What started as an idyllic vacation quickly became an experience the Punches would never forget.
In April 2019, Patricia and Dennis Punches set off from Tucson, Arizona to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to celebrate nearly 50 years of marriage. The active couple planned to spend the next three weeks relaxing and enjoying the resort amenities. However, one week into their trip, a blood vessel in Patricia's brain required an immediate change of plans.
Patricia and Dennis were working out at the resort's gym when Patricia recalls feeling a bit off. Shortly after, she began to experience an excruciating headache behind her eye, unlike anything she had ever felt. It was clear she needed help — and fast. The last thing she clearly remembers is her husband, Dennis, urgently seeking medical help. At that point she never would have guessed that she would awake two weeks later in a city she had never heard of in East San Diego County.
Though Patricia cannot recall what happened during those tenuous two weeks, they were anything but uneventful, especially for Dennis. From the moment Patricia told him she was feeling unwell to the day she was discharged from the hospital more than a month later, Dennis was right by her side.
After losing consciousness, Patricia was rushed to the closest hospital in Cabo. The doctors at the six-bed hospital were able to identify that she had a brain aneurysm, but they were not equipped to treat her beyond keeping her stable. Thanks to the quick work of the medical team and Sharp HealthCare's Global Patient Services (GPS), Patricia was booked on an emergency flight to the nearest hospital in the GPS network: Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Dennis recalls the plane being barely large enough to fit himself, the three medical staff and Patricia in her bed. The plane flew at a 7-mile altitude while maintaining sea level pressure so it would not adversely affect her condition.
Three long hours after the Punches left the resort, they arrived at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Due to the complexity of Patricia's case, the team there referred her to the specialized neurovascular care available at Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Burr Heart & Vascular Center. Dr. Ryan Viets, an interventional neuroradiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont, deftly performed an innovative endovascular coiling procedure to stop the blood flow to Patricia's aneurysm.
"This procedure involved placing a small tube from Patricia's groin all the way into the aneurysm in her brain. Once the catheter was inside the aneurysm, small coils — or strands of platinum metal — were inserted into the aneurysm to seal it off," says Dr. Viets. "This minimally invasive procedure could be performed because of the specialized state-of-the-art X-ray equipment available at the Burr Heart & Vascular Center."
This less invasive endovascular procedure was also performed two more times following the initial coiling procedure in order to inject anti-spasm medication directly to the brain before Patricia was in the clear.
All the while, Dennis was steadfast in his involvement in her care and he sings the praises of the support he received from his wife's caregivers. "From giving me a cot to sleep on so I could stay with Pat the whole time to answering all of my many questions, everyone has just been amazing," he says. He also appreciated Patricia's doctors' honesty, compassion and willingness to explain every step, procedure or medicine she was given. "I'm a retired engineer. I want to know the details and the how and why about everything — especially when it comes to Pat, because she is my everything."
Dennis recalls the moment when Dr. Viets finally gave him the news that he could expect Patricia to make a full recovery. "I felt such an enormous sense of relief and gratitude," he says.
Patricia regained full consciousness while recovering in the transitional care unit. Though her journey was far from over, her positive attitude helped her improve with each passing day.
Looking at Patricia now, it's hard to believe that she has been through an international medical emergency. The couple's infectious smiles and playful and affectionate spirit overshadow any hint of the trauma they endured. Many on their care team expressed just how much they enjoyed partnering with them in their care. Their social worker, Amy Sirkin, MSW, says, "Pat is such a hard worker. She's so dedicated to her physical therapy and Dennis is so supportive. They're just the best. We were of course glad she got to go home, but we'll all miss them."
As Patricia and Dennis prepared to return home to Tucson, they couldn't express enough gratitude. "We've been to bad hospitals and good ones, but this was by far unlike anything we've experienced. This was the best possible outcome given our situation. I'm so glad we ended up here at Sharp Grossmont Hospital," Dennis says.
Although the Punches' anniversary getaway may not have gone as planned, they still feel blessed that it ended the way that it did. Thanks to the skill and compassion of their care team, Dennis' unwavering support and Patricia's strength, the retirees plan to continue their travels and hikes, and to have fun with their grandchildren — and savor every moment.
Learn more about the services offered at Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Burr Heart & Vascular Center.
Learn more about Sharp HealthCare's Global Patient Services Program.