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Carmen Graff

Neurosurgeon: M. Ali Aziz-Sultan, M.D.

Carmen Graff never imagined that her inability to get pregnant would essentially save her life. After an exhausting and difficult six-year effort to have a baby, diagnostic testing for her fertility problems turned up a startling discovery. She had two brain aneurysms. If either had burst, she could have had a stroke.

After learning the news, Graff panicked because an aneurysm had killed her mother at age 53. Aneurysms – a weakness in the wall of blood vessels that causes them to expand like a bubble and often have few or no symptoms – have an estimated 75 percent chance of being deadly when undiagnosed. If an aneurysm bursts, it can result in a stroke, which is the number one cause of disability in the United States and third leading cause of death.

“I was crying in my car on my way to work,” she remembers. “I was talking to God. ‘First, I can’t get pregnant. Now I have something really wrong with me.’ I thought, ‘God, You must have a plan.’”

Graff’s neurologist in Port St. Lucie knew she could get help at Jackson Memorial Hospital where Ali Aziz-Sultan, M.D., a neurosurgeon and director of neuroendovascular surgery, performs an innovative new treatment for brain aneurysms. Dr. Sultan quickly took her case, knowing she was an ideal candidate for the procedure.

“The aneurysms were close to her optic nerves and in a dangerous location, and we didn’t want to risk damaging her vision. We now have a less invasive option,” he said.

Standard treatments for brain aneurysms can sometimes require removing part of the skull to seal the aneurysm with a platinum clip. Another option uses platinum wiring, but large aneurysms that have an irregular shape or are located in hard-to-reach parts of the brain can be a challenge with these treatments.

This new procedure, called a cerebral embolization, threads a catheter into the brain. The neurosurgeon slowly injects a liquid polymer, which immediately turns into a solid. The aneurysm is filled just like concrete is used to fill a pot hole. Once the aneurysm is blocked off, blood flow returns to normal.

Graff was counting on the new procedure to work because she was determined to become a mom more than ever. Just hours after doctors had confirmed her brain aneurysms, she had received a second, equally unexpected, phone call.

Her best friend knew about a young woman searching for an adoptive family, and she thought Graff would be the perfect mom.

“I was so excited,” Graff says. “We wanted the baby in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t commit until I knew I was going to be okay.” After a few hours in the operatingroom last June, Graff’s wait was over.

“The outcome was excellent,” says Dr. Sultan. “Carmen is definitely a success story. This treatment is another major advancement in our ability to treat aneurysms, and Jackson Memorial is one of the few facilities in the United States to offer this procedure.”

The relatively noninvasive procedure meant only a four-day stay in the hospital and a quick recovery, which allowed Graff and her husband Kevin to complete a successful adoption of Tyler Patrick, who was born a month later.

Carmen Graff recently passed her six month check-up and angiogram. Graff says she and her husband have quite a story to tell him one day.