Pregnant mum's brain 'pops' during hike with toddler daughter

·5-min read

A mum has revealed how she suffered a stroke when a blood vessel in her brain popped as she bent down to pick up her daughter.

Bridget Chiovari, 30, from Arizona, US, was on a hike with friends and their children when they stopped for a break and she took her 18-month-old daughter Liliana out of her carrier.

As the mum, who also was 24 weeks pregnant with her second child at the time, went to put Liliana back in the carrier, she felt a pop sensation in her head.

"Immediately after I felt the 'pop' I was hit by some intense dizziness and a horrific headache," she told Jam Press.

She managed to hike home and thought it would go away.

Bridget with daughter Liliana and pregnant with Roman before having the stroke. Source: Jam Press/Australscope
Bridget Chiovari, 30, was on a hike with friends and their children when they stopped for a break and she took her 18-month-old daughter Liliana out of her carrier. Source: Jam Press/Australscope

Later that evening, with the headache getting worse, her husband Chris, 33, took her to hospital.

"I told them I felt a pop, and then an awful headache," she said.

"I even said 'I've never had a brain aneurysm before but I imagine that this is what it must feel like'.

"They hooked me up to an IV bag, gave me some Tylenol, told me it was dehydration, then sent me home to 'sleep it off'.

"Within 12 minutes of leaving the hospital, I had lost my ability to form words."

Mum suffers a massive stroke

Returning to the hospital, her husband demanded a CT scan, which showed Bridget actually had an arteriovenous malformation — a tangle of abnormal blood vessels which had become so tangled, one had burst, causing a massive stroke.

Bridget had been born with the ticking time-bomb and had no idea it was there until the moment it popped.

"I had an interventricular drain placed into my skull. This allows that excess blood and fluids to leave your body while they wait for the swelling of the brain to go down. This is the part that saved my life," she said.

Bridget having treatment for AVM. Source: Jam Press/Australscope
Bridget had been born with the ticking time-bomb and had no idea it was there until the moment it popped. Source: Jam Press/Australscope

The mum didn't even know that what happened was a stroke until she joined a Facebook group for other AVM survivors and someone explained that a rupture is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

"I was completely thrown off by it. Prior to my stroke, I thought that only elderly people had strokes, and I also thought that strokes were something that happened to your heart... not your brain," she said.

"I was very confused by the whole thing for a while."

After three weeks in hospital, she was well enough to go home.

Luckily, the location of the bleed meant Bridget's mobility was not affected but it left her feeling dizzy and nauseous.

Stroke affect's mum every day: 'Dizzy'

Another miracle was that her baby was fine and Roman was born weighing in at 5lb and 14oz.

"It definitely made the rest of my pregnancy very uncomfortable to me, but my baby stayed perfectly happy and healthy in my belly," Bridget said.

"My doctors all agreed that delivering naturally shouldn't be attempted, so I did have to have a C-section at 37 weeks."

Bridget on a hike with daughter Liliana (not the day the stroke happened). Source: Jam Press/Australscope
The mum didn't even know that what happened was a stroke until she joined a Facebook group for other AVM survivors. Source: Jam Press/Australscope

Now five years on, Bridget is still impacted by the stroke and has been undergoing treatment to remove the rest of the AVM.

"It affects me every day, in all sorts of ways. I still suffer with the side effects of having a brain injury, and depression and PTSD doesn't make it any easier," she said.

"The rupture happened in my cerebellum, so my balance is affected. I get dizzy incredibly easy and walking a straight line isn't always doable.

"Tasks take a lot more energy than they used to, and keeping up with my two kids is a constant battle.

"I really try not to focus on my deficits... because at this point.. I have learned what that can do to one's mind.

"However, I have also been privileged enough to see life from an incredibly unique perspective. I see things differently, feel things more deeply, and live everyday life with such great intention."

Bridget shares story on TikTok

Since her stroke, Bridget has been having regular treatment but just a few months ago, she was told her AVM was gone.

"I've gone through a few different treatments, but the last one was linear radiation. They have a plastic mask that is made to custom fit on your face," she said.

"They then use this mask to bolt your face down to table, so that you aren't able to move your head. They zap you with some kind of radiation, and slowly over time it obliterates the AVM.

"They estimated it would take 1-2 years for the radiation to get rid of my AVM. I would go in twice a year to get scans and procedures done to check on the size of it.

"It took a little bit longer than expected, (3.5 yrs) but they finally declared it treated in November 2021."

Now Bridget has been sharing her story on TikTok with one video getting over 1.2 million views.

"So scary! Glad your husband advocated for you and you are ok!" one user said.

"This definitely needs more awareness," another added.

Bridget and baby Roman looking at a brain scan. Source: Jam Press/Australscope
Since her stroke, Bridget has been having regular treatment but just a few months ago, she was told her AVM was gone. Source: Jam Press/Australscope

A third said: "You're an incredibly bad@ss for hiking back on your own after you had a literal stroke."

Others shared stories of their own experiences.

One said: "I'm 34 and had a stroke a few weeks ago. Doctors initially tried to tell me it was a panic attack."

"I'm extremely lucky they found my AVMs in time so glad you made it through," someone else wrote.

Laura Abernethy/Jam Press/Australscope

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