A fighter and survivor
All Yasmin Cann really remembers is the excruciating pain.
If pressed, she can tell how doctors at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital put her in the ICU and plugged her into tubes; how she was then operated on by specialist surgeons at Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre — but that is only because she has heard her mother, Beverley Cann, tell the story repeatedly.
The one-two punch of a massive aneurysm rupture and a stroke at age 34 left Yasmin unable to walk, read or do even the most basic of tasks.
Her doctors, who did not expect her to survive, are amazed by the “tremendous progress” she has made in the past 2½ years.
It was only a year after her ordeal that she learnt just how close she had come to death.
“The doctor said I was a miracle,” she said. “He didn't know how I was still here because, from a doctor's point of view, he was going outside to tell my mama I was coming back [to Bermuda] in a box.”
Yasmin decided to share her story with The Royal Gazette as part of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, in hope that residents might benefit from her experience.
Although she had suffered from headaches, she thought she was in good health before March 17, 2018. “My head hurt and I could tell that it was not normal,” she said. “I remember that I was sitting in my room with my head down, just breathing heavily.
“I called my mama and asked her to pray for me. I remember going to the hospital and saying my name ... I don't remember anything else. And then I had to start all over again.
“I had to learn how to walk again, I had to learn how to stand up again, I had to learn how to go to the bathroom again.”
Yasmin added: “I had to learn it all [as if I was] a baby.”
Beverley was getting ready to go grocery shopping when she heard her daughter complaining that her head hurt. Initially unconcerned, she told Yasmin to “go take something”.
She said: “I know how dramatic she can be.”
However, as the screams continued, it became obvious that her daughter was truly in agony.
“I went and I got oil and I anointed her and I prayed for her, because I knew that at that point, it was only God that was going to stop the pain or do anything else that needed to be done.”
She believes Yasmin had a stroke while in triage at KEMH.
After a medical scan showed a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, the decision was made to fly her to Massachusetts for surgery at Lahey.
Through it all Beverley remained calm, secure that her daughter was “in God's hands”.
She said: “We didn't know what was going to happen. I was at peace. And I don't think anybody could really understand that. I think that's where God talks about that peace that ‘passeth all understanding'.
“I wasn't frantic about what was going on. I just knew that this is what it is and it's going to be handled.”
During the hours-long operation, doctors removed a piece of Yasmin's skull to relieve the pressure on her swollen brain.
It meant she had to constantly wear a helmet as protection until they were satisfied it should be replaced. It was only after the delicate surgery was declared a success that Beverley began to realise just how long a road her daughter was on to recovery.
Roughly five weeks after she was admitted at Lahey, Yasmin headed to Maine.
There, she spent four weeks at the New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland receiving treatment from a team headed by Elwood Fox. The family remain grateful for the Bermudian doctor's guidance and wealth of experience.
“I didn't realise,” Beverley said. “I went and got the things she likes to eat, a book because she likes to read — and I couldn't understand why she wasn't touching anything.
“I didn't realise she didn't have the taste for certain foods any more; there were some things she couldn't taste.
“She wasn't picking up the book because the book didn't mean anything to her. I didn't know that. I think it was really when she got to rehab, that's when it hit me ... that's why she never picked up that book.
“She had to really relearn every single thing from walking to sitting; she couldn't go to the bathroom, she couldn't do anything. She had to relearn speech, everything. She was just like a baby.
“We didn't find out until the following year when we went back to the doctor, that [they were calling her] a miracle. [They weren't] expecting her to live.”
Once back in Bermuda, Yasmin continued rehab, receiving regular treatment at KEMH.
Beverley said: “She couldn't remember anybody's name except her brother's.
“She couldn't remember people [outside the family]. She knew who I was, but she just couldn't say my name.
“She would [recognise that her sister was her] sister, but she just couldn't say the word. She couldn't say the word niece. And she couldn't call their names.”
As for her own name, Yasmin had to “keep writing [it] over and over and over and over for it to stick in my mind”.
“I still can't read properly,” she said. “I still can't write properly, but I can do everything else. If you looked at me you wouldn't know, unless you really sit there and talk to me.”
Yasmine's desire is to let others know that “there is a chance” of surviving a rupture should they or a family member have one. “I truly believe that it was because of the prayers of the saints, that God intervened on her behalf,” Beverley said. “It's no other explanation for it, because when we saw X-rays of her brain, of the before and the after, it's really incredible.
“It was just there, there was this little sliver of hope. And that's what God took and made a miracle out of.”
Although frustrated at times because she is not moving ahead as fast as she would like, Yasmin realises just how fortunate she is especially as she does not have to go back to the doctor for check-ups. “You have people who have to go to be monitored every six months to a year, to keep checking to make sure it's OK.”
Said her mother: “Frustration kicks in, [but] her reading level is tremendous. Sometimes she can't say it, but she knows the association so, if the word is ‘brother' she might say ‘family'.
“Other times she just knows what that word is. It's just relearning the words and her writing has gotten a lot better.
Beverly added: “So much better than what it was. So she's getting there. She's made tremendous progress in two years. She just gets really frustrated when she feels she should be further.”
What has helped her through is the support she has received from close friends and family and her 15-year-old daughter, Brazil, Yasmin said.
“These two years have shown me so much about myself. It's really, really humbled me because, literally, I had to start from a baby.
“I've been through some things in life that are different from a normal kid. I'm built a little differently. Moving forward, if I can get through this, I can get through anything.”
Aneurysm: the warning signs
The Mayo Clinic describes a brain aneurysm as “a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel in the brain”.
A “sudden, extremely severe headache” is key in determining a leak or rupture, that causes bleeding into the brain but also look out for the following:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Stiff neck
• Blurred or double vision
• Sensitivity to light
• A drooping eyelid
• Loss of consciousness