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Casandra’s story: ‘Saved for a reason’

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Casandra Fifarek, patient of Dr. Gerald Eckardt, neurological surgeon with BayCare Clinic Neurological Surgeons, poses with her daughter, Ella

The day Casandra Fifarek found herself face down on the living room floor, her head throbbing, started off as any other weekday.

“I got up normal that morning, got ready, got my youngest child up for school and my husband,” says Fifarek, a mother of three who lives in Marinette, Wisconsin.

That was the last thing that was normal about that day.

“We were getting in the process of her getting ready for school and stuff and I had, like, a severe headache, kind of grabbed the back of my head and immediately took Tylenol,” says Fifarek, who is in her late 30s. “At that time, I had some fluid in my ear and I already went to the doctor for that so I didn’t know if it was, like, ear-related.”

The pain was so severe that Fifarek dropped to the floor.

“It got to the point that I couldn’t … I just laid on my living room floor holding the back of my head with my face in my floor,” she says. “I laid there for a while and I continued to coach my daughter to get ready for school.

“It crossed my mind to call 9-1-1 ... but I didn’t want to freak my daughter out. We had to get her to school,” she says.

Fifarek stayed face down on the floor until it was time to drive her daughter to school.

“It was hard for me to, like, get up so then I finally got up, got in my husband’s truck, we dropped her off at school. It seemed to subside a little bit,” Fifarek says.

She again considered a trip to the emergency room but says she talked herself out of it. Her husband thought otherwise.

“I’ll be OK, I’ll be OK, and my husband was like ‘No, I’m bringing you there,’” she says. “He had to go to physical therapy because he had shoulder surgery two months prior. So he dropped me off at the hospital.”

Fifarek underwent a computerized tomography scan, a diagnostic imaging tool for detecting abnormalities or injuries.

The CT scan revealed a problem.

“I wasn’t even back to my room and the doctor was already telling me that I had a brain bleed and they are getting ready to transport,” Fifarek says.

She was taken by ambulance to Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, where she was met by Dr. Gerald W. Eckardt, a neurosurgeon with BayCare Clinic Neurological Surgeons. Aurora BayCare is a Comprehensive Stroke Center. It is the only one in northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

Eckardt is fellowship trained in endovascular and cerebrovascular care.

Eckardt performed a cerebral angiogram. The angiogram provides live X-ray images that help identify abnormalities of blood flow in the brain.

Fifarerk was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation in the right temporal portion of her brain. It’s rare.

An arteriovenous malformation occurs when blood vessels form incorrectly, often before birth or shortly after. The blood vessels usually are tangled and connected in such a way that they form direct connections between arteries and veins. These abnormal vessels are typically weak and susceptible to rupture.

Fifarek needed immediate surgery. Starting from a small puncture to an artery in the groin, a catheter and wires were directed to her head to reach the abnormal vessels.

Eckardt then used a glue-like material and coils to stop the blood flow to that area of the brain.

“They were figuring it was something I was born with … and it ruptured … and they figured that it was a malformation of those vessels. So they fixed it,” Fifarek says.

It was a lot to take in, she says.

“When I got home ... I tried to rush back into my normal life so then I ended up, not necessarily a setback, it was more of an anxiety setback because I couldn’t do the things that I could do before this happened,” says Fifarek, who also deals with anxiety. “I was purely exhausted just from the healing process. Mentally, I was exhausted dealing with if it was going to happen again.”

Fifarek is better today and remains confident that she’ll be OK.

“I was saved for a reason,” she says. “I truly feel blessed and grateful.”

Published: Tuesday, December 28, 2021
Author: Danielle Dungan