“I was definitely living the dream, not a care in the world. Then all of sudden, that all stopped.”
It was just a normal day, until it wasn’t. Christina Cotuno, 31, had just returned to her apartment; the next thing she remembers is waking up with an excruciating headache
“At that point I knew something wasn’t right and called Kelly,” says Christina.
Her best friend since childhood, Kelly Gleason, RN, 30, is a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. When she got the call from Christina, she knew something was wrong, so she immediately hailed a cab. When Kelly arrived and the doorman couldn’t reach Christina, police and paramedics responded and found her unresponsive
Emergency Brain Surgery
Two hours later, Christina was having emergency brain surgery for an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that had ruptured, causing bleeding in her brain. “In an AVM, there’s an abnormal connection between the arteries and the veins. In Christina’s case, her arteriovenous malformation burst – bleeding into her brain and putting her into a coma,” says Babak S. Jahromi, MD, PhD, director of cerebrovascular surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Christina would undergo two brain surgeries in two months. Joshua M. Rosenow, MD, director of functional neurosurgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, performed them both — the emergency surgery to stabilize her, and a second surgery to correct the AVM. But the episode had taken its toll. It would take nine months of rehabilitation for Christina to regain her speech and cognitive abilities.
“When I got to rehabilitation, my first day was definitely the most difficult. I didn’t stop crying. You can’t help but feel so defeated and helpless,” says Christina.
“I’m now five years out, and I’m so grateful. I call myself the unluckiest, luckiest girl because if Kelly hadn’t taken me seriously over the phone, I’m assuming that I wouldn’t have lived,” says Christina.
Kelly adds, “Christina’s life changed in one night. What she went through is unimaginable for most people, and I’m so thankful to our Neurology Department for taking such good care of her. She somehow has become the person she was before all this happened.”
“It’s extremely gratifying to see how well she’s done. It’s what all this is about and why we do what we do,” says Dr. Rosenow.
The best friends’ lives are forever altered. Christina and her family have made it their mission to advocate for others. “It’s changed who I am and what’s important to me,” Christina explains. “I want to do whatever I can to raise awareness and help other people going through these situations.”
Meanwhile, Kelly pursued a role in the Emergency Department, where she could help others experiencing medical crises.
“If you were to write a Hollywood script, you couldn’t do a better job,” says Dr. Jahromi. “To have your life saved by your childhood best friend, who then works subsequently as a nurse in the Emergency Department that saved your life is the type of ending you see credits rolling through. It’s amazing.”
Anchored by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the No. 1 hospital in Illinois six straight years as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Northwestern Medicine offers innovative treatments and compassionate care for a wide range of neurological diseases, disorders and injuries. Learn more about the care Christina received at Northwestern Medicine’s comprehensive neurosciences programs and see her whole story here.
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