Getting engaged can certainly make you reflect on what’s important in life, and that’s what happened recently with Margaret Silva. After accepting her boyfriend’s proposal on New Year’s Eve, the Gloucester, Massachusetts, woman found herself thinking back on the journey that had brought her to this moment – and remembering the neurosurgeon who saved her life nearly three decades ago.
In 1994, Margaret was just 20 years old and pregnant with twins when she woke up from a nap one day with a terrible headache and trouble with her vision. Her ob/gyn sent her for an MRI, which revealed a frightening diagnosis for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman: Margaret had an aneurysm in her brain – a “bubble” protruding off a blood vessel that could rupture and cause a stroke.
At Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Margaret met a young neurosurgeon named Philip E. Stieg, already a specialist in disorders of the blood vessels of the brain. Dr. Stieg told her that the aneurysm would need to be repaired, but not until after her twins were born. Since pushing would be dangerous for someone with an aneurysm, Margaret was scheduled for a Cesarean section delivery.
The babies were on their own schedule, however, and Margaret’s water broke a month before her due date. The scheduled C-section became an emergency section, and with the twins safely home and with Margaret recovered from the surgery, Dr. Stieg scheduled the aneurysm repair.
“He was so caring,” recalls Margaret. “I was very scared, but he was very professional, very serious, and he took his time explaining everything. I felt very safe, and very glad he was my doctor.”
In that era, Margaret’s aneurysm needed to be repaired from the outside, using the open surgical clipping method. (Today many aneurysms are “coiled” using an endovascular technique that was not in common use at the time. Find out more about surgery for aneurysms.) Dr. Stieg temporarily removed a portion of her skull and repaired the aneurysm, then replaced the bone.
In spite of having undergone a difficult surgery, while worried about her babies being cared for by their grandmother, Margaret maintained her sense of humor, and tried her best to get the serious young Dr. Stieg to lighten up. “I would leave him little notes to get him to laugh,” Margaret says. “His nurse at the time, Sarah, was very nice to me, but she told me not to be so fresh! I tried to torture him to make him laugh, because he was so serious!”
“It was a pretty serious aneurysm,” Dr. Stieg recalls, “made more serious by the fact that she was pregnant when it was discovered. I was glad we were able to wait until after the babies were safely delivered to do the surgery, and even more gratified that we were able to repair the aneurysm.”
Twenty-eight years later, newly engaged, Margaret decided to reach out to her neurosurgeon. “I had never actually said thank you to him,” she says now. “I wanted to thank him for a long time, since he gave me my life back. I might not have had a life it hadn’t been for him!”
Margaret emailed the office with a thank you note, and was delighted when Dr. Stieg’s office got in touch to set up a Zoom meeting so they could catch up. A technology that hadn’t been invented when they first met brought them back together.
“I always love hearing from former patients,” says Dr. Stieg. “To hear from someone from my Boston days, someone who had such a significant episode so long ago, and who was thinking of me… that was something very special to me.”
Both Margaret and Dr. Stieg look a bit older now than they did when they first met, but they reconnected immediately. “I was so happy to be able to talk to him,” says Margaret. “I don’t forget for one day, ever, that I had an aneurysm. He has such gifted hands, and because of him I’ve been able to live a normal life. I would tell anyone with an aneurysm to trust in Dr. Stieg. He will take care of you.”
Best of all, Margaret and Dr. Stieg were able to laugh together over Zoom – and nobody had to be the least bit fresh.