After his successful treatment for a brain aneurysm at Mass General, Brian Snell is supporting other patients recovering from the potentially life-threatening condition.

Brian Snell, 54, was getting ready for a Rascal Flatts concert on June 9, 2018, when he developed a terrible headache. The next thing Mr. Snell knew, he was on his back in the shower and couldn’t move his legs. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.

“When they told me I had bleeding in my brain, I asked to go to MGH.”

“I remember being scared,” Mr. Snell says. “When they told me I had bleeding in my brain, I asked to go to MGH. My aunt was 54 years old when she died of a brain aneurysm, and prior to her passing she was treated at Mass General. After she died, my uncle had a variety of fundraisers that benefited the Neurology Department, so I was familiar with the work and knew they had a high degree of expertise.”

Brain Aneurysm Diagnosis

One week later, Mr. Snell woke up with a breathing tube in his throat. His doctors told him he had a brain aneurysm.

“Without any reason, major trauma or cause, Mr. Snell developed a small hole in his right carotid artery, likely because the heartbeat that pushes blood up to the brain 60 to 80 times per minute found a weak spot in the lining of the artery,” says Snell’s physician, James Rabinov, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Neurosurgery Department. “This created a hole that went all the way through from the artery into the fluid-filled space that’s around the brain. Although it came as a shock, we would likely not have found anything had we looked a week beforehand. It was a sudden onset of an abnormality.”

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Dr. Rabinov says the type of blister aneurysm Snell had is uncommon, with Mass General treating only one or two cases per year. “We inserted a wire mesh construct called a flow diverting stent along the wall of the artery,” says Dr. Rabinov. “This creates a partial barrier, thus taking pressure off the wall from blood flow. Over time, and with the pressure taken off the wall, the body heals itself.”

Stronger Every Day

Mr. Snell’s procedure took about two hours, and the hole in the artery healed completely in about three months. Incorporation of the device inside the artery wall occurs over the course of a year.

During his three-week stay at Mass General – two of which were in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit – Mr. Snell developed pneumonia in both of his lungs. A core group of physicians on the service – including Aman Patel, MD, Mass General Neurosurgery, and Thabele Leslie-Mazwi, MD, Mass General Neurology – provided care in the ICU.

Mr. Snell grew stronger every day and instead of requiring further care at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center as initially planned, Mr. Snell was discharged home. He began the next phase of healing with therapies to address his weakened strength, balance, lack of energy and constant headache through outpatient programs that support integration back into life for Mass General patients.

“When I had occupational therapy at the house, part of the therapist’s job was to get me back to being able to cook,” Mr. Snell says. “She usually tries to reteach her patients to scramble an egg, but I was able to make a three-course meal for my family. I made a tomato tartan, chicken pie with potato on top and chocolate cream Neapolitan. I was pretty impressed with myself when I finished.”

“Dr. Rabinov saved my life,” Mr. Snell says. “At this point, I will do whatever I can to give back in some way.”

Supporting Other Patients

Now, Mr. Snell says, he continues to do well and only experiences minor symptoms. Grateful for the care he received at Mass General, Mr. Snell aims to provide fellow patients with support at Mass General’s Brain Aneurysm Support Group.

Mr. Snell joined staff at an information table in the White Building corridor on Sept. 19, 2018, Aneurysm Awareness Day. Hosted by the Department of Neurosurgery, the table provided visitors with information about aneurysm care and support programs the hospital offers.

“Dr. Rabinov saved my life,” Mr. Snell says. “At this point, I will do whatever I can to give back in some way.”

To learn more about how you can support the work of Mass General’s Department of Neurosurgery, please contact us

This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.