Neurological Foundation - Chair of Neurosurgery

I am so grateful - a second chance at life

Judy's Story

It was a normal day to start with, Friday the 13th!!  Sitting at my dining table having a morning coffee with my partner, all of a sudden I got a pain in the back of my head and I didn’t feel too well at all.  I said to Andrew, “I don’t feel too good” and he replied – but you don’t get sick.  He was right; I have lead a healthy life, a very busy on the go person with heaps of energy.  I stood up to get a glass of water and Andrew noticed my mouth was twisted and I was dribbling from the corner  and he could not understand my speech  and then I could not walk to the kitchen bench, he jumped up and grabbed me by the shoulders and put me back down in the chair.  I always remember my surgeon saying to me – that’s who saved your life as most people get up to get something and they fall to the floor and on the way down, normally bump/bang their head on something and that is fatal, especially with a bleed.  I felt very sick and began vomiting regularly, every 20 minutes or so.


I live in Central Otago and was driven to a doctor in Alexandra and then recommended onto Dunstan Hospital and spent a matter of minutes there and the doctor thought it could be a brain aneurysm.  He did not want me to fly to Dunedin Hospital by helicopter because of the cabin pressure on the brain and therefore I had to travel by road in an ambulance.  Timing is critical; I had a leaking time-bomb in my head, ready to go off!!


By the time I got to Dunedin Hospital I was in real trouble with a bleeding aneurysm in the right hand side of my brain. I was very lucky to have a fantastic surgeon, David McDowell, who we have now lost back to Australia.  He told me I had a right middle cerebral artery aneurysm with subarachnoid haemorrhage and had to have subsequent clipping.  It was very frightening and especially not having friends and family around me in the first few hours.


I can still remember lying in theatre and David had the paper work to show me and required me to sign if possible and he pointed out that I could have a stroke during this procedure and may not even make it but he would do everything possible and then I looked at the date 13/04/07 and then I looked at the clock on the wall and it was 2.00am and I said to David I am going to change the date to the 14th and therefore I am having this operation on Saturday the 14th and not Friday 13th and he said to me “If you can think about that now – you are going to be OK and we both had a simile”.


The operation took a few short hours and when I awoke I was very groggy and slightly confused.

I had just had my scalp sliced and a piece of skull taken out , the aneurysm clipped, and a piece of steel put into the space of the aneurysm and the skull put back into place.  The steel stops my temple from sinking in as David likes to do this especially for the ladies!!   I can easily feel the screws that are holding it in place.


I spent two weeks in ICU including having all the staples taken out of my scar  and then completed a test to see if I had to go to ICIS or not, unfortunately I did not take this test seriously because I didn’t realise the consequences and there were a lot of people coming and going in the room and I was very easily distracted – I failed and was told I was going to ICIS.  I just wanted to go back to my family and friends in Central Otago.  I asked to see David and he told me there was no need for me to go to ICIS, I could go home because my progress was amazing.  I was on my way to Central Otago the next day.


I suffered numerous headaches and couldn’t stand being around loud noise of any kind and suffered incredible tiredness like I have never had before – really tired in the head and spent the first two years virtually on my coach.  Over the following months I went to Dunedin to visit David McDowell for a check up and was told 10% of people survive what I have had and 2% are as good as I am – what a feeling, it was amazing.

I feel incredibly lucky.  I felt David was my life line and to this day he still takes my calls in Australia when I ring just to let him know how I am doing.


Ten months after my operation I unfortunately suffered two seizures, 4 hours apart and ended up in Dunstan Hospital and went through various tests and as it turned out the seizures were related to the scar tissue from the operation and also the steel plate I have inserted into my head, being a foreign body.  I lost my driver’s licence for 12 months and became very house bound.  NOW  I am on medication to stop seizures, with side-affects causing extreme tiredness and weight-gain.   This I will be on for the rest of my life. I have to make sure I do not get too tired, therefore avoiding the possibility of more seizures.  I have also been left with hypertension requiring medication to keep under control.  I travel to Dunedin for regular CT scans to be assessed to make sure there are no further aneurysms developing.


It has taken 5 years recovery for me, travelling to Dunedin to visit my surgeon and now a neurologist annually, I would not like travelling to Christchurch from Central Otago.


I am now back working and enjoying a very full on role of Events Co-ordinator and working for a travel company.


It has been amazing for me to find out just how many people suffer from the same thing, and how they have been affected; it is very common and gives me an extreme passion to make sure this unit stays in Dunedin for the future, by telling my story.


Please help us keep this service in Dunedin, if it goes, so do a lot of lives and I would not be here if it wasn’t for the Neurological Unit and the likes of David McDowell and his team – there is no way I would have made it to Christchurch!! If I had to go to Christchurch - I would certainly not be here today.