by Karen Kring
One afternoon Janet Sutherland left work to walk her dog. Without warning she was struck with the worst headache of her life. She was experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm.
That was sixteen years ago. She was left blind and paralyzed. Given a three-percent chance to survive, Janet beat the odds. Today she’s recovered and thriving.
Following her recovery, she’s put much of her spare time into building awareness around brain health and increased funding for research.
To date, she’s written Nose Over Toes, a book about her recovery that includes research from The Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
She founded the Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s Chicago chapter, serves as the Illinois Ambassador for the foundation’s Stop The POP campaign to promote awareness, and is the founder and chairman of the foundation’s annual walk (which is hoped to happen in September 2020, if the pandemic subsides enough).
For the majority of the past decade, Janet has lobbied Congress for measures that would increase awareness of brain aneurysm and increase funding for research. Her goal is to make sure Congress passes a bill called Ellie’s Law, which would authorize an additional $5 million each year for five years for further research of brain aneurysms.
Recently I dug a little deeper into Janet’s life:
KK: You’ve written a book about your grueling recovery from your ruptured brain aneurysm, Nose Over Toes. What coaxed you into writing it? What do you hope to accomplish from it?
JSM: I was lucky that my father maintained a journal, which I included in my book, as well as research from the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. My parents believed in helping others and felt awareness of brain aneurysms was very important. They always felt this was something very important I should continue. I hope this book will help caregivers and survivors in the recovery process and they won’t feel alone.
KK: Nose Over Toes is your most recent book, published in March 2019. Where did you get that title?
JSM: The title “Nose Over Toes” came from a prompt physical therapists use for people they are trying to learn how to stand up. “Put your nose over your toes.”
KK: What was the hardest part of Nose Over Toes to write?
JSM: The hardest part was going back and reliving such an unbelievable tough time of my life. I also learned parts of my recovery I was not aware of and tapped into emotional parts of my life I didn’t want to deal with.
KK: You experienced your ruptured brain aneurysm in March 2004. What happened to get you physically where you are now? Do you have any lingering challenges?
JSM: Physical therapy, lots of surgeries, eye surgery, foot surgery, psychological therapy, spiritual growth and overall maturity. I do have a foot drop which requires me to wear a brace and continue to go to physical therapy. I am doing well, because I have been in physical therapy for 16 years.
KK: How have you changed, or what have you learned, during the sixteen years since your brain aneurysm ruptured?
JSM: I have learned that life experiences will help you tackle a big challenge and turn into a big lesson.
KK: Your husband, Kevin Madden, has been an advocate for survivors since you both started dating. He too is at risk for a brain event. Tell me more about that.
JSM: A year ago we discovered my husband has an AVM in his brain. An AVM is an arteriovenous malformation which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. Kevin was born with it. There are many complications which could include the AVM rupturing like a brain aneurysm.
KK: What do you think more people should understand about brain health?
JSM: Strokes can be caused by a ruptured brain aneurysm. In the U.S., 1 in 50 people have a brain aneurysm and one ruptures every 18 minutes. About 30,000 people suffer a rupture brain aneurysm each year in the U.S.. African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to rupture than Caucasians. Women are more likely than men to have a brain aneurysm at a ratio of 3:2.
KK: What can anyone do to improve their own brain health?
JSM: Don’t smoke, keep your weight down, watch your blood pressure, exercise, limit alcohol consumption and keep in touch with your physician.
KK: If someone wants to read Nose Over Toes, where can they get a copy?
JSM: To find Nose Over Toes, you can stop by the store in The Gnome Colony in Glen Ellyn, IL or order it online at www.noseovertoes.com.
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