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Humans · Technology

Ghanaian scientist turns the table on cerebral aneurysm

September 22nd, 2017
in:Humans, Technology
by:Kolawole Talabi
located in:Ghana, India
tags:Africa, cerebral aneurysm, Doris Osei

Few people know how to turn a catastrophe into an opportunity and fewer still will attempt to do so when the chance presents itself. Doris Osei, however, does. A rabbit researcher who survived ruptured vessels that carry blood to the brain, she now actively raises awareness in her own country about the silent killer.

‘Aneurysm’ is one of those short yet polysyllabic words that make you doubt your mastery of Standard English. You can easily mispronounce it, especially if you’re not quite familiar with the Greek etymology of everyday Anglophone expressions.

I know the term from my regular leafing through of the Oxford dictionary in my old library, but I didn’t know what it meant until I met Doris at an animal science conference in Ghana. I’d been conducting an investigation on EU trade deals in West Africa, and the beautiful weather in the seaside city of Cape Coast ― the location of the conference ― allowed for an alfresco one-on-one.

“It occurs when blood is trapped in the vessels of the brain,” Doris explains. “Thus, causing bleeding from the vessels. Sometimes, the blood leaks out, in trickles. If the vessels had burst in my own case, I’d have died.”

She remembers the event of the early hours of July 29, 2013. It started as an excruciating pain in the left side of the head that spread to her neck. After a brief dizzy spell, she was rushed to the emergency unit of a clinic. She would spend three days there. Her physician diagnosed her to be suffering from intracranial aneurysm and had her referred to the Military Hospital in Accra where she lives. Computed Tomography (CT) scans soon followed blood tests in quick succession as her condition seemed to deteriorate after brief periodic reliefs. Her speech became slurred and she couldn’t recognise the alphabet of the English language.

Doris thanks Victor Smart-Abbey, a consultant neurosurgeon who correctly pinpointed the source of the malady. The brain physician had practiced for several years in the United States.

Balloons in Bangalore

Getting excellent treatment at an affordable rate meant she had to leave her family behind in Accra and travel to India on medical tourism. In Bangalore, Doris found peace through her faith as she waited to be operated on at the Columbia Asia Referral Hospital where the surgical procedure took place on the 9th of February of the following year. Tiny wires called micro-catheters were carefully inserted into the damaged vessels, coiled into place with the aid of little balloons. To understand how delicate the procedure is, imagine inserting a cotton thread into a plastic straw to keep a blob of soda in situ. That’s balloon assisted coiling.

“Balloon assisted coiling is the technique used in wide-necked aneurysms,” says Avinash KM, the Indian neurosurgeon who treated Doris Osei. “If the neck of the aneurysm is wide, then coils will not sit in the aneurysm and they may fall into the artery, thereby blocking the circulation of blood. In such situations we use balloons instead. Doris had an aneurysm which had a wide neck, so we had to use balloon assistance.”

When Doris opened her eyes after the operation, the first thing she did was make a solemn promise to her surgeon; “I told [him] that I will do everything possible to create awareness of brain aneurysm in my country.”

For brain and bunny

True to her words, Doris established the Brain Aneurysm Foundation Ghana in October of 2014 and with the support of a few individuals her charity took off the following January. She says about 2,000 cases occurs every year in Ghana but ignorance about the condition coupled with a lack of medical facilities leads to fatalities or disabilities. In America alone, about 30,000 people suffer a brain aneurysm rupture in a year and women, more than men, suffer from brain aneurysms at a ratio of 3:2. The global burden is however put at 500,000 deaths by the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, a US-based charity that works to end the condition.

Dr Avinash who treats between 50 and 60 patients annually says the number of cases being operated from different countries is rising because of the absence of sub-speciality training. But in most instances the main issue is affordability. Treatment costs 60-80% less than what obtains in European of American hospitals. Doris took $25,000 with her on the trip to Bangalore but she only returned home with less than a quarter of the initial sum. The huge financial outlay only strengthened her resolve to help people who might be constrained to pay their medical bills. She travels around to help raise funds but that’s not all. She’s raising rabbits too.

Besides her charitable activities, Doris works at the Animal Research Institute of Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Accra where she conducts studies on how to enhance local know-how on rabbit rearing. She’s particularly interesting in how rabbits can provide a source of income for people with disabilities since these group tend to be discriminated against by potential employers. Moreover, having been bed-ridden herself after the aneurysm surgery, she knows too well that people who have limited mobility due to age or disease need to have reliable support that is fully independent of social welfare.

Besides the motive for her research, she has struck a bond with the furry critters too. She once cried when an account officer at her workplace didn’t make timely payments needed for buying feed for her lab bunnies!

“Working with rabbits has been interesting and challenging,” Doris says. And with an almost remarkable semblance with her own story with aneurysm she adds, “But sometimes you see a healthy rabbit, full of life and yet, in less than twenty four hours it is dead with no warning signs.”

Doris’ charity has plans to raise funds for sufferers of the condition. She has taken her campaigns to New York and back at home, she has already gone on the airwaves to solicit support from philanthropic organisations. If she succeeds, then the number of Ghanaians dying from the silent killer will definitely be reduced.

Article written by:
Kolawole Talabi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
“It occurs when blood is trapped in the vessels of the brain.”
Embed from Getty Images
Doris established the Brain Aneurysm Foundation Ghana in October of 2014 and with the support of a few individuals her charity took off the following January.
Embed from Getty Images
About 2,000 cases occurs every year in Ghana but ignorance about the condition coupled with a lack of medical facilities leads to fatalities or disabilities.

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