Symptoms of brain aneurysm revealed by Queensland woman who went to bed with headache: ‘Beyond scared’

When 21-year-old Queenslander Annie Barnett went to bed with a headache, she thought nothing of it.

But less than 24 hours later, doctors had to remove part of her skull after discovering that the young woman had suffered five brain aneurysms and one of them ruptured.

Annie’s family first learned of her life-threatening ordeal on the evening of October 10, 2021 when her brother let out a bloodthirsty scream that alerted her father, Greg, that something was terribly wrong.

“He just yelled that Annie was not doing well, I dropped everything and ran up to her,” says the 57-year-old father 7life.

Annie's life turned upside down overnight
Annie’s life turned upside down overnight Credit: Delivered

There Greg found his daughter in a “fit” state who tried to crawl down the tiled hallway in excruciating pain, claiming she “couldn’t breathe.”

Immediately he chose Triple Zero, but when help came Annie seemed less disoriented and was even sitting in the living room.

When paramedics examined her, they began to suspect possible reasons for the young woman’s behavior.

“They thought it might have been a panic attack or an anxiety attack,” says Greg. “She seemed to be doing better … we even thought she was fine.”

However, a paramedic insisted that the university student be transferred to Caboolture Hospital as a precaution. There Annie was given aspirin and told that she would most likely go home after six hours in care.

Lifesaving move

“She was even ready to go, she just said she was tired and wanted to go home,” reveals Greg.

But when the shift came up, a new doctor asked for scans before Annie was released.

That was the step that would save her life.

The CT scan showed that Annie had bleeding in her brain.

“Everyone’s mood immediately changed, the staff ran around her, and she was taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital,” says Greg.

Queenslander Annie Barnett, 21, had five brain aneurysms.
Queenslander Annie Barnett, 21, had five brain aneurysms. Credit: Delivered

A neurosurgeon found that Annie had five brain aneurysms, not one.

“One of them exploded,” reveals the papa.

He and his wife, Carol, 54, were distraught over Annie’s diagnosis.

She was immediately taken to emergency surgery where surgeons tried to use the veins in her throat to repair the internal bleeding.

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‘Tennis ball-sized chunk’

But after five hours the operation was unsuccessful and the doctors had to perform open brain surgery.

The doctors cleverly removed a “tennis ball-sized chunk” from Annie’s skull and placed it in a bone bank – a place where bones and tissue are usually stored and made available for transplants – to keep the skull “alive” for reinsertion.

The operation was a success, even though Annie was in a coma for the next eight days.

Annie went to sleep with a headache, and 24 hours later she needed life-saving brain surgery
Annie went to sleep with a headache, and 24 hours later she needed life-saving brain surgery Credit: Delivered

When she finally woke up, the paramedics checked for Annie every hour on the hour and asked her to wiggle her toes and tell them her name.

Surrounded by wires and tubes, Annie also wore a bandage around her head with the words “no bone” emblazoned on it.

The bandage protected her brain from the outside world until the missing piece of her skull could be reattached.

Incredibly, after a week in intensive care, Annie was transferred to a ward where her strength and determination blew the staff away.

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“You never told me Annie was going to die”

“The doctors told us not to worry too much about the other four aneurysms, they were very small and had less than a one percent chance of rupture,” recalls Greg.

In the same breath, the staff happily announced that Annie would likely be home for the next four days while she continued to lay the foundation for her recovery.

The parents swallowed the good news as they went to bed that night until Greg’s phone rang.

“The thing about doctors is, it’s not like TV, they never told me Annie was going to die.

“They kept saying things like ‘It was her turn’ or ‘She is between a rock and a hard place’,” reveals the broken-hearted father.

Annie had 13 brain surgeries in 20 days and never gave up
Annie had 13 brain surgeries in 20 days and never gave up Credit: Delivered

When he got to the hospital door at midnight, Greg’s phone rang again.

“It was the hospital, they didn’t know we were downstairs. They basically told us to hurry, ”he says.

When another aneurysm ruptured that night, Annie was again in a coma.

With a swollen brain, tubes ran inside her head to pump excess cerebrospinal fluid into a pouch next to her bed.

Despite being unresponsive, Greg and Carol never gave up and continued talking to their daughter into the wee hours of the morning.

Then she mumbled.

The staff quickly inserted a camera into her brain and noticed slight activity.

Even so, the family was told that their recovery was “between her and God” and that the medical team could not do anything else.

Annie with her parents Carol and Greg
Annie with her parents Carol and Greg Credit: Delivered

“We were incredibly scared, we tortured ourselves, we didn’t sleep,” admits Greg.

But Annie didn’t give up.

After a total of 13 brain surgeries in 20 days, she slowly began to recover.

And after six weeks, the surgeons successfully reattached her skull.

Now, after 63 days in the hospital, Annie is back home and “95 percent” back with her old self.

“This whole process was the toughest struggle of my life and I am so proud of what I have overcome,” she says 7life.

Greg can’t believe how strong his daughter is and admits the last three months have been filled with tears.

But he can finally “breathe out again”.

Genetic history

While Annie’s case was one in ten thousand, doctors suggested having the family tested for a genetic cause for the aneurysms.

They got the all-clear for Annie’s siblings, but Greg, Carol, and a handful of extended family members got the “not-so-great news.”

Annie hugs her scars and uses her story to tell others about the
Annie hugs her scars and uses her story to teach others about the “silent killer” Credit: Delivered

Carol has a large aneurysm that she is being treated for, with Greg’s scan showing that he also has an aneurysm and that he will have to undergo a craniotomy like his daughter.

“We’ll have matching scars from ear to ear. Besides Annie’s having more hair, I’ll probably have to invest in a toupee, ”laughs Greg.

Annie’s 77-year-old grandmother will also be operated on in a few weeks for an aneurysm with which she has lived all her life, and several other relatives will also be treated.

A fundraiser was launched to help the family.

“I feel very blessed to be able to save my parents because they also have aneurysms. It would have been a stressful situation to see her go through what I did, ”Annie says frankly.

“Aneurysms are silent killers,” she adds.

“They are walking time bombs,” agrees her father.


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