A Journey Toward Health and Hope - NBC4 Washington

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D anielle Collins always took pride in her healthy lifestyle. She ran five times a week, avoided alcohol and never needed as much as a painkiller. But on June 5, 2017, during her favorite Pilates class, she experienced what she described as the worst headache of her life. After two days of excruciating pain, she went to George Washington University Hospital where she was shocked to learn she had a life-threatening condition called arteriovenous malformation, or AVM.

AVM can be asymptomatic for years but then, as in Danielle's case, it can lead to catastrophic intracranial bleeding. Only 27 years old, Danielle was scared and nervous. "I was very intimated about the fear of the unknown," she recalls. "I had no idea I’d lived my entire life with this ticking time bomb in my head. It could have killed me at any moment.”

Emotional Healing

Brain surgery was needed within days to stop the bleeding. While at the hospital, one of Danielle’s doctors, board-certified neurosurgeon Walter Jean, MD, walked into her room with virtual reality goggles and asked her if she was ready to fly. He then placed the headset on her face and all of a sudden she was inside of her brain.

Danielle was just introduced to the Precision Virtual Reality (VR), a device that offers 3-D views of the anatomy and helps identify possible surgical paths, something that is impossible with two dimensional MRIs or CT scans. VR helped Danielle to gain a better understanding of her condition and dull her fear.

“To be aware of what I was going through and to physically have seen it brought light to the darkness. I felt like I was part of the surgical plan and could ask intelligent questions to my doctors about my procedure,” says Danielle.

Calmness in the Midst of a Storm

Over the next 10 days at GW Hospital, Danielle's surgeons, Dr. Walter Jean and Anthony Caputy, MD, FACS, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, performed countless tests. The Saturday night before her surgery, Danielle's pain became so intolerable she couldn't open her eyes. Yet, she found peace in an extraordinary way.

The sense of peace also came with the way GW Hospital made her feel. “They treated me like a person. I was more than just a case number... In my most vulnerable moments I had a peace, had a reassurance that people actually cared about me. I mattered.”

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Danielle’s craniotomy procedure was a success. There was practically no evidence that she had the surgery; the incision on her scalp isn’t even visible through her hair. And the best news? After the surgery, the VR technology confirmed the AVM was removed for good. “I get to live the rest of my life knowing that I no longer have that fear.”

Only months removed from her surgery, Danielle was able to go back to work and run five miles in the morning.

Today, Danielle is more appreciative of all the small things she might have taken for granted. She is also giving back through a fund she created to provide resources for individuals and families to recreate a sense of home while their loved one is cared for at GW Hospital.

Virtual Reality is Transforming Surgery

For patients like Danielle, VR technology at GW Hospital is resulting in better treatment and more successful surgeries. The hospital is the first in the region to use this technology for neurology and is taking a step further by expanding the technology's usage in other departments such as the GW Hospital Thoracic Surgery Department, the first in the world to trial VR technology. Visit GWHospital.com for more information on VR technology and to learn about other advanced technologies and services the hospital provides.