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Bothell mom diagnosed with aneurysm inspires community
Jenny and Travis Counsell of Bothell were expecting their first child in June 2009. In her ninth month of pregnancy, Jenny was diagnosed with a small brain aneurysm. After her daughter, Taya, was born by C section two days later, additional tests revealed a 3-by-5-milimeter weak spot in the artery behind her right eye. At 31, and in good health, it was decided to take a wait-and monitor-approach.
In December 2011, Jenny began feeling light-headed. After symptoms did not subside, she went to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where it was decided with advice from neurosurgeon Laligam Sekhar to do a procedure to clip off the aneurysm. Dr. Sekhar has 34 years of medical expertise, is a University of Washington professor and president of the Washington State Association of Neurological Surgeons. The eight-hour procedure by Dr. Sekhar and his team was successfully completed on Jan. 13. Jenny spent two days in intensive care and seven days total on Harborview’s third west floor.
“Life is so precious now and I appreciate family time at the park, reading my daughter her bedtime story and date nights with my husband," said Jenny, who visited her doctor last week and had a CT scan, which determined that all is well inside her brain. She will be able to return to work in about a month. "I’m so blessed to have known about this aneurysm in order to take action and be able to start a new chapter in my life. I’m forever grateful to Dr. Sekhar and his amazing team."
The story could end here, but it is about much more than a successful brain surgery. On the day Jenny went in for surgery, people from coast to coast and even out of the country were saying prayers for her. Her pastor at Eastlake Community Church and the congregation sent prayers up for a successful outcome. Jenny organized a two-page schedule for close friends and family who were going to care for her daughter and their two dogs. The schedule included medical information, release forms and phone numbers for all six people involved. In addition, she taped a bedtime story in her “mommy voice” for Taya since they would likely be apart for many days. She wrote personal cards and letters to her husband, parents and close friends that were given to them on surgery day.
Jenny learned of an organization called CaringBridge: an online resource to connect families going through a serious health event. Prior to surgery, she set up the site with her story, photos and a place for guests to leave comments. In the first week, there were more than 1,000 hits.
As Jeff in California put it, “Lisa, I, and my mom are glued to this site everyday looking for news about you.” Each evening, a family member read the special words left that day for Jenny by friends and family.
Laura Slater, Jenny’s younger sister, flew out from Milwaukee, Wis., and spent five days and four nights by her side. When asked to describe her sister in three words, Laura replied, “Courageous, strong and brave.”
Jenny’s well-planned schedule went out the window on the second day of her hospital stay. Several factors, including the snow storm and a very sick little Taya, prevented Jenny’s parents from helping with Taya’s care. Joyce Olsen, Travis’ mom, took care of the sick little 2-1/2 year old for a week. Joyce, who lives in Edmonds, drove to a Lynnwood pharmacy in eight inches of snow for a prescription. Her priceless reward from her granddaughter were the words, “Grandma, you are the best Grandma in the whole wide world.”
Travis, Jenny’s husband, works full time as a contractor with RAFN; his day starts at five and he is at work by six, and he has taken on most of the household chores and care of their daughter. He is thankful for the help from his mom and also friend Torrie Caulk.
“We are truly blessed and I am forever thankful! This has made me realize how people are willing to lend a hand and help us through this tough time. My faith has been strengthened considerably. I believe finding the aneurysm was a miracle,” he said.
One of the family’s cousins, Michele McGraw, offered and set up a resource called www.takethemameal.com.
As Michele put it, “Jenny is confident and capable, and I knew it would be hard for her to say ‘yes’ to being cared for. She has a great circle of friends and family members who wanted to do something. I was hoping Jenny could spend her energy healing. By arranging meals, we can shower her with our own family recipes and prepare them with love. There is so much healing power in that.” The meals are continuing and scheduled for several more weeks. Diandra Davies-Uttech arranged house-cleaning, dog sitting and driving.
Jenny is employed as human-resources coordinator at Corbis, a global company headquartered in downtown Seattle that licenses the rights to photographs, footage and other visual media.
Her boss, Amber Ushka, director of North American HR & Global Recruiting, said that on the day of surgery, they had a text chain to be able to keep news flowing to all members of the team around the world. Amber also had this to say about Jenny, “She is a creative thinker and works to find solutions to issues that are a win-win for everyone. She does everything with a smile and a collaborative spirit. Jenny rocks.”
Among her many activities, Jenny and her mom arrange a “Ladies Game Nite” once a month that includes both generations. For February, the group held a “hat” party and donated their usual $5 buy-in to CaringBridge; they raised $200 and celebrated Jenny’s continuing recovery. Jenny has signed on as a spokesperson for CaringBridge in the Seattle area, and a video is in the works profiling her story for their Web page.
Jenny and Travis are excited about their future, which includes a delayed trip to Cabo San Lucas, and eventually another baby.