The Alison Delgado Story Soars to New Heights

CNN’s filming of Drs. Alison and Tim Delgado included a helicopter ride. Photo by Matt Kramer/UC Health.

Dr. Alison Delgado’s story of love and survival is attracting a groundswell of media attention. On Wednesday a reporter and photographer from CNN visited the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute to gather information about neurological injuries suffered by the young pediatric resident from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who was injured in a bicycle accident Oct. 17.

Those interviewed included John M. Tew, MD, Clinical Director of UCNI; Lori Shutter, MD, Director of the Neurocritical Care Program; and Andrew Ringer, MD, an endovascular specialist with UCNI. All three are specialists with the Mayfield Clinic.

The story of Dr. Delgado and her husband, Tim Delgado, MD, an emergency medicine resident at University Hospital, is scheduled to be posted online on CNN.com on Valentine’s Day. Alison Delgado was at Mercy Anderson Hospital, being stabilized following the cycling accident, when her husband arrived via Air Care to provide assistance to a “Jane Doe” cyclist in her 20s during her transport to University Hospital. When Tim Delgado realized that the accident victim was his wife, a second helicopter and physician were summoned.

Alison Delgado, who was wearing a bicycle helmet, did not suffer the kind of traumatic brain injury normally seen in bicycle accidents. Although she suffered numerous fractures to her neck and body, her skull was intact. Inside her brain, however, the impact created significant problems. It caused a blood vessel to tear and spill blood into the space around her brain, a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Further, the injury either led to the development of a dangerous aneurysm – a bulge in the blood vessel wall — or aggravated an existing aneurysm. The discovery of a second aneurysm on the other side of her brain, Dr. Shutter said, suggested that an underlying physical condition had elevated her risk of developing aneurysms.

During a series of procedures, UCNI’s neurosurgical specialists worked to treat the aneurysm. They tried filling the aneurysm with tiny coils to keep blood from entering, and they tried to bolster the damaged artery with a flexible, mesh stent.

The artery feeding the aneurysm was fragile, however, and the aneurysm continued growing. It ruptured a second time, four days after Allison had returned home from her rehabilitation at Drake Center. Once again her husband, Tim, was called to action, only a month after her initial injury. “Her husband was the first responder in both cases,” Dr. Ringer said.

During her second period of hospitalization, Allison Delgado suffered episodes of vasospasm. The phenomenon occurs when irritating blood byproducts cause the walls of an artery to contract and narrow, reducing blood flow to the brain. During those periods, as Allison experienced stroke-like symptoms and was unable to talk, specialists in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit worked to keep her blood pressure up and to keep blood flowing through the constricted artery.

Mario Zuccarello, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and a renowned cerebrovascular surgeon, finally neutralized the aneurysm. He rerouted the blood flow around the damaged artery in a delicate procedure known as an intracranial-extracranial bypass and then shut off blood flow to the aneurysm once and for all with a clip. “It was like putting a clothespin across the base of the aneurysm,” Dr. Ringer explained.

Dr. Zuccarello successfully clipped the second aneurysm in early March.

Dr. Alison Delgado has much work ahead of her, doctors say, but with her husband at her side and her neurosurgical team cheering her on, she is charting a determined path to recovery.

— Cindy Starr

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