How 21-year-old student's brush with death may have saved her family

·5-min read

On October 10, Greg Barnett’s family had settled in for the night at their Brisbane home when the father of three suddenly heard his youngest son scream out for help.

“Annie’s not well!” Matty, 15, yelled at his parents after finding his 21-year-old disorientated sister, Annie, crawling up their hallway.

Just hours earlier, the young woman, who was doing a double degree at university and working part-time, had gone to bed after complaining of a terrible headache.

“She was in a lot of pain, she looked disorientated,” Mr Barnett told Yahoo News Australia.

“She was saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’.”

Brisbane woman Annie is pictured before the brain aneurysm ruptured.
Annie, who was doing a double degree at university and working part-time, had gone to bed after complaining of a terrible headache. Source: Supplied

By the time the ambulance arrived, Annie appeared to be feeling better and was more responsive.

“They didn’t think there was too much to be worried about at first, but then the senior paramedic said, ‘No she’s got to go to the hospital, something’s not right here’,” the 57-year-old said.

His gut feeling was confirmed when a computed tomography (CT) scan at Caboolture Hospital, north of Brisbane, showed Annie had bleeding on her brain.

“It was a mad panic then,” her dad said.

The 21-year-old was rushed to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital where a neurosurgeon broke the news to her family that she had five aneurysms and one had ruptured.

“I couldn’t believe she had one let alone five,” Mr Barnett said.

An initial emergency surgery using her neck veins to try and repair the damage inside was unsuccessful, Annie had to have part of her skull removed so doctors could clip the artery from the outside.

Annie is pictured with her parents, Greg and Carol Barnett.
A neurosurgeon broke the news to Annie's parents that she had five aneurysms and one had ruptured. Source: Supplied

After eight days in the intensive care unit (ICU), she was moved to the neurological ward and steadily began talking and moving around again, but she was still suffering from bad headaches and high blood pressure.

Doctors told the family she may even be able to go home in “record time”.

“The doctor said the other aneurysms had a less than 1 per cent chance of giving us grief over the next 10 years,” Mr Barnett said.

“A second one ruptured that night.”

Annie given one to two per cent chance of survival

Mr Barnett said the second rupture “knocked his daughter for six” and one of her physicians warned the family she may not make it through the night.

Annie spent another 10 days heavily drugged and on a ventilator in hospital. She had a one to two per cent chance of survival.

“Then we got a call at 3am to rush to the hospital because she’d suffered a stroke as well,” Mr Barnett told Yahoo News Australia.

“They were really concerned, they thought that was it then.

“But Annie kept on fighting — she’s a fighter.”

Annie is seen with tape over where her skull should be in a hospital bed. Writing on the tape reads: 'No bone'.
Mr Barnett said the second rupture 'knocked his daughter for six'. Source: Supplied

The 21-year-old underwent a brain operation every day for the next five days, he said.

“Six weeks without her skull on. It’s very confronting,” the dad added.

Annie slowly recovered over the following weeks and eventually had a valve put in her brain to relieve the pressure.

“She had that put in and it was like somebody flicked a switch,” Mr Barnett said.

“Before she couldn’t walk or swallow and then that went in and the next morning she was talking to us and walking and swallowing food.”

Miraculously, the 21-year-old is now in rehabilitation and is “about 95 per cent” back to herself.

She was able to go home from the hospital on Christmas Eve.

Annie is pictured in a mirror selfie before her brush with death.
Miraculously, the 21-year-old is now in rehabilitation and is 'about 95 per cent' back to herself. Source: Supplied

Annie's aneurysm diagnosis could have saved her family's lives

In the wake of Annie’s brush with death, the Barnett family began looking into what could have caused her to form five aneurysms.

A series of tests later revealed it was linked to an “awful genetic disorder”.

Familial aneurysms are when two or more first-degree relatives such as a parent, child or sibling have proven aneurysms, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

In most cases, they are not hereditary.

Annie seen with a shaved head and a large scar in hospital.
Annie's family has discovered that they have familial aneurysms. Source: Supplied

Annie still has three and will have to undergo more surgeries in April, while Mr Barnett has two aneurysms and his wife, Carol, has one.

The 57-year-old said his mum also had two and his 14-year-old niece had "a similar problem".

“We are all likely to have brain surgeries in the next year,” he said, adding they may never have made the tragic discovery if it weren’t for Annie’s terrifying ruptures.

“In a strange, roundabout way, Annie might have saved our lives.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up to help the family financially while they are in and out of work.

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