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Twice Saved

July 2, 2020

An HSC patient reflects

Brenda Edmondson’s very first symptom of a life-threatening condition appeared while she was sitting in her doctor’s office at a routine check-up.

Imagine that your very first symptom of a life-threatening condition appeared while you were sitting in your doctor’s office at a routine check-up. That’s what happened to Brenda Edmondson in 2005. And that’s why she’s around to tell her story today.

“I obviously have a guardian angel,” says Edmondson, a retired federal government manager.

Edmondson was at an appointment with her family physician, Dr. Monica Czarnecka. While sitting in the office, Edmondson passed out. Her heart stopped. Her blood pressure plummeted.

“One minute I was talking to her, and the next minute I lost consciousness,” she says. “It was like a light went out.”

Paramedics were able to revive Edmondson, and she felt fine right away. Her doctor made immediate and urgent referrals to a neurologist and a cardiologist.

She underwent a battery of tests that provided no conclusive results. Dr. Czarnecka recommended a special CT scan and only then did a neurologist in the community discover the brain aneurysm that led to her loss of consciousness. (In simple terms, a brain aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain. If it bursts, the results can be fatal.)

While the neurologist discovered the aneurysm, he didn’t share the information with Edmondson. He simply wrote a letter to the cardiologist who was also investigating the case.

“I went for a stress test and they told me my heart was fine and that my symptom was probably related to my brain aneurysm,” says Edmondson. “Until that moment I didn’t even know I had a brain aneurysm!”

So, Edmondson went back to the neurologist who made an appointment for her at HSC with Dr. Michael West. The neurologist told Edmondson that she and her husband Jim should be prepared for the worst as the aneurysm was deep in the brain and might be inoperable. Needless to say, the month leading up to the appointment with Dr. West was a stressful one. But the stress lifted when they first met the legendary, now-retired Dr. West.

“The moment my husband and I met with Dr. West, it was a game changer. He said there were surgical options,” says Edmondson. “He was a really brilliant surgeon, but apart from that he had such a calm demeanour that inspired confidence. I knew right away I was in the most capable hands possible.”

Edmondson’s recovery from her surgery (a “craniotomy”) was quick and other than some manageable paralysis of her left vocal cord, there were no lingering effects from the life-saving, five-hour procedure.

“The moment my husband and I met with Dr. West, it was a game changer. He said there were surgical options,” says Brenda Edmondson.

Her family doctor continued to follow her closely and grew concerned some years later when it became clear that Edmondson’s resting heart rate was too high.

“Dr. Czarnecka understood that the heart rate issue could be related to an underlying lung issue,” says Edmondson of the 2012 discovery. “She’s thorough and stays very well informed. I am forever grateful for Dr. Czarnecka.”

A scan and an X-ray confirmed that there was a cancerous mass on her lung. And so, Edmondson was referred to Dr. Helmut Unruh at HSC. Laparoscopic surgery followed. Through three small incisions, Dr. Unruh expertly removed a portion of Edmondson’s lung. Thanks to early detection and an effective surgery, Edmondson was spared chemotherapy and radiation. Her hospital stay was a mere four days.

“He was a fabulous surgeon with a great bedside manner,” says Edmondson. “I was confident that everything was going to turn out fine.”

Dr. Unruh has since retired, and Brenda Edmondson continues to see Dr. Larry Tan, Head of Thoracic Surgery, to monitor her lungs. Fourteen years following brain surgery, and eight years following lung surgery, Edmonson is in good health. She is an avid gardener, loves to entertain guests, and is very active in her church. She is also happy to share her feelings of gratitude for HSC and encourage people to support the HSC Foundation.

“Everybody was so skilled, so compassionate, and so caring,” says Edmondson. “They made me feel like they cared about me and my recovery. That makes a world of difference for someone going through a difficult period in their life.”


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