MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – It happens across the country every 18 minutes, the rupture of a brain aneurysm, resulting in 12,000 deaths a year.
But unless you know a victim or a survivor, you've probably not paid much attention to the term or the warning signs.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes is one of those survivors and now he's hoping his awakening could do the same for you.
If you know the Beach Ball Classic Tournament, you know second term Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes never misses a game as organizer. But last December, while preparing to honor former Myrtle Beach quarterback Everett Golson – something put everything on hold.
"He says are you nervous. I said why?" the mayor recalls. "You look flushed and sweaty," he remembers Golson saying, and his wife Terri saws she saw it too.
"His face was very red and when his blood pressure spikes, that's what happens," Terri explains.
On the following day, the pain Mayor Rhodes felt was overwhelming. "When I sat down, it was like two lightning bolts going through my head. It was just like a massive, massive headache."
But it wasn't just the pain. The mayor was having vision problems too. Rhodes says the payers on the court looked out of focus.
"They said we need to get your blood pressure checked, I said no it's a headache, they said your face is red. I did and he read it and he said it was 240 over 130."
His normal count is 130/80. He tried his blood pressure medication first.
"And EMS took my pressure again and it hadn't budged and he said you need to go to the hospital. For the first time I listened to somebody and I said, you really think this and he said yes," Mayor Rhodes recalls.
But the test they performed at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center showed this was no typical headache.
"Dr. Beldon happened to call me by the time we got to the room and said John we got a problem. I said what and he said you got a brain aneurysm," the mayor sighed.
WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely asked the mayor, "You pick up that phone and they say you've got an aneurysm, what is going through your mind?"
"Honestly, I think I sort of went into some type of little shock.. but I knew I was in trouble," the mayor replied.
"And how scary is that, how do you put it into words?" Maely inquires.
To which the mayor could only say, "Pretty scary."
Holding back tears at just the thought of it all coming to an end, Rhodes says he tried to stay positive. He even joked with the Emergency Medical Technician on the ride to Charleston and laughed with the West Virginia fan who would operate on his brain.
"I said I hope you're better than your football team was," Mayor Rhodes laughs.
His wife Terri looked for levity too, despite losing two relatives to aneurysms and knowing John's father has an aneurysm on his aorta. She says she never lost focus.
"My faith means a lot to me and I was told that John was going to be fine," Terri assures.
But the pictures showed a haunting obstacle.
"John's aneurysm had an aneurysm, it was a deformed aneurysm. Which means he had a double weakness, which made doctors more concerned about his situation. And that's why they operated on him immediately," Terri details.
Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina would go in through the leg to repair the expanding artery. If that failed they'd need to go in through the head.
"They told us what could possibly happen, all of it bad. You hit something wrong in the brain and you could be a vegetable," Terri says.
The couple says doctors told them typically 90 percent of people with the condition do not survive; however, the surgery appeared to work.
"I kept whispering, you're back in your room, everything is beautiful and you're fine," Terri whispers.
"How do you put into words your feelings when you saw that he was coming to?" Michael Maely asks.
"We had more to do together," Terri replies.
But there were serious complications. A coil – like the one seen in this video – used to seal off the aneurysm slipped out of place. Then a test of the mayor's spinal cord fluid showed his aneurysm had ruptured even before surgery, sending blood into his brain and spinal fluid that can cause vessels to spasm.
It's an unthinkable scenario, but blood thinning medication and an extra ten days of testing at MUSC gave doctors the confidence to send Mayor Rhodes home. His check up in February showed no problems.
"Theoretically, I shouldn't be here. But I am and I'm going to make the best of it," boasts Mayor Rhodes.
And that means spending more time with his family, and with their new dog River.
"A rescue dog brought to me a week after I was home and so I thought I was rescued, now we're gonna rescue him," Mayor Rhodes says.
But the couple wants to rescue others by giving them a warning that could save another life. Rhodes hasn't removed his brain aneurysm foundation bracelet since he got it.
"You think brain aneurysms, strokes, older people, there is no age criteria on this," Mayor Rhodes explains. And his wife continues to say they are actually more common in women between the age of 30 and 40.
Among the warnings Mayor Rhodes missed? Even before that splitting headache in December there were vision problems – and there were other headaches.
"November, city council workshop, everything went dark in front of my eyes for like 10 seconds and basically it was like a sugar spike," the mayor recalls.
Then a short time later, "My granddaughter come running up and I picked her up and thought I had pulled a muscle, right in the base of my neck. But then when I would cough, my head would hurt.
That's when the mayor believes his aneurysm started to rupture, and offers this advice. "If you have high blood pressure and you have this problem, now you're gambling, you're taking a big chance if you don't go and see a doctor.
Smoking for decades the 69-year-old says he had cut back on smoking in the past two years. But now he says he's done.
It's a second chance thousands of aneurysm victims never get, a chance Mayor John Rhodes says he won't take lightly.
"Hopefully I can do something, things that will be rewarding to people, to help save lives," Mayor Rhodes says.
Rhodes says his surgery hasn't slowed down his desire to serve Myrtle Beach. He plans to seek re-election for a third term this year.
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