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Published on July 12, 2018

Dr Wissam Asfahan - head injury blog

When a Head Injury Becomes Life Threatening

Natosha Schurch remembers the three times she rode a tube down a snow-packed hill with her two youngest kids on a Saturday afternoon in January.

She remembers the fourth and last run, when she and her 6-year-old son decided to split up and ride separate tubes. Riding with her toddler in her lap, it seemed like they were going too fast. Her tube turned around backward she couldn’t see where they were heading.

What she doesn’t remember is crashing head-to-head with her 6-year-old son, who headed down the hill right before her, and then hitting her head on something else, knocking her unconscious. Her first memories after the crash were crawling around in the snow, looking for her daughter.

Although some on the scene assumed she wasn’t hurt too badly, two “angels” as she described them, prayed for her, watched her children, and called the ambulance.

“I remember my head hurting and a loud booming sound in my left ear,” she said. “When we got to the hospital, my son and I both had CT scans. Thankfully, he only had a concussion. But I had a fractured skull and two brain bleeds."

Unbearable Pain

The first CT showed the bleed was small enough that she could remain under observation. Yet as time progressed, Schurch remembers increasing pain that became unbearable, causing her to scream.

A doctor came in and asked Schurch to hold her arms straight out in front of her. Because they started to drift down, it raised concern.

“She was very sleepy and we rushed to do another CT. The brain bleed had significantly increased in size. So we had to rush her to surgery or she wouldn’t have survived the night,” said Wissam Asfahani, MD, Avera Medical Group neurosurgeon who cared for Schurch at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

“An epidural hematoma is when bleeding occurs between the outer covering of the brain and the skull. It can expand very quickly and become life threatening,” Asfahani said. “As the bleed puts pressure on the brain, it causes pain and symptoms like weakness, numbness, confusion or nausea.”

The bleed was on the left side of the head. “We did a large incision that looked like a question mark and opened the skull. We evacuated the blood with suction and gentle irrigation, and stopped the bleeding from the torn vessel,” Asfahani said.

The next morning Schurch was wide awake and fully aware. “I realized then that I had been just hours away from going completely. This was a huge miracle,” she said.

She hopes that others might gain from her story and take action in time if they face a similar trauma.

“Anytime someone has a head injury that involves loss of consciousness, it’s very important to come to the hospital to be evaluated,” Asfahani said. Especially concerning are symptoms like weakness, weird sensations, nausea and vomiting, confusion, weakness, or vision or hearing that seems “off.”

Several Silver Linings

Schurch feels “incredibly blessed” that her brain bleed was caught in time to save her life. She still deals with lingering effects from her injury, including vertigo and dizziness, deafness in her left ear and memory issues. “I struggle when I’m under stress or there’s noise. It feels like I can’t think and I can’t remember things.”

While she loves her job as a hospice nurse, she has not been able to go back to work yet.

Silver linings have included meeting others who have been through brain injury and/or brain surgery, as well as the two women who helped her just after her accident. “I’m thankful to now have them as part of my life,” Schurch said.

As she continues her recovery, she goes to therapy at Avera’s Balance and Dizziness Clinic, as well as speech therapy to help resolve her memory issues. “I feel very blessed to be where I am.”

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