I am here today because of Barrow, now I want to give back
1998 was a turbulent year in the life of Phyllis Keller. Her mother had just passed away. Her children were young. The oldest was 8 and she also had four-year-old triplets. Then there was a nagging feeling that something just wasn’t right.
Phyllis was working in marketing and communications at a rehabilitation hospital in Gonzales, Texas. Most of the patients had spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries, but another patient lingered in Phyllis’s thoughts.
“She’d been a waitress and she told me how she’d gone to set down a tray of drinks and just collapsed,” says Phyllis. “An aneurysm is an anomaly at 23-years-old. So it always stuck with me.”
Phyllis went to see her doctor, who happened to be a friend of the family. She told him that although she did not have any symptoms, she thought she had an aneurysm, which forms when an artery wall weakens, allowing it to balloon or widen abnormally.
“He said he doubted it and that you’re usually here today and gone tomorrow when you have an aneurysm,” says Phyllis. “We kind of chuckled.”
The doctor did order a CT scan, and the results were no laughing matter. Phyllis did, indeed, have an aneurysm. It was about 11 millimeters in diameter, very thin and could be lethal at any time, which is something nobody wants to hear. Phyllis had her husband, Lane, and her four children to consider so survival was the only option.
“My children had just lost their grandmother, they could not lose their mother,” says Phyllis. “I wanted to go to the best surgeon. I didn’t care if that meant Russia or China.”
During a visit to a neurosurgeon near her home in Texas. He told Phyllis he could do the surgery to clip the aneurysm, but if she wanted the best she should travel to Barrow Neurological Institute. Specifically, Robert Spetzler, MD, one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons and, at the time, president and CEO of Barrow.
“I had an angiogram to pinpoint the location of the aneurysm,” says Phyllis, who stressed she needed to have a sense of humor about the ordeal. “I told the technician that I had an 8-year-old and 4-year-old triplets. We joked about the possibility of three aneurysms.”
It turned out there was not one aneurysm, not two, but there were actually three aneurysms. They would require two surgeries. During the first, Dr. Spetzler, who had done thousands of aneurysm surgeries, clipped the aneurysm. Phyllis stayed in Phoenix with Lane for several extra days to get her staples out before going home to her children.
“I didn’t want them to be frightened by the staples,” she says. “I was home for several weeks while I got my strength back, and we returned to Barrow so Dr. Spetzler could clip the other two aneurysms.”
Both surgeries were successful giving her the time she craved with her family. Most importantly to Phyllis though, the surgery gave her children a healthy mom. She has now been to four high school graduations and four college graduations. Two of Phyllis’ children also went on to get master’s degrees. Phyllis went back to school and earned an MBA. Two of her kids have gotten married. One of her children is a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. Phyllis and her kids could have missed spending all these milestones together.
Phyllis saw Dr. Spetzler for check-ups over the years. He retired in 2017 so Phyllis now sees Michael T. Lawton, MD, president and CEO of Barrow. They are keeping a close eye on yet another aneurysm. Phyllis knows she is in the right place for her medical care and in great hands with Dr. Lawton.
Phyllis and Lane Keller have supported Barrow for years, she is alive because of the support from others before her. The Kellers are generously matching all donations up to $100,000 to further the life-saving research of the Barrow Aneurysm and AVM Research Center, founded by Dr. Lawton. Please join them in making a gift to investigate less-invasive ways of treating aneurysms or preventing them in the first place.
“My children still have their mother. I am still here today because of Dr. Spetzler. He and his team gave me the chance to continue living, and I just want to give back.”