Recently, a headache overtook Shannon Maccoy-Mahoney.
A sharp pain spread in rapid succession from the back of her head to her face then down to the nape of the neck.
The 39-year-old mother, wife and BayRidge Hospital mental health counselor was accustomed to migraines — she suffered from these powerful headaches occasionally.
Later, Shannon, would find out that intense pain was a brain aneurysm.
Many people wrongly assume brain aneurysms occur only in the elderly — a similar sentiment about strokes exists.
“I knew this was different,” Mahoney said on April 3. She had been moved to 7 West at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center from the ICU, where she had been since March 17. “I thought I was going to die.”
Shannon’s ordeal started around 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. The pervasive headache was so painful that Shannon called her friend and colleague at BayRidge to say she may miss work.
Shannon’s friend was a nurse named Kim, who, over the phone, recognized the symptoms were far worse than a migraine headache.
“She told me to go straight to the emergency department,” Shannon said.
Instead, Shannon called her husband, Andie, who was with the couple’s son in New Hampshire. After speaking, he canceled plans and returned home.
“I told my husband I’d never experienced anything like this before,” Shannon recounted.
Believing the pain didn’t warrant an ambulance, Shannon stayed in bed and hugged her three-year-old daughter, Dylan.
About an hour later, Shannon’s husband walked through the door. He took Shannon to the emergency department at Beverly Hospital. It was only a few minutes before Shannon’s CT scan revealed the cause of the pain was a ruptured brain aneurysm. She was sent to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center for surgery where a coil was sent up her femoral artery all the way to her brain, clamping the bleed.
“I remember asking the doctor at Beverly if I was going to die, and he said ‘You’re going to be OK,’” she said. Shannon had two teenagers, Brenna and Andy, who needed her to come home, in addition to little Dylan.
The next day, Shannon woke up with intense pain. “The pain was worse than when the bleed was happening,” she said.
Ever so slowly, she has built up strength. The staff at Lahey — everyone from doctors and nurses to the people who change her bed sheets on a daily basis — has helped with their cheerful, friendly demeanors.
“Even the greeter at the hospital, she made sure my daughter got special attention,” Shannon said. “Being human in these situations is so important and everyone here was so wonderful.”
Right around the same time, Shannon was experiencing trauma caused by a brain aneurysm, a Game of Thrones star penned an essay for The New Yorker about her own situation.
Actress Emilia Clarke was just 24 when the first of two brain aneurysms hit.
“If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die,” Clarke wrote in the essay. The actress, now 32, suffered a second aneurysm after a procedure to repair a bulging vessel in the brain had failed.
After the two aneurysms, Clarke went on to start a non-profit that aims to help people recovering from brain aneurysms and strokes.
Like Clarke, Shannon is one of the fortunate. She survived when the odds weren’t in her favor.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” she said. “I’ve always cherished my family but now I appreciate every moment more than I ever did.”
For more information on brain aneurysms, including symptoms to watch for, speak with your health care provider.