“When it was first going on I was home visiting for my nephew’s birthday.” Megan Ray was home visiting her family in Atlanta. She didn’t feel quite right. Her eyes were dilated. Still, she pushed through it, enjoying the time with her family. Her brother joked as she boarded the plane back to Panama, “Don’t have an aneurysm!”
Two weeks later that’s exactly what happened. Alone in her home on Bocas Del Toro, a tiny island off the coast of Panama, Megan says she felt like she was suddenly shot in the head. “I was in excruciating pain and I couldn’t move for 12 hours.”
Once she was able to walk, she knew she desperately needed help, but she was not in a place to get any. Bocas del Toro is an island cut off from the rest of the world. “There’s like nothing here. It’s a small island chain so everything has to come by boat or by plane so there’s no movie theaters, no grocery stores.”
She got herself to the island’s water taxi to head to the mainland. Crowded in with 30 other people, her left eye completely closed, Megan endured the trip. But it was only the beginning. She then had to hire a taxi driver for the four hour ride to a hospital in David, Panama. Doctors in David told Megan she had had an aneurysm, but that they didn’t have the parts to perform her surgery. They would have to be ordered. Three days later, Ray underwent surgery.
Through this entire ordeal, she didn’t realize that she was a walking miracle.
“An aneurysm is merely a weak spot in the wall of an artery. They can occur anywhere in the body and in this case this was an artery in the brain,” explains neurosurgeon Doctor Dan Barrow, chair of neurosurgery at Emory Brain Health Center. “Nobody knows what causes aneurysms. When an aneurysm ruptures and bleeds, probably as many as 25 to 30 percent of patients just die before they ever get to a doctor.” Barrow says Megan, “Really had the cards stacked against her when you think about where she was. How far away she was from any medical care let alone expert medical care.”
Doctors in Panama declared the surgery a success but Ray did not like her new normal. “I didn’t ever feel quite right, honestly. My eye was still closed and I had double vision and that was hard.”
Months after surgery, she came back to Atlanta, to be seen by Dr. Barrow at Emory. She began to tell him her story and laughs as she recalls, “He just started calling other people into the office to listen.”
Barrow says, “When you consider all the bullets she dodged, it is pretty remarkable that she lived.”
Scans showed a dangerous development. The aneurysm had regrown in the exact same spot it had been in.
Dr. Barrow and his team performed surgery and during the procedure, the aneurysm ruptured. Barrow was able to clip it and restore normal blood flow. He got rid of it once and for all.
Ray doesn’t know if it’s luck or fate that she chose to go to the doctor just to make sure. It was a decision that saved her life. “There would have been 100 percent chance that it had ruptured again if I hadn’t come in and had the surgery.”
She is back in Panama, living her unique life, her story one that extends beyond the medical, into the philosophical. Dr. Barrow says, “She had somebody looking over her I think.” Her story is one “Of fortitude, an enormous amount of luck. Really, a story of the human spirit.”