Bethany's Story

Last spring, Bethany Sterling got a diagnosis she never expected.

At 35, Sterling was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, which,  with the help of a local physician, she has been fortunate enough to move on from and continue to lead a full life.

For a few months in early 2015, Sterling had had many headaches – headaches that she felt were unusual. 

“I suffer from migraines anyways. I was diagnosed in 2007 with migraines, but migraines are very different from any other headache you can ever have,” Sterling says. “The headache that I was experiencing with these symptoms was a constant headache – whether it was very mild or a lot worse.”

The headaches Sterling had were constant, and she says she would wake up in the morning with the same headache she had gone to bed with. 

“It was there 24/7. It moved around my head in different areas,” Sterling says. “It was a really weird headache. I was like, 'This is not a migraine,' because even my migraine medications were not taking it away.”

The headaches lead to Sterling feeling bad all over her body – all day, every day. 

In March 2015, Sterling started having what she called visual disturbances.

“I mean, my vision would go blurry. I'd be walking down the hallway at work, and all of a sudden, my vision would not go completely out but just blurry …” she says. “I would wait for a little bit – kind of blink my eyes – and it would go away.”

Sterling, a public health instructor at the United States Air Force School of Air Space Medicine, says that at first, she couldn't tell if only one eye or both eyes were affected by the issue. She knew all the symptoms she was experiencing weren't normal, but she wasn't sure what was causing them. 

Near the end of April 2015, Sterling started going to see her primary care physician (PCP) about all the problems she had been having in the months prior.

“I literally told her, 'I feel off in my head,'” Sterling says. “She knew I suffered from migraines, so she was going to go on the migraine route. I was like, 'But this feels really weird. It doesn't feel like a migraine. Something's different. I feel awful every single day. The headache never goes away.'”

Being an advocate for her health and playing an active role as part of her own health care team, Sterling started seeing her PCP weekly because she knew something wasn't right. 

Her PCP ordered a CAT scan, but the results came back normal. 

Sterling tried her best to continue to do her job and go about her home life with her husband, Quinton; stepson Jacobi, 14; and daughter, Mia, 6, as normally as she could with the ongoing headaches and vision problems she just couldn't get past.

Then, on May 27, 2015, Sterling went to work, but her symptoms had gotten even worse. 

“I came in, and my right eye was drooping. My supervisor asked me what was wrong. I told her that in addition to the symptoms that I was having, I noticed this eye drooping, kind of, in the last two weeks when there would be pictures taken of me, and I would be smiling,” Sterling says. “We both agreed that I needed to go to the emergency room because of the symptoms.”

Once at an emergency room, Sterling says another CAT scan was done. Only this time, a large mass was found behind her right eye.

After being evaluated by a neurologist, Sterling was told her eye was bulging and that the pressure was the cause of her eye drooping. There was not a neurosurgeon at the first hospital Sterling visited, so she was transported to Miami Valley Hospital, part of Premier Health.

“Once I got down there, they definitively diagnosed it as a right internal carotid artery aneurysm,” she says. ”I didn't know what it was until I got down there. That's when I first met Dr. Bryan Ludwig, MD, who is – to me – a lifesaver.”

And Sterling didn't know until after this diagnosis that the aneurysm had been there a month earlier when she had her first CAT scan. But it was so small incredibly small that it was missed. 

“It grew very large in a short amount of time, which is strange,” she says.

Even now, no one can explain exactly why Sterling – who had no risk factors – ended up with a brain aneurysm. What is known, however, is that Dr. Ludwig, of the Clinical Neuroscience Institute, was there to help provide Sterling with the comfort and care she needed.

Sterling says that once she was admitted to Miami Valley Hospital, many of her family members came from within a few hours away to see her. She said Dr. Ludwig was helpful and honest in answering questions she and her family had about surgery and possible risks involved. 

“I was very well informed before making a decision to have the coiling done. I had the coiling surgery, which is platinum coils put in through my artery,” Sterling says. “It was scary, but Dr. Ludwig answered all my questions. He really was the one that made me feel confident to go into surgery and come out OK. I had full trust in him.”

The surgery took place two days after Sterling was first admitted to Miami Valley Hospital, and she was discharged the next day.

Sterling knew that even after having the surgery, there was a possibility that her symptoms would not go away. That concern became all too real for her when for the first couple days following the surgery she had a severe headache.

“I felt like my head was going to explode. I couldn't sit up for two days,” she says. “I had double vision, too, so I actually went from just those disturbances to having double vision constantly, which meant for three months I was unable to drive.”

Dr. Ludwig prescribed Sterling with an anti-inflammatory to help ease the swelling in her head, which in turn lessened the headache. After a week of recovery, the headache was gone, but the double vision and eye drooping remained for about three months.

“I relied completely on my husband to take me everywhere, even to the grocery store to get milk,” Sterling says. “I felt like my independence was taken away. … It was affecting my everyday life.”

But eventually, little-by-little and day-by-day, Sterling's vision improved, the swelling of her eye improved, and her eye stopped drooping. The only lingering symptoms she now has is chronic fatigue, which she manages with a once-daily medication.

“Thank goodness that the aneurysm shrunk enough to kind of get off that nerve, and it resolved everything,” Sterling says. “I was very fortunate to have the swelling go down, and over time my symptoms got better. I was very thankful.”

In August 2016 Sterling had a follow up appointment during which a small bleed was again found with the aneurysm. She had a second coiling procedure done and had no complications or follow up symptoms. 

Sterling will visit Dr. Ludwig again in February for a repeat magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), which is a type of MRI that looks specifically at the body's blood vessels.

Though Sterling says she's learned that brain aneurysms typically run in family, this type of aneurysm is not present in her family medical history. She's also learned that because her aneurysm doesn't seem to be genetic, her daughter is not at an increased risk.

Looking back, Sterling is thankful for the care Dr. Ludwig provided and the time he took to explain things to her and her family. 

She is also thankful that she was determined in her mission to find out what was causing all her symptoms.

“You know your body better than anybody. That's why I just kept going back and saying, 'Something's not right. I don't feel right. It's not normal. It's not my migraines. I know what migraines are, and this is way different,'” she says. “Just be very persistent. Don't ignore things like this because you never know. I would have never thought that it would have been a brain aneurysm at the age of 35 when I was diagnosed.”

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Bryan R. Ludwig, MD

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