Expert aneurysm diagnosis and quick procedure relieve Donna’s pain and may have saved her life

One day after having minimally invasive neurointerventional surgery to repair an aneurysm, Donna returned to her normal life, pain-free.

Donna Gloede photo

With constant headaches and unexplainable neck pain, Donna Gloede, 57, of Oelwein, Iowa, couldn’t live a normal life. Donna’s local doctors tried to pinpoint the cause of her pain, but multiple tests didn’t reveal any clues.

Donna’s doctor then referred her to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, where neurosurgeon David Hasan, MD, reviewed her MRI results and immediately detected an aneurysm behind her right eye.

An aneurysm is a weak spot in an artery that expands into a pouch and can rupture at any time.

Hasan recommended a procedure that repairs the artery by placing a stent made of metal mesh in the weakened area to close off the aneurysm, all without surgery to open the skull.

The day after making the diagnosis, Hasan performed the procedure.

When I woke up, it was like a godsend. I was still alive.

— Donna Gloede

Aneurysm: a silent killer

Aneurysms are known as silent killers. If an aneurysm is discovered before it ruptures, it’s usually only by chance.

“Aneurysms are discovered incidentally in about 90% of patients, when doctors perform an MRI or CT scan looking for something else, such as sinusitis,” Hasan says.

A rupture can cause disability or even death.

“I did not want to walk on eggshells the rest of my life,” Donna says. “Aneurysms are like a volcano that can rupture at any time. So I wanted to get it fixed.”

Neurointerventional technique is less invasive

In the past, aneurysm treatment involved a surgical procedure that opened the skull, took five to six hours to complete, and required the patient to stay in the hospital three to four days before several weeks of recovery time at home.

Hasan is fellowship-trained in a newer approach called neurointerventional surgery. Neurointerventional surgeons use catheters—small tubes—that can be inserted into a patient’s blood vessels and moved through the body to reach places in the body that once required open surgery.

Patients with conditions like aneurysm and stroke are benefiting from this catheter-based technique. It’s a remarkable advance that gives Hasan, a specialist in the treatment of vascular conditions in the brain and spinal cord, a minimally invasive alternative to traditional surgery.

Back to a normal life in one day

To treat Donna’s aneurysm, Hasan inserted a catheter into an artery near Donna’s thigh and used it to guide the stent—called a Pipeline embolization device, or PED—through her bloodstream to the spot in the ophthalmic artery behind her eye.

Imagine the artery is like a hallway, and the aneurysm is a room right off the hallway. Placing the stent at the neck of the aneurysm is like building a fence across the door to the room.

Live X-ray imaging allowed him to see the progress of the catheter and to place the stent in the precise position required to repair the artery.

Over time, cells will grow over the stent, closing off the aneurysm pouch and reducing the chance that the blood vessel will leak blood or rupture.

The procedure takes about 30 minutes. Many patients leave the hospital the same day.

“I spent one night in the hospital because Dr. Hasan wanted to make sure I was OK,” Donna says. “I went back to my normal life after that.”

UI experience and expertise benefits aneurysm patients

Hasan says aneurysm patients treated at a large academic medical center like UI Hospitals & Clinics have advantages not available elsewhere.

One advantage is the experience he and other neurosurgeons gain from the high volume of patients they treat, enhancing their ability to make the right diagnosis.

“We treat thousands of patients with aneurysms,” he says. “We recognize aneurysms quickly and order the correct tests to confirm the diagnosis.”

Another advantage is research. Hasan and his colleagues are researchers, always staying aware of the latest methods available for the detection and treatment of aneurysms. They also conduct their own studies, including a current investigation into a new blood test for diagnosis.

“Instead of ordering an MRI or CT scan, we’re trying to create a blood test that will tell us whether a patient has an aneurysm,” Hasan says.

‘He saved my life’

Hasan’s expertise in patient care and research is especially reassuring to Donna.

With other health issues, including fibromyalgia and other types of headaches, Donna relies on Hasan for ongoing care, beyond the initial procedure, to make sure her treatment is doing what it was meant to do: improve her quality of life.

During a follow-up visit, Hasan discovered that Donna’s aneurysm was narrowing around the stent. He repaired it immediately. 

“Dr. Hasan is wonderful,” Donna says. “He keeps an eye on my aneurysm and my stent. He saved my life.”