TRACY BARBOUR
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Where Love Exists: Emily's Story

The story of Emily, a survivor of a ruptured brain aneurysm by Tracy Barbour, a documentary photographer.

WHERE LOVE EXISTS: EMILY'S STORY

Surviving and Thriving After a Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

Emily stands in a field with a scar over her head revealing her scars.

There is nothing I enjoy more than helping others tell their story. For me it is about more than just a one time celebration, it is about capturing moments in between. In between all those celebrations are moments that truly defines us as human beings. There are moments of grief, moments of grace, and moments of clarity when all we finally see what love can do to shape our lives and change us for the better. 

In 2013, I lost my younger brother to a ruptured brain aneurysm. It isn't a story I talk about often. Shortly after his passing I found out a good friend of mine had suffered and survived from the very thing that took my brother. I reached out to her and we decided together that a portrait session displaying all the beauty that was inside her perfectly imperfect mind and body would make a huge impact on others. What neither of us realized is what an impact it would make on her or how it would help her cross over from depression into hope.

My friend's name is Emily and she is a devoted wife, a talented photographer, a mother, a stepmother, and the best friend that anyone could ever have. I am truly lucky to be surrounded in the love she puts out into the world. 

Emily is a survivor, she is a warrior. Over the course of 7 months she survived a ruptured brain aneurysm, a staph infection, and 3 brain surgeries. Her chances were 30% she would even survive, and 10% she would make it without any lasting brain damage. She beat those odds. This is her story.

Emily stands in a field revealing her scars.

“Let me start by saying that I have an incredible life, perfect in most ways, but didn’t realize this fact until it was almost too late.”

“My husband, Michael and I had an impromptu crawfish boil on Memorial Day this year and spent the day eating, drinking and laughing with friends. It was a perfect summer afternoon filled with many of the people and moments that I love. The next morning I was working in my home office after taking my daughter to preschool, drinking a cup of coffee and resuming my normal, routine life when suddenly everything changed. I was struck with an overwhelming, blinding headache, as though I had been shot in the head. It was, by far, the most excruciating pain I have ever felt. I had a moment where I thought to myself, “it’ll pass, this will go away, I’m okay,” but it didn’t cease and the pain intensified. My husband was still asleep that morning in our bedroom after a hot day of boiling crawfish and drinking beer. I knew Michael was tired and I resisted waking him over what I hoped beyond reason was a simple headache. It was in this moment of internal struggle that I realized the truth, that I was dying and I needed help.”

Emily sits in a field ready to uncover her headscarf.

“I stood up, determined to make the trek to our bedroom and wake him. I remember taking each heavy, burdened step, one after the other. The walls of my home undulated as if I were walking underwater in a vast ocean. I finally reached our bedroom, woke Michael and said, “I have the worst headache of my life.” The look of bewilderment on his face is the last thing I remember until sometime in early July. He tells me that I started screaming and that‘s when he called 911. While he was on the phone my eyes rolled into the back of my head, I passed out and he thought to himself, “My wife just died.” Michael was able to revived me, the ambulance arrived and I was taken to the emergency room. The next morning I had the aneurysm surgically clipped in a six hour procedure which my neurosurgeon declared, “the most difficult of his career”. One week later I was well on to my way to recovery, starting physical therapy, walking the hospital hallways and then I took a turn for the worse. I had a critically high fever that wouldn’t diminish despite being placed on cooling blankets and delirium had set in. Bacterial meningitis, a staph infection, had created a hematoma and once again I went into surgery. In total I spent six weeks hospitalized, 24 days of that in the ICU.”

Emily sits with her head covered by a white scarf.

“While in the hospital it was discovered that I had a second, un-ruptured aneurysm and I knew that my options were limited. I could simply wait, have scans on a regular basis and if there were some change in the aneurysm take action then. In my mind, this meant having a ticking time bomb in my head that could kill me at any moment. My other option was to take action right away, so I reached out to one of the best neurosurgeons in the country and consulted with him. I had “elective” surgical clipping on November 11th correcting the second aneurysm. The operation went beautifully and I recovered so well that I only spent a couple of days in the ICU before being discharged. However, life keeps throwing me curveballs. I had a seizure, which is so rare in my circumstances that my surgeon may very well publish on the case.”

“That brings us to now. I’m fully recovered with absolutely no permanent brain damage. The likelihood that I would have survived was about 30% and with no brain damage? About 10%. I am a lucky, lucky woman and I have never known such love existed in this world until it was poured into my life by my husband, my children, family and friends.”

CLICK ON THE THUMBNAILS TO VIEW GALLERY

Hair & Makeup: Bella Rossa Salon - Development & Scanning: Little Film Lab

Camera: Olympus OM1 - Film: Fuji Pro 400H and Kodak Gold 200

To learn more about brain aneurysms or get support please visit The Joe Niekro Foundation.