It Could Happen to You
Timothy Styler was busy managing a popular Westfield store. Then, without warning, his priorities shifted as his life hung in the balance.
The thunderclap that Timothy Styler detected on April 9, 2009, did not come rolling in from miles up in the atmosphere. Instead it was much closer to home, barreling into him from inside his own brain. "It was a Thursday morning," he says of the day that had begun like any other, with him managing a Running Company store in Westfield. "I was on a conference call, and ten minutes into the call, I felt this massive headache—the classic thunderclap that people warn you about. It was like someone was stabbing me in the back of my head."
A runner all his life (he was a track-and-field star in Cranford, where he grew up, and then a standout on the Villanova University team), Tim was no stranger to pain and no stranger to what his body should feel like. "I was in tune with my body," he says, "and I knew this was no minor thing." But he had no way of knowing just what was happening, and he was alone in the store. He was scared—that much was certain—so he called his parents, who were nearby in Mountainside. He lay down and tried to get comfortable, and remembers being able to see his parents' feet through the glass door as they arrived ten minutes later. They couldn't get to him fast enough.
Help was on the way
William and Marsha Styler called 911 as soon as they entered the store, and Westfield EMS and the Westfield Police Department reported to the scene. An officer began asking Tim one question after another, and he became violently ill. Sizing up his young age—just 27 at the time—and athletic build, they thought he might have a bad case of the flu. "We decided to go to Overlook," Tim says—a decision that quite probably saved his life. "They wheeled me into the E.R., and I was sent for a CT scan."
He was immediately sent for another, this time with contrast dye so that doctors could be absolutely certain of what they were up against. The second scan cleared up any doubts: Tim's thunderclap headache was a seven-millimeter aneurysm shaped like a boot, leaking into the anterior portion of his brain. Soon after, without warning, Tim became violently ill again. Right there in the Emergency Department, the leaking aneurysm had ruptured.
No time to spare
Everything had to happen at once and without delay. An operating room was readied and the surgical team amassed. "It was an emotional moment," he says of being surrounded by his parents, two younger brothers, and younger sister. "You don't know what's going to happen. Everything really hit me when I saw my parents in tears as they watched me sign the surgical consent forms." The surgery was not entirely without risk, but without it, he surely would die. There was no time to dwell on emotion.
In the operating room, doctors were able to perform an angiogram through the femoral artery, snaking a catheter from Tim's thigh to his brain. Titanium and platinum coils were threaded through the catheter and used to fill in the space where the aneurysm had been. (For more on neurointervention techniques being deployed at Overlook Medical Center, read "Head-strong" on page 13.) It was a textbook-perfect surgery. And so, in the very same hospital where he had been born 27 years earlier, Timothy Styler received a new lease on life.
Back from the brink
Though the surgery went as well as anyone could have hoped, Tim's road to recovery was not without complication. He suffered pulmonary embolisms in both lungs and spent about a month in the hospital. Ever the athlete, he was up to the challenge, and today he looks back on the experience with a mix of awe and appreciation. "I know the statistics," he says. "I know people with a brain aneurysm have a 50-50 chance of survival—less if the aneurysm ruptures, like mine. Brain aneurysms are silent killers."
For sure, Tim Styler knows he's one of the lucky ones. It is estimated that 6 million people—or 1 in 50—are walking around with a brain aneurysm and aren't even aware of it; many won't know until it's too late. Today, Tim is committed to supporting the Brain Aneurysm Foundation (BAF), the nation's only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to providing critical awareness, education, support, and research funding to reduce the incidence of brain aneurysms. Through his affiliation with The Running Company stores in Westfield, Summit, Morristown, Ridgewood, and Princeton, and his own race-timing company, NJ Races, he hopes to organize a run/walk to support the BAF. And when he gets married next June, he and his fiancée, Laura Debrossy, vow to make a donation to the organization.
"I know I'm lucky to be here," he says. "It's made me think, 'Someone tried to knock me off, but I'm still here for something.' And I'm going to make sure I own up to that."