LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kimberly Simpson was potentially minutes from death. She had been suffering from severe headaches for weeks and had been unable to find answers or relief from nearby medical providers. “Everybody kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me, and there was nothing I could do about it,” she said.
Experiencing another severe headache in November 2011, Kimberly, 34, went to a hospital near her home where medical personnel performed a CT scan. When the scan came back normal but the pain persisted, she asked to be transferred to UK Chandler Hospital.
Early tests at Chandler, too, revealed no major problems. Following protocol, the neurology resident physician in the emergency department contacted Dr. Michael Dobbs, director of the UK Comprehensive Stroke Program, to discuss Kimberly’s case.
Dobbs was preparing to leave for the day, but instead of going to his car, he went to the Chandler Emergency Department. Kimberly’s story heard through his years of experience raised red flags. “I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that didn’t sound right, but something didn’t, and I wanted to see her for myself,” he said.
Dobbs performed a few simple clinical tests. He noticed during the eye movement test that Kimberly couldn’t look up. “That’s an early sign of high intracranial pressure,” he said.
Her problem was a venous sinus thrombosis – the veins from her brain were blocked and the blood couldn’t drain. The routine procedure in these cases is to put the patient on blood thinners. But there wasn’t time for that in Kimberly’s case.
“The entire major drainage system in her brain was blocked,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Justin Fraser. “The pressure was getting out of control. Her scan showed she was already having strokes from the blockage of the veins.
Dobbs had called Fraser down to the emergency department to examine Kimberly. He had an idea of what needed to be done and hoped Fraser saw the same thing.
“We had to do something to relieve the pressure in her head and give her time to respond to the blood thinners,” Fraser said.
The solution was much more interventional than in normal cases of venous sinus thrombosis. “The only option for her was to literally take some of the bone of her skull off and allow the brain to swell outward,” Fraser said. “Basically popping the top on the pressure.”
Fraser removed both sides of the skull, and Kimberly received blood thinners to deal with the clots blocking her veins. After she recovered, Fraser put her skull back together. Although she experienced some setbacks, including seizures, and faced a very difficult course with serious surgeries, Kimberly is doing much better.
Today she’s working at Corbin Health and Rehab helping with patient needs. “I want to pay it forward. I’ve been where those residents have been,” she said.
From the emergency physician who made the initial call, to neurologist Dobbs who trusted his instincts and the clinical signs, to neurosurgeon Fraser who could immediately provide a surgical intervention, to hospital staff who provided after-surgery care, Kimberly’s life depended on all working closely together and bringing their best skills to bear on a moment’s notice. Dobbs firmly believes Kimberly would have died had Fraser not seen her that night.
As for Sue Simpson, she attributes her daughter’s life to one thing: “The right doctors being in the right place at the right time,” she said. “They played a huge role in her getting the surgery she needed.”