healing, so I fully expect to make more progress.

Mostly, I am grateful. I am grateful to God, and to the skilled doctors and nurses, especially Dr.  Thompson, my gifted and gracious surgeon.  I am grateful to my husband who did so much for me when I could do so little. I am grateful to my children and grandchildren for their help and their humor. I am thankful for our church family. I am grateful to my online aneurysm family, the Facebook support group, 868 members strong and growing daily.


Hover over this image to pin it to your Pinterest board.

Most of all I am happy to be alive. I celebrate love and laughter every day. My aneurysm was, in many ways, a gift to me. It reminded me, in a way I will never forget, that life is too short for anything but love.

It is love that makes me holler to you, “Watch out!” That aneurysm fast ball can hit you next. Be aware of the symptoms. You can learn more on the site of the Joe Niekro Foundation.

Take your loved ones out to a ball game. Hug them tightly and tell them you love them. If a fast ball reaches the stands, you decide what to do. Either catch it and get it autographed, or duck!

Take the next step:


University of Michigan Health SystemFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.

“A sudden feeling that today my life would change forever”

A brain aneurysm survivor shares her story to help others

Donna Poole today, with her granddaughter

U-M brain aneurysm patient Donna Poole today, with her granddaughter

Part 1 of 2

Life surprises us with many kinds of stray balls. Take Joe Niekro, one of the top knuckleball pitchers in history with 221 career wins. Even he couldn’t outplay the stray ball of an aneurysm that exploded in his brain on October 26, 2006. He died the next day at age 61.

I am not a sports fan, but I see Joe’s name every day when I log on to Facebook and visit the aneurysm support group page that carries his name.  During this Aneurysm Awareness Month, I hope his story and my own can help others.

I am an aneurysm survivor.

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Sleep better, look better? New research says yes

Sleep apnea treatment may make patients look more alert, youthful & attractive

sleepy face blog

Before and after images from a sleep apnea patient. Both computer analysis and independent judges detected the effect of better sleep on appearance.

Getting treatment for a common sleep problem may do more than help you sleep better – it may help you look better over the long term, too.

That’s what U-M sleep researchers found when they studied the faces of 20 patients with sleep apnea, before and after they received treatment at the U-M Sleep Disorders Center.

The study suggests that the impact of sleep on appearance goes far beyond just “looking sleepy” after a single late night, or being bright-eyed after a good night’s rest.

It’s the first study showing specific improvements in face appearance after treatment for sleep apnea.

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Your Brain on Meditation

There has been a growth in meditation research around the globe in the past five years, including a handful of studies investigating the impact of meditation on adults living with mild cognitive impairment and family caregivers of adults with Alzheimer’s disease.  These studies are of great interest to us at the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center  as we consider the long-term impact of sustained stress on family caregivers and adults living with a diagnosis of dementia.brain meditation

One recent study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical school revealed new insights into the minds’ powerful influence on regulating the nervous system through simple meditation practices. The study, , indicated changes in the physical structure of the brain, through brain imaging, after only a few short weeks of simple meditation practice.

Brain imaging, like functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, is giving us new insights into meditation practices that have long been recognized to improve mood and sleep, reduce pain and enhance stress resilience, to name a few. The brain imaging results show evidence of neural growth and an increase in grey matter in the brain, the matter that gathers information and passes along sensory information.

Research outcomes are also demonstrating how brief meditation may continue to soften perceived stress and the experience of pain even while someone is not meditating. There is reason to believe that mediation can have a long-term impact on emotional and cognitive wellness.

We are not the first University of Michigan department to implement meditation practice and mindfulness based programming, but we are excited to be the first in the State of Michigan to offer Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as an intervention for dementia care and caregiver wellbeing.

Aware Care, an 8-week MBSR course, will be offered this fall for caregivers of an adult living with a dementia as well as adults diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. For information, please call U-M Memory Connection at 734-936-8803 or visit our website.


MADC logoThe Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20 year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.


UMHS logoFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.

Your Journey: Road Sign Tips for Living with Memory Loss or Dementia

“To get through the hardest journey we need to take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”  – Chinese Proverb

As we get older, changes in memory or thinking can alter our planned path in life.  A new journey may need to be considered.  Your Journey: Road Sign Tips for Living with Memory Loss or Dementia was developed to inspire creative planning along the memory loss or dementia journey.  Whether you are a person experiencing memory loss, a family caregiver or a healthcare professional, your journey begins in the driver’s seat.  Follow these suggested road signs to help you take an active role in understanding and adapting to the bumps in the road that may lie ahead.  Take it one step at a time, but don’t forget to “refuel” by gathering resources along your journey.  Help yourself and others prepare and plan for this new path in life.

image - Tips for living with memory loss or dementia Continue reading

Lighter. Stronger. Clearer. Closer.

Self-care for the caregiver

I have been gifted by the presence of many caregivers and adults living with dementia over the past 18 years.

They have taught me something about living that has become the message of my work and the meaning of my service as a social worker – and that is to live lighter, stronger, clearer and closer.

Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW, progam lead for Catching Your Breath at the MADC.

Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW is head of the Catch Your Breath Program at MADC.

A care partner I know said it best, “It doesn’t all suck.

I have learned that joy and grief are strange

bedfellows.  When we see them clearly, when we recognize both of them and invite them into our hearts fully, we receive an unexpected gift. And while caregiving can be stressful, there are also moments for joy, laughter and love to exist. When this happens it is a sense of whole-body wellness, the body feels lighter, the heart stronger, the mind clearer and our relationships closerContinue reading