For the last 21 years, Lori Quaranta has been living something of a bucket list. Slowly but surely she’s attempted new things both large and small in an effort to experience all that the world has to offer. It is a lifestyle she’d never really expected to embrace. “It’s been trial and error, always testing myself and pushing my limits with everything. I go on roller coasters. I’ve danced on a bar. I’ve done things that aren’t harmful but are a little crazy. My attitude now is: I’m a grown woman. If I need you, I’ll ask.” The meek, homebody Lori from the days of old is a thing of the past. In her stead is a confident, self-sufficient, independent woman. And, it is all because of a ruptured brain aneurism.
When Lori thinks of where she is now, she knows that it all began with that one split second that changed her life forever. Her toddler, Lindsay, was asleep in her crib and Lori was on the phone with her sister-in-law as she often was, chatting about the day. Snow was headed their way and the storm was supposed to be intense. As Lori listened to Jo-Ann she began feeling cold and clammy. Sweat dripped from her brow. Confused, Lori wiped it off and wondered why she was sweating so badly when all of the sudden a terrible pain ripped up the back of her neck into her head. Abruptly getting off the phone with a false excuse, she tried to compose herself but sweat continued to leak and waves of nausea began rolling over her. Remembering that she had just seen her neighbor Steve on his way home from work for lunch, she slowly walked to the front door and managed to open it. Sitting down on the foyer steps, Lori felt incredible pressure building up in her head. At that moment, Steve and his wife came running into the house. Steve put Lori in the car to take her to the hospital and his wife stayed behind to watch Lindsay.
The ride was terrifying and Lori constantly had to remind herself to breathe. Met by her husband at the hospital, she was originally diagnosed with a sprained neck and migraine. Her husband disagreed, knowing that his wife would never have stayed in the ER for 12 long hours with such a trivial ailment. He wanted to take Lori to another hospital but the nurses begged him not to. When the doctor had left the room they said they felt Lori had a ruptured brain aneurysm and probably would not make it if he tried to move her. A spinal tap confirmed their thoughts. When Lori’s husband was called back into the room, a doctor said that blood was leaking into her brain. Lori and her husband were told that ruptured brain aneurysms have a less than 5% survival rate of full recovery. It was very likely that Lori would be dead by morning.
Lori’s cousin happened to be chief surgeon at the very hospital where she now lay. Her husband called him, saying that there must be something he could do. As it turned out there was, but it wasn’t much. The neurosurgeon sent by Lori’s cousin said that he’d have to operate to put a drain in Lori’s head and then perform another surgery to clamp off the aneurysm. There was a very good chance she would not survive the process. The operation was a shot in the dark but it was the only shot Lori had and they decided to go for it. Hoping her condition might stabilize during the night, her doctor scheduled the surgery for first thing in the morning. Lori remembers nothing from that night and later found out that her family and friends were reeling with the shocking news as word spread via telephone calls throughout the evening. Hours ago she’d been alive and well, perfectly healthy. It didn’t make any sense. Yet it was happening. Her husband was particularly devastated. What do you do when somebody tells you your wife is about to die when just that morning she was fine?
By morning, Lori still had not stabilized but the doctors felt it just couldn’t wait any longer. The surgery had to be done ASAP. Everyone was certain that in another day Lori would no longer be alive. The next two weeks were hazy for Lori. She had the first surgery, then three days later the second. The list of possible repercussions after such an ordeal was a mile long. She might never walk and talk, be totally paralyzed for life, wind up in a vegetative state... All the doctors knew was that after that second surgery was that Lori was alive and her hands and feet were responsive. So far, so good. Never in a million years did anybody expect her to fully recover with all her faculties. When Lori finally did wake up, she seemed just fine. Nobody could believe how lucky she was! However, several weeks into her hospital stay Lori woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, her heart pounding and her ears buzzing. Then, almost as soon as it had started, the sweating, buzzing, and pounding disappeared. Having ripped her covers off, Lori now went to grab the covers and put them over her left foot, which was feeling very cold. She couldn’t lift her left hand off the bed. In fact, she couldn’t move her left side at all. Lori was paralyzed.
Lori spent the next part of her hospital stay in therapy, attempting to regain use of her left side. After 35 days, it was time to leave. The doctors said she should be in a convalescent home for a little while but Lori’s husband refused and instead brought her home. Lori could not even go to the bathroom by herself. “I told my husband to divorce me! I told him that he needed to put me in a home, I was 30 and he was 31. Why should he live like this?” It was a sad, dark time for Lori. She felt horrible for her husband who was stuck with such a dead weight. Even as she was grateful to be alive, she was angry that she was paralyzed. Her daughter wasn’t even two, she wanted to be the best mom she could be and she was frustrated with her own body’s limitations. Looking at Lindsay, she was determined to get better, even if it killed her!
Slowly, Lori fell into a routine at home with the help of her family and friends. And, with the help of seizure medication feeling began returning to her left side. After about six months at home she was nearing 100%. “As I got the feeling back on my left side, I went to the total opposite extreme. I was getting up at four in the morning. Why? Because I could! I would literally jump out of bed just because I could! I went from this sad, dark place of why should my husband be saddled with me to this idea of being like a runaway train. I couldn’t get enough of life.”
With what seemed like a second chance at life, Lori took a look at her surroundings with a shock and realized that it all wasn’t enough for her anymore. Now that she was taking nothing for granted, she knew that the life she had lived before the aneurysm was not the life she actually wanted. “I looked back and realized there was so much more to life than what I had for myself. I think people who’ve had a near-death experience look at every day of their life and consider themselves blessed.”
The more Lori ventured outside of her norm, the more uncomfortable her husband seemed to be. She was becoming her own person for the first time in her life and the change was too difficult for the marriage. “The marriage wasn’t right. My ex was a wonderful husband when I was sick. But when I got better I was looking at things with new eyes and he wanted to pull me back into our old life. I was no longer looking at my life with material things in mind. We were wealthy, had a beautiful home, but it sort of became irrelevant. Am I happy because I have a gorgeous home with a built-in pool? No, my heart wasn’t happy. The nice things are a bonus if everything else is great, but they weren’t. I knew as a woman there was so much out there for me to do. I’d been way too sheltered and I needed to get out there and see what life had to offer.”
Eventually, Lori divorced her husband. It was a decision filled with sadness but one she felt she must make. “I’ve looked back many times. I truly value family. For that, I feel bad. I feel bad that I disrupted a family unit. But, deep in my heart I know it was the right decision. I would never have been the same woman today as I am now. I’m happy in my own skin. I have complete control of my own life, if I’m not happy I have to look at myself and say ‘why?’ There is nobody else making my choices and decisions.”
The decision to divorce was a huge stepping out of Lori’s comfort zone. She was on her own for the first time. It was challenging and rewarding all at the same time.
“Going was huge for me. I didn’t have to have somebody with me. It seems ridiculous, but I was so proud of myself. Nobody raped me! I made it alive! Everything was OK. It was probably the first and most impressive thing that I can remember that I did.”
“It boosted my ego to be able to take care of things on my own—bills, struggles, challenges. I had to handle everything alone. When I’d get through something, I felt like it was a check mark in the ‘okey-dokey’ category!” One of the first momentous occasions Lori remembers as a single woman was when a friend of hers invited her to Atlantic City. Lindsay was with her father for the weekend and her friend had two hotel rooms. The only condition was that Lori would have to drive herself. “I said, ‘Ok, let me think about it.’ I sat there by myself thinking, ‘Come on, you are 35. You can do this!’ I was so nervous! I looked around my kitchen and there was nobody to say goodbye to. I said goodbye to my cat. Going was huge for me. I didn’t have to have somebody with me. It seems ridiculous, but I was so proud of myself. Nobody raped me! I made it alive! Everything was ok. It was probably the first and most impressive thing that I can remember that I did.”
After that came more milestones. By being herself, by standing on her own feet, Lori felt that she was the best mom she could be for her daughter and the best role model she could be as a woman. And that was what mattered. But still she was unsure of her purpose and felt guilty for having survived something that has killed so many. Then, two years ago she sat down and wrote a book about what had happened to her and how her life had changed because of it.
“It was a major turning point for me. I was finally able to take all the feelings I’ve had for the last 20 years that I’ve associated with that time in my life and look at them. There were times when I would be just sitting there with friends, drinking martinis or something, talking about guys and all of the sudden I would have a flash in my head of being in my hospital bed and not being able to move my legs. Finally, with the book, it stopped.”
Called “God’s Funny That Way: Surviving a Brain Aneurysm; Anything After That is a Walk in the Park,” Lori’s book provided just what she needed to move on from all the hurt and trauma of the aneurysm and the life choices she made because of it. Writing the book deepened her relationship with her daughter, who was the first to read it and was blown away by what her mom had been through when she was just a toddler. It also helped Lori’s relationship with her ex-husband, who she asked for help in remembering certain details that were fuzzy for her. It has also helped inspire other women who may not have had the same trauma but are searching for something different in their mid-life. Sitting with her daughter recently, celebrating Lindsay’s next chapter in life (Lindsay had chosen to enter the nursing field because of how Lori had praised the nurses who’d saved her life in the ER), Lori was struck by just how changed her life has been because of the aneurysm.
“Over dinner with Lindsay I said, ‘who would have thought you and I would be sitting having dinner and a drink talking about you passing your RN boards? If Daddy and I had stayed together, it never would have happened.’ If I was still married and my daughter was 23, I just don’t think we would have had that strong connection we have now. Who would I have been? What would I have had to offer her?”
“God has definitely put himself in my path for the last 21 years. He’s hit me square in the face! I believe and that’s what keeps me going every day. My daughter’s probably very comfortable with the fact that I will be ok if something ever happens and I should die suddenly. Every day that I am alive is a day I would not have had if I had died back then. There’s no way I should have lived. I am very, very grateful for every day I have.”
The rest of Lori’s story can be found in her book, “God’s Funny That Way: Surviving a Brain Aneurysm; Anything After That is a Walk in the Park” (http://www.aneurysmsurvivor.com/)
Thank you Lori, for sharing your Story with us.
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