06:20am Friday 10 July 2020

Beaumont neurosurgeons save baby’s life after ruptured brain aneurysm

Kathy and Bill Janelle felt blessed after the birth of their twins, William and Shae. Though the new baby brother and sister duo arrived six weeks early, both were seemingly healthy – weighing about five pounds each. Being a very normal pregnancy with no major health concerns, Kathy, an educator and curriculum coordinator from Pleasant Ridge says, “They were about as perfect as they come.”

  Kathy and William Janelle

Unbeknownst to Kathy, in September 2012 everything was not perfect. It was a typical Monday morning in the Janelle home.

Kathy explains, “It was like any other day. The babies and their 2-year-old big sister Rowan all woke up, ate breakfast and proceeded with morning activities until nap time.”

Before putting the children down for a nap, Kathy noticed William wasn’t feeling well. The 3-month-old baby boy vomited. But Kathy, like many moms, was convinced it was nothing serious and thought he possibly had caught a “bug” that was going around.

After waking from his nap, Kathy was increasingly concerned about baby William’s behavior.

“He was listless and didn’t seem like himself,” she says. “I picked him up and called my dad and asked him to come over so I could take William to the pediatrician’s office.”

And that’s when Kathy believed she experienced a divine intervention.

While she was preparing to leave for the doctor’s office, only a mile away, Kathy’s mother, who was not in contact with Kathy that morning, unexpectedly arrived at her daughter’s home – the same time William had stopped breathing. Kathy instructed her mom to drive them over to the office so they could get oxygen for William.

“He stopped breathing. He started turning blue,” Kathy recalls.

Holding her son face down in her lap and praying for a miracle, William’s breathing returned.

An ambulance transported William from the pediatrician’s office to Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, where he was immediately evaluated by emergency staff. Initial images showed a large mass on his brain. It appeared that William had a brain tumor or an aneurysm and would require surgery that could last 10 – 12 hours. The following day, the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Holly Gilmer, M.D., ordered a follow-up imaging study.

While Kathy held her son in her arms praying for a safe surgery and preparing for the worst case scenario, her family priests were called to bless baby William and pray with the Janelles.

The detailed images revealed the large mass was not a tumor. Baby William was suffering from a ruptured giant brain aneurysm, something that is extremely rare and fatal in infants. Immediate surgery was required.

A brain aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the wall of an artery in the brain; giant aneurysms are usually larger than one inch. This ballooning weakens the vessels and can burst, causing bleeding into the brain.

“Most brain aneurysms are thought to be congenital, meaning a child is born with it.” says Dr. Gilmer.

Because of the complexity of William’s condition, Dr. Gilmer enlisted the neurovascular expertise and collaboration of Daniel Pieper, M.D., director of Neuro-Oncology and Fernando Diaz, M.D., director of Neurosurgery. William’s team of neurosurgery miracle workers successfully executed a surgical clipping procedure. Starting with a craniotomy, baby William’s skull was opened to expose the base of the aneurysm.  A surgical clip was then placed across the base of the aneurysm to prevent any more blood flow into the brain.

Less than four hours later, surgery was complete.

“I remember Dr. Gilmer coming out of surgery to tell me that it turned out better than she thought. From there, we took it second by second because he still couldn’t breathe on his own,” recalls Kathy, who was comforted by her husband, family and friends throughout the surgery and five weeks William spent in recovery.

 Kathy Janelle watches while her son William
 practices arm stretches with Physical Therapist, 
 Kristen Bielecki.

William stayed in the Pediatric Intensive Care unit at Beaumont Children’s Hospital for the first four weeks before having brain shunt surgery.  A shunt is a narrow piece of tubing that is inserted in the brain to relieve pressure. The extra brain fluid is drained to a different area of the body where it can be absorbed more quickly.

“There have been many ups and downs during his recovery process,” Kathy and Bill write in an email to family and friends. “The beautiful news is that the ups have outnumbered the downs and William is in a relatively good place… The surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all of the staff at Beaumont have been a tremendous blessing to our family.”

One week later, Kathy and Bill’s baby boy was released from the hospital.

The Janelle family felt extremely blessed for baby William to finally return home, but knew he would have to have regular therapy to relearn how to eat, drink and make sounds. “When we came home from the hospital, he was completely mute, making no noise,” says Kathy.

Raised a devout Catholic, Kathy says her faith has carried her through this trying experience. She says she continually feels blessed, especially recently, “On Christmas Eve, William made his first sound. And, three days before Mother’s Day he said ‘mom.’ We feel we have experienced a true miracle and divine intervention.”  She adds, “We are looking forward to William’s continued healing and progress.”

As William approaches his first birthday, he continues therapy with his team of physical, occupational, speech and vision therapists to help him reach developmental milestones. He also has regular appointments with his team of Beaumont doctors including, pediatric neurologist and epileptologist Daniel Arndt, M.D., director of Pediatric Epilepsy, who regulates William’s medications and monitors his brain activity.

Beaumont Health System.


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