Aimee Jordt, 28, lay on the cold Alaskan tundra, barely aware of her worried parents, who were keeping watch over her. Twelve hours earlier, on the fifth day of a moose hunt, Jordt had shot her first moose. In the same instant, pain exploded through her head, similar to the migraines she’d suffered since childhood.
Suddenly she was stumbling, unable to feel her legs. At first, her family thought she was having an emotional reaction to the hunt. Jordt, a medical-surgical nurse, tried to figure out what was happening to her, but pain and dizziness fogged her brain.
After a cold, scary night, everyone in the hunting party knew Jordt needed to go to the hospital. The question was how: The tiny plane that had flown them to the hunting site could only hold one passenger at a time, and Jordt couldn’t safely fly unattended.
In the end, a U.S. Army base sent a helicopter to transport Jordt to the nearest hospital. And after taking a CT scan, the hospital in Fairbanks sent her on for high-level care at Harborview Medical Center.
Jordt woke up at Harborview to the news that she’d just come out of a four-hour surgery for a ruptured aneurysm.
“The goal is to prevent an aneurysm from bleeding — or, if it’s ruptured like Aimee’s, the goal is to prevent it from bleeding again,” says Michael Levitt, MD, a surgeon at Harborview’s Neurological Surgery Clinic and Cerebrovascular Lab who specializes in minimally invasive surgery.
First, Levitt performed an angiogram, inserting a human-hair-sized microcatheter from Jordt’s wrist to her brain and adding dye to her blood so it would be visible in an X-ray. Next, Levitt pushed tiny platinum coils through the catheter into the aneurysm itself, filling the space to prevent blood from collecting.
Thinking back, Jordt remembered having migraines and numbness in her arm in the days before the hunt: smaller bleeds, perhaps. Reflecting on the situation — the remote location, the time that elapsed between her collapse and her care — Jordt knows her outcome could have been very different.
“I’m lucky to be here,” she says.
It may seem as though Jordt is too young to have had an aneurysm. Levitt demurs.
“People don’t realize aneurysms can happen to younger patients,” says Levitt. “Although most occur in people over 40, there are some young adult patients. Emilia Clarke, the actress from ‘Game of Thrones,’ is a prominent example of someone quite young who has had ruptured aneurysms.”
Another misconception is that aneurysms are extremely rare. “Between 1–3 percent of the population has an aneurysm somewhere in the brain, although the vast majority don’t need treatment, just monitoring,” says Levitt.
While most aneurysms aren’t genetic in origin, a small percentage have an underlying genetic cause. In Levitt’s role as scientific director at the Stroke and Applied NeuroScience (SANS) Center, he investigates the genetic causes behind aneurysm and stroke.
“In order to develop targeted therapies or preventive treatments, we need to have a better understanding of why aneurysms happen,” says Levitt.
After two weeks in the neurological ICU, Jordt was cleared to fly home — this time in a passenger plane. She returned not long after for her first follow-up appointment, where she and her family gave Levitt a very special thank-you gift: moose jerky, moose sausage and ground moose meat.
“It’s delicious!” says the surgeon.
Jordt is feeling much better now, and a few months after the incident, Jordt was back to work at Providence Health and Services in Anchorage. The experience has given her a new perspective on patient care.
“It has definitely changed my nursing for the better,” she says.