University student misdiagnosed with AVM

University student misdiagnosed with AVM

The University of Alabama tragically lost one of its students last month. Alli Brodie, an 18-year-old freshman, was hit in the head with a soccer ball, which triggered a brain bleed. Following the loss, it was widely reported that arteriovenous malformation (AVM) worsened her injury. AVM is a condition where abnormal blood vessels are tangled with connecting veins and arteries to the brain, which can disrupt blood flow.

Brodie’s mother Cindy has since clarified that the final prognosis was not an AVM.

"The final prognosis suggested that there was not an AVM at all," she said in a Facebook message to a Crimson White reporter. "It was a misdiagnosis early on." 

After two surgeries and weeks in a coma, Brodie died from complications from pneumonia.

Though Brodie's AVM was a misdiagnosis, those familiar with AVM say it is an important condition for students to be aware of. 

Erin Hudson, a neurosurgical nurse at a neurological institute in Phoenix, Arizona, has encountered many cases of brain bleeds from various causes and assisted in operations for such patients.

“An AVM is different from something like an aneurysm in that AVM is more of a disruption between capillaries in the arteries and veins that can rupture, so we go in and usually repair that with a clip to stop the bleeding,” Hudson said. “With an aneurysm, it’s more of a weakness in an artery that can rupture, so it is a different condition that has that same risk of a rupture.”

Hudson said that there are many people who have an AVM, aneurysm or some other brain condition that experience no symptoms and are able to go about their daily lives normally without a rupture.

“Some people have AVMs and they don’t rupture, but some people do experience a rupture that causes bleeding and there’s no real warning.” Hudson said. “So, when doctors come across a case of brain bleeding, AVM is considered to be within the realm of possibilities of the cause.”

Jillian DeFazio, a mother of two from Georgia, is a survivor of an AVM rupture that caused a brain bleed while she was driving her daughter's to school.

“The only way I can explain that feeling is that it felt like my head was having a contraction,” DeFazio said. “I was able to drop my girls off at school and I kissed them goodbye like I never kissed them before and called my husband and told him, ‘Don’t leave for work, there’s something wrong.’”

DeFazio managed to get herself home, but she said she doesn’t remember the rest of that day. By the afternoon, her condition had worsened and her husband took her to the hospital. She then underwent a procedure to clip her AVM, but the location of the malformation was near the speech center of the brain and would risk losing DeFazio’s ability to speak. After months of observation, she was given radiation treatments to her brain to kill off the AVM.

Looking back, DeFazio said that she noticed some odd things that could have been related to the AVM, such as sporadic headaches and some fainting spells before the rupture. However, DeFazio saw these as common things that many people experience for any number of reasons, so she didn’t see them as a warning sign of a brain malformation. 

Now she urges people who have noticed anything uncommon occurring with their body or those who experienced physical trauma to seek medical attention immediately.

“Had I gotten checked out right when those symptoms happened and not waited, the problem would have been found sooner and been fixed and maybe could have stopped the bleed from even happening,” DeFazio said. “So, don’t hesitate to get checked out. Your life can depend on it. I consider myself very lucky and unfortunately, for everyone who experiences something like this, not everyone can say that.” 

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