GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Tonya Robinson, 38, suffered from excruciating headaches after doing any physical activity for years.
Following a run this past spring, she said her headache became so severe she couldn't take the pain anymore. Robinson went to get an MRI and CT scan.
It turned out, that what she thought was a migraine, actually helped save her life. The warnings her body was giving her helped doctors detect a large aneurysm in her brain.
"At that point I was like, 'am I going to die? Is this something I am going to die from,'" Robinson said. "Now I know about this time bomb in my brain."
The size of her aneurysm was 26-millimeters, which was categorized as "giant."
>> MORE: Brain Aneurysm Foundation website
Robinson took the news hard, but said the hardest thing was telling her husband and 4-year-old daughter.
"She knew mommy had an 'owie' in her head and that's what she would call it," Robinson said.
Robinson was referred to Dr. Jay Morrow at Metro Health to look for a surgical option to save her life.
"Aneurysms can happen at any age any sex any race.' Morrow explains. "They really don’t discriminate, most of the time there are no symptoms at all."
Morrow says an aneurysm is a weak or thin spot on a blood vessel in the brain which balloons out and fills with blood. If that balloon bursts it can be deadly, or leave a victim with severe neurological problems.
In Robinson's case, she wound up among a small percentage of people who have identified it before it ruptured.
Dr. Morrow and Metro Health scheduled her for a procedure using a Pipeline Flex Embolization Device. The first Pipeline generation device was approved by the FDA in 2011.
"I probably do 20 to 30 of these type of cases a year," according to Morrow. "Currently this device has really been transformation in how aneurysms are treated."
The procedure is explained as a braided mesh tube that is inserted near the aneurysm which directs blood flow away from it to eventually make the aneurysm disappear.
Following a nine hour surgery, Robinson's procedure was deemed unsuccessful. Two months later doctors were able to try again.
A second surgery—14 hours this time—worked. In all, 13 small mesh tubes were placed in Robinson's brain.
But there was another obstacle she would have to overcome.
Robinson discovered she couldn't move the left side of her body. Through intensive physical therapy, she has been able to gain back all mobility in her left side.
"You just take little things for granted, like brushing your teeth," she said. "That wasn’t something I couldn't do when I came home from the hospital; or getting my 4-year-old dressed and it was frustrating."
Robinson said she now runs and takes a spin class regularly. She hopes her story will encourage others experiencing chronic headaches to not shrug off the pain.
"I feel blessed," she said. "There’s definitely someone watching over me and I am so happy to be alive."