Out of Nowhere

By Rick Zeron

It’s true, life can be so unpredictable. You can go from one extreme to another and in a blink of an eye your life can change forever. The weekend of August 19, 2018 my brother Paul, nephew Kevin and I, were on one of the best mountain bike road trips we have ever had. We went up and down Northern California. Hitting riding spots in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Jose. We rode like crazy and were having such a good time… having no idea of what was on the horizon for me and how much my life was about to change in just a few days.

August 23, 2018 started like any other day for me. Gym in the morning, work then home for dinner. I get home from work and get in the shower while my girlfriend Brandy is cooking dinner. As I’m taking a shower, out of nowhere and without any kind of warning I start to get the worst headache of my life. Feeling like somebody hit me in the head with a baseball bat. I get out of the shower, I’m sweating like crazy, and I know something isn’t right. I wasn’t feeling good, I just remember thinking, this will go away soon, I’ll just ride it out. Brandy had finished cooking dinner, and her and my son Daniel were waiting for me to join them after my shower. When I get out I tell them I’m not feeling well, that I have a huge headache, and I don’t feel like eating. Brandy gives me some aspirin and tells me to go lay down on the couch while they have dinner. Meanwhile, my headache is getting worse, I was in so much pain. I felt like I was going in and out of consciousness. I remember feeling like I wanted to take a nap, thinking maybe it’ll help me feel better.

After they had dinner Brandy came in to check on me and noticed that I was pale and drenched in sweat. She knew something was wrong but I just kept saying that I probably caught a bug at work or something. I then go to our room to lay down and I really start feeling sick. At that point I’m getting extremely nauseous and I get up and go to the bathroom and throw up BAD, like projectile vomit . (*Sorry for the graphic details.) I come out of the bathroom and Brandy’s like ok, there’s something not right with you, I’m taking you to urgent care, let’s go. I start to plead my case, telling her no I’m not going, I’m just tired and need some sleep. She noticed I was slurring my speech and was off balance and she tells me to get in the car or she’s calling an ambulance. Reluctantly I get in the car and we head to urgent care about 2 blocks from my house. Once there, they started checking me in, taking my info and vitals and discovered that my heart rate was at 32 bpm, and I’m having a harder time staying awake. My body was shutting down. They rush me to the back room and immediately give me 2 doses of Narcan because they thought I was overdosing on narcotics….wow!

When the Narcan did nothing and the doctor did some further evaluation. And when he noticed that my left pupil wasn’t reacting to the light, he tells Brandy that he thinks I might have bleeding or swelling in my head. They called an ambulance and they transferred me to Kaweah Medical Center, which is an affiliate of the University of Southern California Keck Medical Center. That night there happened to be a Neurosurgeon from USC Keck working the ER and immediately knew what was going on with me. He ordered a CT scan to confirm. However, before I got the scan they had to intubate me. I was unconscious and aspirating on my vomit. The CT scan confirmed what Dr. Chen suspected. I had bleeding in my brain caused by a ruptured brain aneurysm, wow!! I sometimes think to myself, if Brandy hadn’t been there that night to see that something was wrong, and if I would’ve just taken a nap like I wanted to, I wouldn’t be here now, writing this. God put her there that night and I will forever be grateful for her being there.

Shortly after losing consciousness and being intubated, Dr. Chen drilled a hole in my skull and inserted a drainage tube to relieve the pressure and stabilized me. They began to prepare me for air transport to Keck, which is a three-hour drive away. The flight was delayed because of smoke from the forest fires going on at the time, so the helicopter was grounded. The next morning an airplane was sent instead and I was flown to a small airport near Keck and then driven the rest of the way by ambulance. My neurosurgeons Dr. Russin and Dr. Mack, and their amazing team were there waiting to perform a craniotomy to stop the bleeding and repair/prevent any damage. They also located two thin walled veins in my brain that looked questionable so they wrapped those up as well. With brain aneurysm ruptures, 25% of patients don’t survive the first 24 hours and 50% will die within the next three months. Of those who survive, 66% will experience permanent brain damage. About two weeks later and by the grace of God and my Keck team, I awoke from my coma, a survivor. Besides some slight short term memory issues. Besides some slight short term memory issues, (see what I did there lol) I have no permanent brain damage. Unbelievably blessed I am. God put Dr. Russin, Dr. Mack and my entire Keck medical team in my life and they saved me. I spent a month at Keck healing and in rehabilitation. Keck Medical Center and my entire team will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so incredibly grateful for them. I’m glad that my brother Paul didn’t listen to me and my wild plan to get him to break me out of Keck and take me home after I woke from my coma lol. Blessed to have an amazing family and friends that were there for me through it all. I always say that even though I was the one going through it, my family had it harder in a way. They were there day in and day out, not knowing if I was ever going to wake up, or how much, if any long term effects I might have. Brandy stayed with me at the hospital the entire time. Sleeping on couches and in waiting rooms for a month. I am extremely grateful for her being there then, and every day since.

Recently I was invited to the 2023 Los Angeles marathon by WeRunWithYou founders Kathy Nguyen and her husband Rob. Because of this life changing, crazy, humbling journey, I’ve been through, I’ve met some of the most incredible people! People I would’ve never crossed paths with. People that I now consider friends/family. Kathy, my neurosurgeon Dr. Russin, and my friend/fellow-aneurysm-survivor Laura Kern were there running in the marathon. I also met up with my friend Wendy Vallejos, and her amazing family. Wendy is another fellow aneurysm survivor who is also a marathon runner herself. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet everyone in person. It was amazing. Kathy, Wendy, Laura, and myself were all saved and cared for by the same neurosurgeons Dr. Russin and Dr. Mack and their Keck team.

Having survived and recovered from a ruptured brain aneurysm has been the scariest and most difficult time of my life. I sometimes think about the other aneurysm patients. The ones that my family and I got to know. The ones that didn’t make it back to their families. I think about how that could have been me and my family. The survivor’s guilt comes out of nowhere sometimes and is overwhelming. I thank God for his guidance and for being with me and my family the entire time and for giving me a second chance at life. I will not take for granted what he has given me. I thank him for my amazing friends and family and the happiness he has given me. #Blessed

Rick Zeron

Rick works in the home improvement industry as a lumber specialist. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and friends. Rick enjoys working out and is an avid cyclist riding, competing and participating in road cycling, bmx and mountain biking. Recently he participated in his first road cycling event in the sequoia national park foothills. Rick loves a good laugh and enjoys having a good time all around, a brain aneurysm survivor making the best of his second chance at life.

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