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Gregory Rufo was as prepared for a trip to the hospital as any expectant father could be. With his wife, Jenny, just two weeks away from her delivery date, bags were packed and his mind filled with anticipation.
On May 6, the clichéd late-night ride to the hospital arrived. But instead of abdominal pains, Jenny felt extreme pressure in her head and had impaired speech. After a call to 911 and transport to their community hospital, Jenny was transferred by helicopter to BWH for advanced care.
Greg feared the worst. “I thought my wife was going to die the same day my baby was born.”
Jenny was diagnosed with arterial venous malformation (AVM)—or a tangle of blood vessels—that had lain dormant, without symptoms or detection, in her brain’s cerebellum for 39 years. This tangle, which is considered a birth defect, caused a cerebral hemorrhage—bleeding in the brain. To save Jenny’s life, she would need immediate surgery to treat the brain hemorrhage and AVM.
But labor and delivery had to proceed and Greg held his new son, Tyler, soon after arriving at BWH. Eight hours later, neurosurgeon Dong H. Kim, MD, reported Jenny would live. And though he was warned of a three-to-four day, or longer, wait before the full extent of her recovery could be determined, Greg leaned over Jenny just hours later as she used sign language to ask about the baby.
“It was a miracle,” said Greg. “Everyone made the right decision at the right time all the way down the line. Any missteps and Jenny could have died.”
At BWH, a team of 20-plus people assembled, planning the route, and alternate routes of Jenny’s care. Among them: neurosurgeons, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, nurses and a pediatrician.
“We learned from the Med Flight team that the baby’s heartbeat was good, so we decided jointly to perform a CT scan before bringing her to the OR,” said Lisa Dunn-Albanese, MD, the delivering obstetrician. As the delivery team welcomed baby Tyler into the world, neurosurgeons simultaneously prepared to remove fluid around Jenny’s brain and, ultimately to remove the cluster of vessels that had brought her here.
“Jenny’s prognosis is excellent,” said Kim. “Though she needs to regain functions, such as motor coordination and speech that were most significantly affected by the bleeding, I expect a full recovery.”
After two weeks at BWH, Jenny went to a rehabilitation hospital for several weeks and is now home in Kingston with her husband and baby. She currently works with a physical therapist to improve her strength and has discarded her walking cane.
“I wish it didn’t happen to me,” she said. “But I am grateful for the care I received and the chance to be with my son.”