Two years ago, Beth Primrose was at home in Peachtree City with her kids, watching American Idol, when her world stopped. She would not have another conscious thought for nearly two months.
Kathleen, Beth’s oldest daughter, was right next to her on the couch. “She was fine. Then she sat up and said she had a really big headache. Then she wasn’t responding to anything. She was breathing heavy and labored. Her eyes were closed.”
Kathleen, only 16 at the time, didn’t know what to think. So she called her neighbor Mike Chrzanowski. He told her to call 911. Mike went with Kathleen to the hospital, since her dad, Beth’s husband Chris, was on a business trip.
Mike’s wife Ann stayed with Beth’s kids, Radford, 12, and Anna,10.
It had been an aneurysm, likely a congenital weakness that Beth had since birth. Beth was lucky to be alive. 30% of people who have an aneurysm burst die in the first 30 minutes.
Chris drove the four and a half hours it should have take to get to the hospital in three. From Fayette Piedmont, he was quickly on the road again, this time to get to Emory. “I heard right away they were going to airlift her. We watched the helicopter take off,” Chris said.
Beth was taken into Emory’s new neuroscience department, with progressive care and rooms. Chris was installed in a little room attached to Beth’s intensive care room.
While the care was excellent, everything that could go wrong did.
Chris said, “Everything they did was a disaster. The first three things they asked me to sign for were a port in her head to relieve the pressure, a picc line under her collarbone for medicine, and another hole they drilled in her head to monitor her.“
“They told me with the picc line there was a small chance they would puncture the lung. They did. And the lung collapsed. They had to put a hole into the lung to repressurize. It takes three or four days to get the lung reinflated.”
“The first three or four days she was on the brink of not making it. There was one male nurse who was constantly monitoring her. And he was very honest with me,” said Chris, fighting tears. “I think he saved her life. Because her blood pressure was going up and down radically. He said, ‘I think there’s something wrong with her heart.’”
The nurse was right. The enormous brain trauma from the aneurysm had caused something called Tako-Tsubo, or broken heart syndrome. This rare condition generally happens to women who are under enormous physical or emotional stress. Imagine the middle-aged woman who is robbed at gunpoint.
Beth was young and strong, in her forties. Her aneurysm had caused a hemhorragic stroke. The Tako-Tsubo was similar to a heart attack.
“The good news with Tako-Tsubo was that the heart will return to normal with time,” said Chris. He continued, “They had to wait for her to stabilize to operate.”
The neurologist told Chris that the ruptured aneurysm was in the worst possible place, in the dead middle backside of Beth’s brain.
Two week’s after that episode of American Idol, Beth was stable enough for surgery. It was a nine-hour surgery. The surgeons had only done the surgery nine times before, and they were experts.
One of the surgeons came out and told Chris that the aneurysm looked like Mickey Mouse. It was V-shaped, right where a larger artery branches into two—both sides had blown into the ear shapes. Two tiny titanium clamps were installed in Beth’s brain using magnification.
There was a question of how much brain damage might have been done. What the surgeons did know, based on the area of the brain they had operated in, was that Beth would have trouble with her voice, swallowing and balance.
For two more weeks, Beth was in intensive care at Emory. All told, Chris stayed there 28 nights, only coming home once a week for dinner with his kids. Beth’s mom stepped up to the plate to become a parent, moving in for six months.
Providence United Methodist Church, the Primroses’ church family, organized a prayer vigil. Candles lined their Peachtree City street and Chris spoke to the several hundred gathered in their cul-de-sac.
It was tough for Beth’s kids. When they visited the hospital, she couldn’t respond. Chris found it hardest to explain to their youngest. Eleven-year-old Anna wanted to know when mommy was coming home. Chris finally had to tell her that mommy might not come home.
But Anna’s mommy did get better, although recovery was slow. Beth moved to a rehabilitation center near Emory, Wesley Woods. Beth was opening her eyes, squeezing hands. She had a trach tube and couldn’t talk or eat.
The trauma of the aneurysm had damaged Beth’s eyes, slightly rupturing her retina and giving her cross-eyes and severe motion sickness. That was later fixed with surgery.
Beth started physical therapy. Sitting in a medical chair was difficult, even trying to hold her head up.
With a complete lack of control over her swallowing, Beth could have nothing by mouth, not even ice chips, because of the risk of pneumonia—especially since her lung had been punctured.
Chris said her brain started refiring. But mostly it misfired. When she was finally able to whisper, Beth would tell fantastical stories about bombs and acquaintances visiting that hadn’t been there. Once she told a story about her minivan rolling into the Mississippi River.
Beth is a naturally vivacious person with a good sense of humor. She taught preschool and sang in choir at church. These stories were not in character.
Beth got up unaided in an attempt to go to the bathroom. She fell multiple times and very nearly had to be restrained.
“Every time we walked in the room, she would want some water or some ice. I would tell her I couldn’t give it to her, and she would get MAD. One time she gave me the finger,” said Chris.
Beth had met Chris their first year at the University of Georgia. It was Drink and Drown Night at O’Malley’s Bar toward the end of their freshman year. Originally from Atlanta, Avondale to be precise, Beth said, “I couldn’t drink beer.” So Beth asked a friend what she should have. He introduced her to Chris.
Before UGA, Beth was a self-described “band nerd.” “I had bushy hair and was slightly pudgy. My older brother took me to a nice salon to get a haircut and from then on it was good hair.”
Chris and Beth dated through college and married a year after, moving around a bit until they settled in Peachtree City in 2001. Chris worked for the Treasury Department as a bank examiner, while Beth raised their three children.
Chris and Beth had been married for 22 years when this trauma started.
By the time Beth left Wesley Woods, she was taking a few steps with assistance. Beth was moved to a rehab facility that was more like boot camp.
Beth told it like this: “Swallow therapy. Occupational therapy. Physical therapy. I was still unable to swallow—I couldn’t eat for four months. They began to get me using a walker. I still had a picc line in my arm. For ten weeks I couldn’t move my arm.”
“In the blink of an eye I went from being pretty active to an invalid,” said Beth. Fully reliant on her wheelchair, Beth could not stand unaided or even transfer to the toilet by herself. This was better than the diapers and catheters that had been her hospital reality.
Within a few weeks, Beth was at home, in a downstairs room.
Throughout this time, Beth relied on a few things. “The first was a faith in God. Let me admit that I’m not the ‘perfect’ example of a Christian woman,” told Beth on her online blog. “I’ve had my share of doubt and disobedience, but ultimately I’m believing God. I can do all things through Christ.”
Beth continued, “The second thing I relied on was finding joy in whatever situation I found myself. In the beginning, this was finding something funny about situations that otherwise could be humiliating or horrible.”
“I pretended to be a pirate when a child was taken aback by the patch I wore on my eye. I laughed about trying to escape from my bed only to realize I couldn’t walk. I gave my feeding tube a cute nickname, Mr. Tubie.”
Beth became an expert in brain injury jokes, something that upset her son Radford at first. He asked her to stop, but soon, he was telling those jokes, too.
Beth also found tremendous encouragement in the love and support of her husband, kids, mother, neighbors, friends and church groups. She said, “These people took care of my needs but recognized my drive to gain independence and let me be ‘in control’ of as much as I could. It is my fight, but I never felt alone in it.”
Beth got a scan and a surgery to expand her esophagus. Food had been stopping in the middle of her throat. After surgery, her first request was for a Coca-Cola. Now, when asked what she is most grateful for, Beth will tell you, “Food!” And then she’ll laugh.
She went through a lot of physical therapy with Piedmont Fayette. They helped in getting her swallow function back. The left side of Beth’s body was weak from her vocal chords, to her legs and feet.
When Beth would attempt to take a walk, she found herself veering off, unable to walk in a straight line. “I wondered. ‘How many miles, how many thousands of miles, am I going to have to walk until I can walk normally again?’”
Beth went on a trip to Chicago with her neighbor Ann, unsure of how she would manage her bags. “There was a 67 year old who said she’d walk behind me and catch me if I fell. And I said, ‘You are not going to catch me.’”
Ann, an avid triathlete, recommended that Beth go to Allied Healthcare Clinics to see Dr. John Thomas, D.C., known as The Running Doctor.
With deep muscle tissue work, he worked on Beth’s injured shoulder, tight from inaction and her falls, and helped her build core strength in all her muscles. On a special footpad, Beth did hula moves to improve her balance.
Beth’s physical training with Dr. Thomas taught her something about inner strength. “I really feel like you should never give up. I think that’s the thing that I’ve gotten from it. If there’s something wrong, then I need to focus on it, and maybe I can improve it. I may never have great balance, but the stronger I am, the more active I am, the better it is.”
“I was inspired to do the walking. The more I walked the better I got. Every day and every week I would think, ‘I’m better.’ And it was enough to keep me going.”
Little by little, Beth got her life back. From a raspy nonexistent voice, Beth is back to singing. But there are differences; she now sings alto instead of first soprano.
Her left hand still tingles, but she can now pick up a glass. Beth’s reaction time is slowed. While on vacation she ran over someone who cut her off on a bike path.
After over a million dollars of medical care, Beth is much better. As a federal employee, Chris’ insurance covered all but $5000.
It’s given valuable lessons to Beth’s whole family. “I’ve learned how fragile life is, and how far you can come from something like this,” said Kathleen. Kathleen remembers vividly her mother coming home with no hair and a feeding tube. “There were these nasty smelling cans.” Beth’s dinner.
Beth’s husband Chris said, “You look at the positives and the tremendous support we had, and the community of God that surrounds you and you get through it. Whatever happens in this world—when something major happens to you and you don’t have faith, that’s a bad thing. When something major happens and you do, you can get through it. Faith gives you hope.”
If you met Beth, you would never know. She looks normal. Her voice is a little raspy, but nothing that stands out. She’s lovely and laughs often. Some things don’t work as they should, but she doesn’t let that get in her way.
Beth wrote, “I am still seeking the total healing that I feel God has planned for me. I will continue to work hard and trust God.”
FEATURED PHOTO: The photo on the front of the website is of Beth with her niece, Christa Reynolds (left) and daughter, Kathleen.