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N4T Investigators: Rare condition nearly costs young mother her life

TUCSON – A young, healthy, mother, expecting her second child went for a hike with a group of friends.

Less than 24 hours later, doctors were racing against the clock trying to save her life.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to know more about the rare condition that nearly killed her, and why her symptoms didn’t raise more red flags.

Today, Bridget Chiovari is the picture of health playing in the yard with her husband and two young children, but two and a half years ago that picture was far from healthy.

“I remember thinking in my mind, I’m going to die,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

In September 2016, Bridget almost died. She was 27-weeks pregnant with her son, Roman, when the avid hiker hit the trails of Catalina State Park.

Bridget bent over to pick up her daughter, Liliana, and felt a pop in her head.

“It was like suddenly the worst headache I’ve ever had in my life,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Bridget felt dizzy and immediately went home, but her condition quickly worsened.

“I just remember throwing up constantly,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Bridget’s husband, Chris, also noticed his wife’s condition worsening.

“She was just slurring her words, not acting right, just being weird,” he said.

Chris then rushed Bridget to Northwest Hospital.

“They basically said it was dehydration, I think they gave me Tylenol and an I.V. bag,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Bridget was discharged around midnight, but her pain only got worse.

“We’re going home and she just starts screaming in pain. Her head’s killing her. It’s pounding, it’s going to explode, saying all this crazy stuff, and I said it’s OK, you’re just dehydrated. That’s what I thought it was,” Chris told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

The next morning, Bridget fell down and cut her lip. Chris raced his wife back to the hospital and demanded doctors do an M.R.I or C.T. scan.

That’s when doctors saw the bleeding in her brain.

Bridget, just 25-years old, had suffered a stroke.

Dr. Richard Chua, chief of surgery at Northwest Medical Center, said if Bridget did not have emergency surgery immediately she could die in a matter of hours.

A hole was drilled into her skull, and a tube was inserted to drain the blood and fluid building up in her brain.

“Immediately after placing the catheter into the ventricle it acts as a pop-off valve and relieves the pressure inside her brain cavity,” Dr. Chua told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

The surgery was a success, but Bridget would remain in I.C.U for four more weeks.

During her treatment and recovery, she was hallucinating and paranoid.

“I was thinking the doctors were trying to kill me, the nurses were trying to kill me,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Dr. Chua says she was likely born with a brain arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, which is a rare condition that is commonly misdiagnosed among pregnant women.

“Somewhere between one and five in every 100 thousand population has an AVM, so in the city of Tucson 10 people in Tucson might have an AVM,” Dr. Chua told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

The News 4 Tucson investigators learned that new research shows the risk of a type of stroke that causes bleeding in the brain is higher among women during pregnancy and in the weeks following delivery.

Researchers don’t know why that is, but high blood pressure and the heart having to work harder during these periods may put them at risk.

Bridget’s AVM caused the stroke that nearly killed her and her son, Roman, who was born by C-section while Bridget was being treated in the hospital.

“I wake up every single day just so grateful to be here,” Bridget told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Bridget isn’t back to 100 percent but she is back on the trails – hiking with her friends, holding her children tightly, and working with her brain buddy’s, a support group of young stroke survivors.

You can connect with Bridget via her Instagram account.

Bridget will also be taking part in this year’s American Heart and Stroke Association Walk. You can join her team using this link.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Edward R. Murrow Award winning broadcast journalist and Investigative Producer with the News 4 Tucson Investigators. Paul is a Tucson native, UA graduate, and licensed private investigator.
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