While grocery shopping last February with her husband, Jeannie had a seizure and fell straight back onto a concrete floor, striking her head.
After hearing about the accident, her brother, Mark Einbecker, MD’85, flew out to California to be by her side. Upon arriving, he learned to his amazement that Jeannie’s neurosurgeon had been a fellow classmate. Edie Zusman, MD’87, had transferred to Eden Medical Center only three weeks before Einbecker’s sister became her patient.
“When I realized that Mark was at the medical school at the same time I was and that we had teachers, friends, and experiences in common, I immediately thought of Jeannie as part of my family,” Zusman said. “At every point in my conversations with Mark and Jeannie’s husband Kevin, I thought, ‘What would I do if Jeannie were my sister?’ Also, we had a strong sense of shared values, and I have no doubt it came from our medical school training.”
Jeannie suffered two basal skull fractures and massive brain trauma. CT scans showed bleeding in two areas of the brain, one in the back of her head where she hit the ground, the other in the front where the brain bounced off the inside of the skull. In most instances, an individual would not survive such injuries, but Zusman had hope that Jeannie would pull through.
“Every time Edie and I talked about what she wanted to do, she made the right choice for my sister,” Einbecker said. “There was talk about removing part of her brain, but Edie decided to hold off, which was a huge decision.”
Jeannie underwent several surgeries, but still had a lot of swelling. A decision was made to put her into a medically induced coma to give her brain a chance to heal.
“The pressure in her brain was going up and up. She wasn’t responding to treatments. I was thinking about pulling the plug,” Einbecker said.
To cope with his sister’s condition, Einbecker took on the role of mediating between his family and the medical world.
“Edie was down-to-earth and caring to her patient and our family. She took her time and explained what was going on. She would take me aside and explain in medical terms what was happening. I appreciated she could be more frank with me,” he said. “I had the responsibility to tell our family what was going on and tried to explain the reality of what was going on instead of giving false hope. I think that is the role that I saw myself in, making sure everyone in the family was okay.”
In the end, the family decided to let nature take its course. Jeannie was taken off the medications keeping her in a coma. Once she started coming around, Einbecker worried about her recovery.
“My biggest concern was that there wouldn’t be anything recognizable about her,” he said. “With head trauma injuries, patients might not be the same person as before. Even with a partial recovery, I was concerned about where we would go from there. I was worried she wouldn’t have a good quality of life.”
Now, nine months later, Jeannie has gone through speech and physical therapies, making almost a 100 percent recovery. She plans on going back to work in the new year.
“Jeannie’s family was inspirational to me and our entire neuro ICU team,” said Zusman. “Family members were with Jeannie constantly for days and when we saw their love, it brought the same dedication from all of us. I always believed in miracles and was so glad that we had one for Mark and Jeannie.”
“It is a true miracle that she is alive and that she is my sister again. Without Edie’s surgical skills my sister would be dead,” Einbecker said. “I can never thank Dr. Zusman enough for her hard work and caring nature.”