Making miracles out of a medical emergency
When Leah Speights was 35 years old, she had one of the most devastating days of her life. It just so happens it was also one of the most joyous.
Leah was a frequent migraine sufferer since her teens. In February, she was hit with a headache like she’d never had in her life, causing her to vomit. She felt weak, so she ate a bowl of cereal but vomited again.
“I decided to take a shower. When I got out, I felt like I was going to collapse,” recalled Leah. She called her sister, Belendia Williams, to come sit with her. She went to the staircase to go down and unlock the door for her but collapsed at the top. After a little while, she was able to get up and go down the stairs.
“I barely made it back upstairs and into my bed because I felt ready to collapse again,” she said.
When Belendia arrived, she found Leah unresponsive. She called an ambulance, and they were rushed to Beaumont, Wayne.
In the Emergency Center, Leah was in and out of consciousness and experiencing a lot of pain. The medical team ran tests, and bloodwork showed she was pregnant ― news that made her smile for a mere second.
Then her symptoms worsened.
“Leah’s hands clenched up, her mouth twisted a bit and it felt like she was looking through me, staring off into space,” recalled Belendia.
At first, the medical team suspected seizures and treated her with medication. While that calmed the clenching, it didn’t touch the pain, which was so bad Leah began ripping out her hair by the handful.
She was admitted to the ICU and given an MRI/MRV. Dr. Suheb Hasan, a neurologist, was called onto the case.
“He told us Leah had multiple clots on the back of her brain, with one leaking, and that she was deteriorating by the minute. He said he wasn’t sure if she would ever go back to normal after this,” said Belendia.
Dr. Hasan consulted with Dr. Sandra Narayanan, a stroke and interventional neurologist and director of the Neuroendovascular Program at Beaumont, Dearborn, Taylor, Trenton and Wayne. Together, they diagnosed Leah with extensive superficial and deep cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which are long blood clots in the main veins draining blood from the brain.
“Although she was experiencing the symptoms, the blood was still finding channels to get out of the brain so she was still awake and talking to us,” Dr. Narayanan said.
The expectant mother needed neurointerventional surgery to remove the clots. “I’d never seen anyone with this much clotting in the veins of the brain before,” said Dr. Narayanan.
Leah was transferred to Beaumont, Dearborn for a mechanical thrombectomy.
“We were in full prayer mode,” said Belendia. “There were a lot of tears and panicking, but we tried to remain calm and have faith that she’d pull through. We were just in shock because, prior to this, she was healthy.”
Because Leah was pregnant, doctors used local anesthesia for the procedure to minimize potential risk to the fetus. “Inside her skull, we were able to inject blood thinners to lace the clot and then pass suction catheters to break up and suction large portions of it out,” said Dr. Narayanan.
The surgery was a success, but the relief was short-lived.
Three days later, while recovering on 7 South, Leah began experiencing strange symptoms. Her right arm was numb, and she couldn’t speak.
Clots were forming again in the corners of Leah’s veins, leading to a buildup of pressure in her brain. She needed another surgery, and this time, Dr. Narayanan used a newer technique after consulting with colleagues over Leah’s unusual case.
“I went through her jugular vein and used medication to loosen a clot, inflated the balloon on the tip of the catheter and pulled it backward with the balloon inflated,” Dr. Narayanan explained. This enabled the balloon to scrape the walls of the vein, dislodging the clot.
The second procedure was a success.
While at Beaumont, Dearborn, Leah had her first ultrasound, which confirmed she was 7 weeks pregnant.
“That’s when I knew I was going to be a mom. It was an amazing feeling,” she said. “When I heard her heartbeat for the first time with my mom there with me, they told me her heart was strong. I can’t describe that feeling. I knew I had no choice but to be strong for both of us.”
Today, Leah revels in the joy of living with her daughter, Dakota. Born without any health issues, Leah considers her whole family lucky.
“She’s a happy, independent and smart baby. I’m really blessed,” Leah said. “I’d like to say thank you to the team of doctors, my fiancé, family and friends for all they’ve done.”