Diagnosing AVM

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There’s a 15 year old in Northumberland County living a normal teenage life right now despite a brush with death just six months ago.

A sudden terrible headache turned into a nightmare for him, and his family.

Marcos Velazquez, or Mikey as his family calls him, remembers a Sunday afternoon last November at his home in Shamokin.  It was a lazy day. Mom and dad were watching a movie and he was in his room.

“About a half hour later, it felt like screws were going into the side of my head,” Mikey recalled.

Mom Jessica Lopez went to get him a pain reliever, but dad Marcos, or Mike, instantly knew something was up.

“I had a chill run down my spine when he told me his head was about to explode.”

Soon after, Mikey vomited repeatedly and his parents took him to an ER close by.  Staff there took one look at a CAT scan and got him on a helicopter to Geisinger Medical Center near Danville.

He doesn’t remember much.

“I passed out, I woke up in the helicopter.  I pass out again, I wake up at Geisinger.

“I got a call around 3:30 in the morning that they had a 14-year-old child there with a large hemorrhage in the back of his brain,” said Dr. Tarun Bhalla.

Dr. Bhalla, a neurosurgeon at Geisinger, explains that Mikey had what’s called an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation.  It’s an abnormal connection between the arteries and the brain, a tangle of blood vessels.

AVMs are rare, but potentially deadly.

“The head is essentially like a suitcase.  You can only fit so many things inside it.  You have brain tissue, you have blood, and brain and spinal fluid in there.  So something needed to give when the extra blood leaked out of the AVM.”

Dr. Bhalla assembled a team to do a series of three procedures in one day starting at 6 a.m. and ending about 7:30 that night.

First, they installed a catheter to alleviate the pressure in Mikey’s brain.

Second, an endovascular procedure: they inserted a catheter into his groin, snaked it up into his brain, and injected glue to seal off the abnormal blood vessels.

Finally, in the OR, they opened up the back of his skull, found the AVM, and removed it.

“I did not have enough nails to bite off, not enough coffee, not enough anything.  I went to the chapel I don’t know how many times to pray.

It was a long day but a successful one.

He’ll need to be monitored, as there is a small risk of reoccurrence.  But today, just six months later, Marcos is doing pretty much everything a normal 15 year old can do.

“I fully expect him to have a normal life from here on out,” said Dr. Bhalla.

“Everybody did exactly what they had to do to make sure I had my son back,” said Jessica.


1 Comment

  • Ben Morrell

    This is one lucky fellow. I’m glad he’s doing ok. I’m 52 and I live with two AVMs in my brain And I know very well just how dangerous these things are.

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