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Phoenix, AZ – When Constanza Giesemann began suffering painful headaches, the active university student chalked it up to stress at first. It turned out to be much more serious, requiring her to travel to Phoenix for a rare and complex brain surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Within weeks of having the procedure, she surprised doctors with her rapid recovery.
A psychology student at the Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, Constanza was living an active lifestyle, competing in triathlons and practicing yoga. When her headaches came on suddenly, over the course of two weeks, she wasn’t overly concerned initially. It wasn’t until she began to experience difficulty speaking, swallowing, and drinking that she realized something more serious was happening, and she saw a doctor.
“I felt like I was slurring, didn’t have control over the way I expressed myself and I even began to walk funny,” said Constanza.
An MRI revealed a brain hemorrhage and two cavernous malformations in the brain stem. Cavernous malformations are groups of small blood vessels (capillaries and veins) with widened or irregular linings that are thinner than normal and more likely to bleed. These malformations can occur in any part of the brain or the spinal cord, but can be particularly devastating when they form in the brain stem.
“After a third MRI, specialists in Mexico discovered that the hemorrhage had grown, and they recommended getting a second opinion at Barrow Neurological Institute. Everyone in my family began to do research, and we even spoke with the mother of another patient whose story gave us hope,” she said
Constanza and her family traveled to Phoenix for a high-risk surgery to repair her condition. Dr. Michael Lawton, an internationally renowned neurosurgeon who has performed more than 1,000 procedures on cavernous malformations – including 300 on the brain stem, was Constanza’s surgeon.
The surgery to remove the malformation was a success, and after just one week of physical therapy at Barrow, Constanza returned home to Mexico City, where she has been able to resume practicing yoga and return slowly to her active lifestyle. She hopes to finish her university studies in January.
“I’m very happy with Constanza’s speedy recovery and that she’s been able to return to some of her favorite activities this quickly,” said Dr. Lawton.
Each year, Barrow performs the most neurosurgeries of any hospital in the United States. It is consistently listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the best hospitals in the nation for neurological treatment and neurosurgery.
“At Barrow, we receive international neurological patients who require complex neurosurgeries such as the one performed on Constanza,” said Dr. Lawton. “Success with these kinds of procedures depends a lot on the experience of the neurosurgeons. My team at Barrow has performed more surgeries of this kind than many other teams in the world.”
Barrow is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.