A hope for a second chance

Grateful patient Susan Bailey (left) stands beside her husband Tom (right)

Susan Bailey has worked in health care over the last three decades, starting as a critical care nurse before becoming a chief executive officer at several hospitals across the United States. But in November 2020, the roles reversed.

To this day, she doesn’t remember the helicopter ride that took her to a hospital after her traumatic brain injury in South Florida. Despite two CT scans, care providers initially missed an aneurysm. She consulted a second neurosurgeon, who discovered that she did in fact suffer an aneurysm, in addition to the fractured skull, lacerations and hemorrhaging.

Despite the diagnostics showing an aneurysm, the second neurosurgeon told Bailey she was okay. When she asked him what her chance of blood vessel rupture was, he gave her a low percentage — just 1% in five years. Bailey knew from there she wanted to connect with a brain aneurysm specialist in Florida.

Through a series of connections between her family and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, Bailey was introduced to Brian L. Hoh, M.D., M.B.A., FACS, FAHA, FAANS. Hoh, who serves as chair of the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, is also on the Medical Advisory Board at the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

She contacted Hoh’s office on a Wednesday. By the following Monday, she was scheduled for her consultation. She remembers how he reassured her during that consultation, noting that he spends his life focusing on aneurysm research and care.

Grateful patient Susan Bailey (left) stands beside Brian L. Hoh, M.D., M.B.A., FACS, FAHA, FAANS (right) in a pavilion.

He reviewed her scans and showed her where she had bled. Thanks to his expertise, Hoh recognized the emergency situation. He noted that Bailey was characterized as a misdiagnosis and that many patients don’t survive — she needed to go to the operating room immediately.

Seventeen days after her collapse and helicopter ride, Bailey was preparing for an operation.

“I walked around from Nov. 3, 2020, and bled until he did my surgery on Nov. 20,” Bailey said. “I’m very, very fortunate.”

She remembers going into the operating room hoping to live but unsure of her outcome.

As uncertainty mounted, Bailey found comfort from the operating room personnel. The chief anesthesiologist gathered his team for the surgical timeout, a meeting immediately before the surgical procedure. The timeout ended with every team member introducing themselves to Bailey and explaining their role in her surgery. She said that experience in the OR before surgery really grounded her, and it’s something she will never forget.

“They were so professional and caring, and that really impressed me,” she said. “I even had the chance to thank them before going under. I was in another zone, and do you know what they said to me? ‘We got you. We got you.’”

On Nov. 27, 2020, the day after Thanksgiving, Bailey was discharged. Back home in South Florida, she turned her sights toward recovery.

“This woman does not quit,” said Tom Bailey, Susan’s husband. “She is very independent.”

Bailey’s incredible recovery was quickened by her determination and home health care, along with aggressive outpatient rehab three times a week.

“People are going to look at you and think, ‘Oh, she looks fine. There’s nothing wrong with her,’” she explained. “What you are going to find out is that you will never be the same. That has really helped me a lot.”

Susan thinks about three questions every day: Why am I here? What is my purpose? How can I give back?

She believes her primary purpose is to work with survivors of aneurysms. The Brain Aneurysm Foundation offers support groups across the United States. However, the closest support group is in Central Florida. Bailey wants to offer a support group located in South Florida.

She can travel for work without limitations, and only a couple of long-term side effects linger. While she still experiences some sensory loss — taste and smell — she wants to give people the hope they need after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

“Initially, you don’t know after you survive, after the surgery, how much you will have to deal with,” she said. “The magnitude of recovery is huge, but I am forever indebted to Dr. Hoh and his team.”

Bailey last visited UF Health and Hoh in September.

She said she will always feel a bond with Hoh because ‘he went into my brain, my very being.’

“I’m very lucky that I have recovered,” she said. “If I hadn’t been connected to the University of Florida and Dr. Hoh, I probably would not be here.”

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Give Hope. Spread Joy.

Many other patients and families like Susan and Tom spend the holidays in the hospital. This season, you are invited to spread a message of joy to patients and staff members. Entering its fifth year, the “Give Hope. Spread Joy.” giving campaign encourages donors to give in support of the most critical needs of the hospital, while also providing a message of hope to those at UF Health this holiday season.