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A Deadly Headache, A Lifesaving Cure

White Plains Hospital

November 3, 2023

A Deadly Headache, A Lifesaving Cure

When Kimberly Jacobs’ head wouldn’t stop throbbing, she came to White Plains Hospital. There, she found the advanced neurological care she needed.

Like many people, Kimberly Jacobs has the occasional headache. Last May, she experienced the worst headache of her life. It struck suddenly, in the early hours, jolting the 61-year old Hartsdale resident out of a sound sleep. “I was up all night after that,” she says. “I put a cold towel on my head and took [over the-counter] pain medication, but nothing helped. I was a little nauseous, too.” When her husband, Stephen, woke up that morning, she told him she needed medical attention. “We were going to Italy in a week, and I just wanted to make sure my headache wasn’t anything serious,” recalls Jacobs, who works as a travel advisor. The couple set off on an unplanned trip to White Plains Hospital.

“I hardly ever see a doctor, except for a physical,” Jacobs says. Yet as soon as she walked into the Hospital’s Emergency Department, she felt the environment was caring, not intimidating. “The person who checked me in was wonderful, and I was given medicine that dissipated my headache,” she says. Next, the Emergency Department physicians set out to investigate the cause of her pain. Jacobs underwent a CT scan — an imaging test that is good at detecting brain bleeds — of her head and neck. The results, however, showed nothing amiss. To look into her problem further, she then had a computed tomography angiography (CTA) scan, which combines a CT scan with injected dye to produce images of blood vessels and tissues. This time, her care team spotted an abnormality.

A Potentially Deadly Problem

Dr. Rafael A. Ortiz, Executive Director of Neurosciences at White Plains Hospital, reviewed her CTA results. She had a brain aneurysm, which meant part of a blood vessel in her brain was swelling. The bulge was located in an artery on the right-hand side and measured 6 mm, about the size of a pencil eraser. “It was in a location that, if it ruptured, could bleed into the brain,” Dr. Ortiz says. He delivered the news at Jacobs’ bedside. “I felt a thump in my chest,” she remembers. “I was scared. For a moment, I thought it could be life-threatening.”

Dr. Rafael A. OrtizDr. Rafael A. Ortiz, Executive Director of Neurosciences, White Plains Hospital

Immediately, Dr. Ortiz reassured Jacobs the aneurysm was treatable with surgery. To thoroughly assess the aneurysm, as well as her brain, he had her undergo two more highly sensitive tests. “The first one was an MRI, which looked at the brain itself to make sure there were no abnormalities,” Dr. Ortiz says. “She also had an MRA, [which is an MRI] that only looks at the arteries.”

Dr. Ortiz told Jacobs he wanted to operate on her as soon as possible. “What if [we waited] and then she developed a massive hemorrhage because of bleeding from the aneurysm?” he says. Not all aneurysms require treatment; a skilled physician can estimate the chances of a rupture, depending on factors such as its size and location. Based on the tests Jacobs had undergone as well as his expert assessment of her condition, Dr. Ortiz felt that she required surgery.

Jacobs’ four children were determined to make sure their mother had the best care possible. Anxiously, two of them scoured the internet for more information about Dr. Ortiz. They quickly learned he had previously been affiliated with a renowned hospital in Manhattan and has received numerous accolades. “My kids told me that I couldn’t be in better hands,” Jacobs says.

A Need to Act Fast

Despite her children’s reassurance, Jacobs was understandably nervous. “The only other time I’d had surgery was when I’d gotten my tonsils removed,” she says. “I was surprised at just how fast my aneurysm needed to be treated — I had been feeling fine up until the night before.” She decided to tell Dr. Ortiz how anxious she felt. “I said to him, ‘I just need you to know that I have four children and eight grandchildren. I have a mom and a sister who need me. You can’t let anything go wrong,’” she remembers. In response, she recalls, “Dr. Ortiz was calming, warm, and confident. He sat next to me, and he showed me [on images from the tests] exactly the point where my aneurysm was located, and explained the whole procedure [for treating it]. He made it seem like ‘I’ve got this,’” she recalls.

Soon after, Jacobs underwent the procedure, which was performed under general anesthesia. “We made a small cut in her groin and placed a catheter, which is a long plastic tube, into a major blood vessel called the femoral artery,” Dr. Ortiz explains. “We then navigated the catheter inside the arteries of the body and parked it in the different arteries of the neck. At each location, we took X-rays to create a map of all the arteries of the brain.” Guided by this detailed overview, Dr. Ortiz threaded an even smaller catheter into the artery that was supplying the aneurysm with blood. “I inserted these strings of platinum, called coils, into the aneurysm. They filled the space inside it, and, by doing so, they will prevent bleeding from happening in the future,” he says.

For 12 hours following the procedure, Jacobs stayed in the ICU for frequent monitoring. “Every 30 minutes I was tested for neurological issues,” she says. “I had to do things like follow a flashlight with my eyes and push my hand as hard as I could against someone else’s.” She performed every task perfectly. Incredibly, because she had recovered so well, she was discharged the very next day. The following week, Jacobs and her husband even jetted off to Italy as they had planned.

Ever-Growing Expertise

Jacobs’ story is just one example of how White Plains Hospital’s physicians excel in caring for patients with neurovascular issues, such as strokes and brain aneurysms. The Hospital’s Neurosciences program offers comprehensive treatment for patients with complex neuro-endovascular, neurosurgical, neurological, cranial, and spine conditions. The program boasts board-certified neuro-endovascular surgeons, neurosurgeons, and neurologists who are supported by the Hospital’s advanced technology, equipment, and modern facilities.

“The vision is to be a world-class destination for people that need care for anything neuro-related,” says Dr. Ortiz of his plans for the program. In addition, Dr. Ortiz’s team collaborates across care disciplines, such as Orthopedics and Head and Neck Surgery, to expand their capabilities in spinal neurosurgery and the treatment of brain tumors.

Jacobs is happy to help spread the word about the outstanding care she received at White Plains Hospital. “For somebody who isn’t comfortable going to a hospital, I felt very cared for,” she says. “Dr. Ortiz and his staff are such an asset to the community. They were a great team, and I had a wonderful experience. I don’t think I could have been in any place that was better in this entire country.”

To learn more about White Plains Hospital's Neurosciences Program, call 914.849.5300 or visit its website. To make a gift in support of the program, click here.