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Meet the “Miracle Girl”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 8:48 AM

Hannah Sudworth’s story is truly the stuff of miracles. It unfolded this past February when the 19-year-old Northwestern University mechanical engineering student suffered a dangerous arteriovenous malformation (AVM)—a massive brain bleed that can be fatal.

Hannah Sudworth, 19-year-old Northwestern University mechanical engineering student

From Dorm Room to Emergency Room
It was a typical Thursday afternoon. Hannah was in her Evanston dorm room when a blinding headache came out of nowhere. Initially she texted her mother, Debra, who lives in Chicago. A few minutes later Sudworth reached back out to her daughter on FaceTime—the two-way video conferencing app. She could immediately tell there was something seriously wrong with Hannah, who had become incoherent in just a matter of minutes.

Despite her deteriorating condition, Hannah amazingly was able to give her mom a best friend’s phone number, who Debra Sudworth texted to get help. Emergency help quickly arrived, broke down the door and found the young woman unresponsive in her dorm room. Paramedics rushed her to NorthShore Evanston Hospital’s Emergency Department.

“When I got to the hospital I could feel the urgency and severity of the situation, recalled Sudworth. “Hannah had about 20 people working on her. They were frantic, but professional and kind.”  

A CT scan revealed the AVM, located in the middle of the front lobe of Hannah’s brain and in very a sensitive area.

“We saw a large hemorrhage in the region of the brain that controls language. We could see abnormal blood vessels going in and out of the area, which confirmed the AVM,” explained NorthShore Neurosurgeon Ricky Wong, MD. Dr. Wong, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, reviewed the scans in the operating room with only minutes to develop a surgical plan as Hannah was prepped for the procedure.

Eyes on the Clock
“We determined the best course of action would be a longer incision,” added Dr. Wong. “It allowed us to fully expose and visualize the entire vein, so we could approach the AVM in a safer manner, and remove it completely so Hannah will never face this situation again.”

In a catastrophic brain bleed like the one Hannah experienced, literally every second counts. Had she not been rushed to Evanston Hospital in time to receive such sophisticated treatment, she could have died or suffered serious and permanent brain injury.

Miraculously Hannah started to move and respond to direction just six hours after her surgery.  Her breathing tube was removed the next morning and she began walking again a few days later, regaining strength and ability at a remarkable rate.

“When Dr. Wong came out to talk with us after surgery we were absolutely blown away by him,” noted Debra Sudworth. “He was so humble and approachable. When he came to rehab to take her stitches out, he even took the time to explain to Hannah what had happened in her surgery.”

A for Effort
The Sudworth family was not only thrilled with Dr. Wong and the surgical team, but also the entire staff  involved in Hannah’s care. “We met the most incredible people who took care of her and we became instant friends with many of them. We were encouraged and blessed by everyone from the cleaning staff to the ICU nurses. I would walk past the staff and hear them talking about the ‘miracle girl’,” relayed Sudworth.

A miracle indeed! A scan at her six week follow-up appointment showed that her brain was back to its normal state. While Hannah is still working to build up her endurance, she has no residual cognitive issues, and plans to resume her studies at Northwestern in the fall.

Best-in-Class Recovery
“She’s doing fantastic,” remarked her mom. “She’s babysitting again, walking three miles a day and back to a full schedule of church activities.”

“Hannah’s recovery was very, very quick,” said Dr. Wong. “To go from almost comatose to walking and talking in a few days is fantastic. There’s no doubt if surgery had been delayed even 30 minutes to an hour it would have been a very different outcome. She has no restrictions going forward and no permanent deficits.”

The number of fortuitous events surrounding this trauma is not lost on the Sudworths. “Hannah has traveled extensively. This AVM could have happened on an airplane or in the middle of Africa,” said Sudworth. “To us, it’s no coincidence that NorthShore has one of the best neurosurgery programs in the country and we believe God’s hand was in this in multiple ways.”

While Hannah doesn’t remember much from the traumatic event, she is forever changed.

“The most important thing I’ve learned from these past six months is how grateful I am for life. Every morning that I wake up, I’m so thankful that I get to spend another day with my family,” she said. "I thank the NorthShore medical team that took care of me, and will be forever grateful for all you did for me!”