13-Year-Old Brain Aneurysm Survivor Inspires Community

13-Year-Old Brain Aneurysm Survivor Inspires Community

Against the Odds, Dane Issigonis makes remarkable comeback
The Issigonis family can understand the expression that it “takes a community to raise a child.” The power of a truly caring community working together is not lost on them; they have great appreciation and gratitude for their North Vancouver neighbourhood who came together when their son, 13-year-old Dane, went through a life-or-death event. 
The rallying point came when Dane, at age 11, was taken to hospital on Boxing Day, after telling his parents he had a severe headache. His father, Troy, had heard meningitis was going around and as a precaution decided to take Dane to Lions Gate Hospital right away for an early diagnosis.
Dane Issigonis

It was the intake nurse who identified unnatural movement from Dane, and fast-checked him into a resuscitation room to be observed. The doctor immediately noticed his eyes weren’t responding to light correctly — a sign that something was seriously wrong, recalls Troy.

“(The doctor) said, ‘That’s a very bad sign, I think your son is very sick, I think he’s bleeding in his brain,’” says Troy.

They would need to operate, and it was planned to rush Dane to the BC Children’s Hospital.  Yet, due to timing and available resources, it wasn’t possible. Dane’s health was deteriorating rapidly. He stopped breathing 15 minutes after arriving at Lions Gate — the doctors didn’t think he would make it.

The operation had to be at the North Vancouver hospital, and within three hours of Dane’s arrival a surgeon was giving him a craniotomy, opening his skull to remove a mass of blood and small bundle of arteries and veins (called an AVM) causing something similar to a brain aneurism.  After stopping the bleeding and removing the AVM, they kept his skull off for more than an hour to ensure his brain stopped bleeding.

The BC Children’s Hospital was told to cancel Dane’s arrival; the doctors didn’t think he’d make it.

But he did. His survival was against the odds.

Dane was transferred later that afternoon and stayed in the intensive-care unit for nine days; once his condition stabilized he was moved to a regular room. He didn’t show physical progress for 24 days, when he first moved his toe.

Next, Dane was transferred to Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, where he’d work on his recovery for three months. Dane, a quick learner, athletic elite hockey player and a determined young man, gained a range of motions back at a quicker-than-anticipated time frame, to the surprise of therapists who worked with him. 

During this difficult time, Dane’s parents, Troy and Karen, and their two older sons received an outpouring of unsolicited support from their community. 

A family friend set up an Issigonis family page on the website Lotsa Helping Hands, which offers a secure social network, and organizes tools for people needing extra support. Realizing that providing dinners for the Issigonises could be a benefit, the family friend created a schedule where friends could sign up to cook a meal. Troy recalls coming home to find fully prepared meals in a cooler on their front step for four months.

A neighbour, whom Troy had never met, made sandwiches for school lunches which her kids delivered to their doorstep. There were lunches waiting for the older sons every day for three months.

Families of Dane’s hockey teammates and friends from the North Shore Winter Club hired cleaners to clean their home. The North Vancouver community didn’t stop there.

A friend made 1,000 plastic bracelets that read “Dane #91,” Dane’s hockey number, in support of his get-well efforts.  A dad whose son played on Dane’s team made thousands of hockey helmet stickers. The sports teams and families of the North Shore Winter Club created a poster with hundreds of signed get-well messages.

Another parent bought practice jerseys for Dane’s team sporting Dane’s name and hockey number, and another had hockey blankets made with the North Shore Winter Club logo, and sold them to raise money to aid Dane’s family in future therapy costs.

Troy and Karen recall seeing strangers at work and in their community wearing the bracelets and stickers as signs of support.

“The thing that is amazing for me is that they’re busy families, I know how busy they are,” says Karen, adding when she and Troy tried to thank people for what they were doing, the families would thank them.

“They were thanking us for teaching them about community and family. It taught everybody, the whole community learned about friendship and family, and how to appreciate what you have.”

And with all this community support and care, Dane worked at making a remarkable comeback.

It was Josh Myers, program manager of the BC Centre for Ability’s Brain Injury Program, who worked with Dane and his family to transition Dane from Sunny Hill to home and to doing the things he loved.
Josh and a team of clinicians set up a community-based rehab plan for Dane who, only four months after his operation, was walking with the aid of an orthotic but still showing a pronounced left-side weakness in his hip and leg, seeing peripherally from his left eye, and using his left hand.

As rehab was based in community, Josh says activities would include a recreation assistant taking Dane Geocaching, a game where participants use GPS co-ordinates to hunt for treasures, as a way to improve his balance, co-ordination and peripheral vision.

It took nine months of hard work, but Dane built up his strength, co-ordination and balance, and was even able to lace up his skates and get on the ice again with his family.
All medical staff who has supported Dane says his recovery is remarkable. When Dane went back to visit the doctor who first operated on him at Lions Gate, he was told his survival against all odds is “legendary.” The University of British Columbia is using Dane’s medical experience as a case study.

One year later, Dane’s recovery continues. He’s back to school part time, and most importantly, he’s back at the hockey rink, this time as a sports broadcaster, reporting play-by-plays of his teammates using Internet Radio.

When asked what he’s most proud of Dane says it’s “being able to get up in the morning and move on with my life, and just not let it bother me.”
-- Audrey Kwan and Karen Issigonis also contributed to this article.
This blog was originally posted to the Abilities Express news-service of the BC Centre for Ability. To learn more about generative journalism opportunities for your organization, system or movement, please contact Peter.

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Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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