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YOUR HEALTH: Keeping brains safe and people alive

There is a new treatment for the silent killer that led to Bob Saget's death

ORANGE, California — It's the type of brain bleed that medical experts say killed comedian Bob Saget in January. 

A subdural hematoma can happen when someone falls and hits their head or if an aneurysm ruptures. 

In one in four patients, even after surgery, the brain bleed will return.

Horace Mitchell retired as president of California State University, Bakersfield.

Then he fell in his garage.

"I ended up falling backward. Then, I hit my head on the side of the refrigerator," Mitchell said.

He was confused, unsteady and sure signs something was wrong. 

Doctors diagnosed Mitchell with a subdural hematoma or a type of brain bleed.

"Which is blood that accumulates on the surface of the brain," said neurosurgeon Dr. Sumeet Vadera.

Vadera said traditionally, surgeons would drill a hole into the skull and drain the fluid. 

Many times, more blood accumulates, and a second surgery is needed. 

But Vadera is the first to successfully treat a patient using a new system called IRRAflow.

"You make a small window in the bone; you place this catheter into the area where the blood clot was," he said.

For one to two days after surgery, it continuously irrigates and aspirates the area, draining any excess blood.

"It's actually helped us and saved us from having to put the patient through another surgery," Vadera said.

Vadera explained he's not had any patients, including Mitchell, who needed a second surgery after rehab and physical therapy.

"I'm doing very well physically," Mitchell said. "And as far as I can tell, I'm doing fine mentally." 

A trauma that can lead to a stroke

Intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding into the brain tissue, is the second most common cause of stroke, occurs between 15-30% of strokes and is the most deadly.

Blood vessels carry blood to and from the brain. 

Arteries or veins can rupture, either from abnormal pressure or abnormal development or trauma. 

The blood itself can damage the brain tissue. 

Furthermore, the extra blood in the brain may increase the pressure within the skull to a point that further damages the brain. 

Treatment focuses on stopping the bleeding, removing the clot and relieving pressure on the brain. 

If left alone, the brain will eventually reabsorb the clot. 

The damage done by increased brain pressure over a long period may be irreversible

Making the right diagnosis early

Bleeding in the brain has a number of causes including head trauma caused by a fall, car accident, sports accident or another type of blow to the head. 

Other causes include:

  • high blood pressure
  • buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries
  • blood clot that formed in the brain or traveled to the brain from another part of the body
  • smoking, heavy alcohol use, or use of illegal drugs such as cocaine
  • conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including eclampsia, postpartum vasculopathy, or neonatal intraventricular hemorrhage

If you experience symptoms such as: sudden tingling, weakness, numbness, or paralysis of the face, arm or leg (particularly on one side of the body), headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, dizziness, seizures, difficulty swallowing, loss of vision or difficulty seeing, loss of balance or coordination, stiff neck and sensitivity to light, slurred speech, difficulty reading, writing or understanding speech, changes in level of consciousness or alertness, lack of energy, sleepiness or trouble breathing and abnormal heart rate, you may want to get examined by a doctor for bleeding in brain.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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