’45 minutes from death’: Fort Wayne teen saved with emergency brain surgery

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Sarah Faley had just gotten her driver’s license and was feeling “on top of the world.” Then, one 2020 summer afternoon, a disoriented feeling overcame the 16-year-old Fort Wayne girl on her drive home from work.

“I started to feel a little like, I didn’t know really what was going on,” said Faley.

The Homestead High School student was able to make it back to her house safely, but her mother was quickly able to tell that something was wrong.

“It was very strange, I asked her a couple of questions she couldn’t answer. She didn’t 100% remember where she just came from… That’s when her eyes roll back in her head and her arms just started crunching up, and I just screamed,” said Chrissy Edwards, Faley’s mother.

Faley was having a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. Later that night, her family learned she had a mass in her brain and it was bleeding.

“I remember the doctor coming in and telling me that my brain was bleeding,” said Faley. “I was like, ‘OK.’ I mean, I didn’t have anything else to say. All I could say was, ‘OK.’”

She wasn’t OK at all.

Unsure of what caused the bleed, Faley and her family traveled to Indianapolis to see a specialist. According to Dr. Jodi Smith, a neurosurgeon at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, the damage was caused by a cavernous malformation in the left anterior temporal lobe. Dr. Smith describe it as “a classic.”

To allow Faley’s brain time to heal from the bleed, a surgery for Dr. Smith to remove the mass was scheduled for about a month later. Dr. Smith added that the chances of Faley’s brain re-bleeding in the month leading up until the surgery were extremely rare.

The night before the scheduled surgery, Faley and her family stayed in a hotel about two miles away from the hospital. As Sarah and her parents sat anxiously in a nearby hotel room, nerves became panic when an unbearable headache consumed her.

“It just got worse and worse every minute, it was getting really bad that I was just sitting on my bed again I was just rocking back and forth like feeling my head I just knew that something was wrong,” said Faley.

What Faley didn’t know at the time was that the mass in her brain had essentially exploded.

The scans above were taken a month apart. The scan on the right was the original mass that Faley was scheduled to have removed. The mass on the left, that is more swollen and shifted, was the deadly mass.

As the pain became more and more agonizing and tears filled Sarah’s eyes, Edwards decided the family need to rush to the hospital immediately.

“It was a gut feeling and prayer,” said Edwards. “It was just this overwhelming mom instinct of, I’m looking at my little kid and I’m saying this is not normal.”

So the family rushed to the hospital instead of waiting for the scheduled surgery in the morning. It turned out to be a life-saving decision.

According to Dr. Smith, Faley only had 45 minutes to live and needed to undergo an emergency procedure. If they weren’t staying so close to the hospital, Faley would have either died in her sleep or on the long drive there.

“She would have died, there’s no question about it,” said Dr. Smith. “[The out-of-control mass] was compressing her third crown there, and she had a dilated pupil that was fixed and so that when that starts to happen you know that they’re going to die, you just need to act very quickly.”

The emergency surgery lasted about eight hours. Edwards said the power of prayer made the tortuous wait more bearable.

“There went my kid. I mean, there she went. I may never see her again,” said Edwards. “According to the previous doctors, she may not talk again, she may not be able to go back to high school. I don’t know. She may not come out of this. We also knew that if Sarah did not make it, she was going to be with Jesus and that was really important to me, too.”

Thankfully, her prayers, and Dr. Smith’s heroics prevailed. The surgery went flawlessly and Faley made a full recovery.

Faley’s brain scan right after the emergency surgery. On Tuesday, Faley has an appointment scheduled with Dr. Smith. It will be the first time she’s getting an MRI of her brain since the procedure. The swelling is expected to be much less prominent.

Pulled from the brink of death, Faley is now filled with gratitude.

“I just went through one of the most traumatic experiences and one of the most critical experiences one could face but, here I am,” said Faley. “I can walk, I can talk, I can run.”

On Tuesday, Faley has an appointment scheduled with Dr. Smith. It will be the first time she’s getting an MRI of her brain since the procedure. Ironically, her family doesn’t plan to drive down the night before.

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