I had six aneurysms. I woke up in the ICU. The staff there was so gentle and compassionate. I had no fear. I was not in pain.
Sandy Tonegawa was no stranger to headaches – as a migraine sufferer, she had had them for years. So she thought little of the headache she was having on June 10, 2013, until, she says, “The next thing I knew, I wake up and I’m in the ICU.”
It turns out Sandy had collapsed from six cerebral aneurisms, which are extremely rare for someone of her age and overall physical health. Her husband, whom Sandy credits with saving her life, rushed her to NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital, where doctors inserted a drain before transferring her to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.
Unconscious for almost two weeks before waking up in Weill Cornell’s Intensive Care Unit, Sandy was under the watchful eye and care of Dr. Philip Stieg, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, who performed her first surgery. “I remember I was in the interim room when he walked in, and it was just such a delight to meet him,” says Sandy. Her initial recovery included physical, speech and occupational therapy for a month, with an “amazing, incredible” team helping her to learn to write, speak, and walk again.
In November 2013, Sandy underwent elective surgery to have her three smaller aneurisms clipped. She spent more time in therapy – this time as an outpatient. Her neuropsychologist, Dr. Amanda Sacks, developed specific activities for her to practice during recovery. “She really wanted to work with me in a way that would allow me to return to my job,” says Sandy. She returned to work, full time, in July 2014.
As a design director of sweaters at a private label company, Sandy needed to be able to create presentations for clients. “Dr. Sacks had me do a design project for an account and present it to her. Over the weeks, I would improve it and present it again. She ‘programmed’ me at a level that I needed in order to be back as a design director in a fashion company. It was amazing.”
Sandy now sees Dr. Stieg every September, which is good news for her, she says. “I am always happy to see him!” Apparently Dr. Stieg feels the same. “Dr. Stieg says, ‘We are going to be friends for life.’”