On June 9, a typical Sunday night, 13-year-old Miele Alexander was packing for a school trip to Connecticut when, suddenly, there was an unbearable pain in her head. Her whole body was weak, and she collapsed on her bedroom floor and yelled for help.
Her mother brought her to the emergency room at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where the last thing Miele remembers is telling a nurse she was dizzy. She didn't know she had a ruptured brain aneurysm and that doctors would need to perform risky surgery to save her life.
Ruptured brain aneurysms in people her age are rare -- only 5 percent of the 30,000 cases in the United States each year are in children. But Miele, who lives in Woodside, Queens, was back at the hospital Tuesday to thank her surgeons, wearing a lime green shirt, bright necklace, orange nail polish and a smile -- showing no signs she had a life-threatening condition treated just more than a month ago.
"If it weren't for you guys, I wouldn't be here," she said at a news conference with her parents.
Miele's doctors said brain aneurysms are generally suffered by adults between 55 and 60 years old. They develop at an area where an artery splits into two, and there is a weakness at the branch point. Slowly, a bubble forms that is much thinner than the parent artery and is prone to rupture, which can be life-threatening.
"My whole world was turned upside down," said Miele's mother, Lorrie Mckie. "You can't put her name and 'aneurysm' in the same sentence."
It was about 11 p.m. when Miele collapsed. Along with her trip, she was looking forward to her upcoming middle school graduation from St. Joseph's Parish Day School in Queens Village. She was anxiously waiting for her mom to leave the bathroom so she could get ready.
"I knew this wasn't a normal headache," she said.
All she could do was yell for help and bang on the wall until her mother quickly found her.
After Dr. Mark Mittler, co-chief of pediatric neurosurgery, performed initial surgery, Miele was transferred to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where doctors at the North Shore-LIJ Brain Aneurysm Center treat about 150 patients each year. Center co-director Dr. David Chalif said very few of them are children.
Miele was the second-youngest patient he has treated for this condition, he said.
On June 11, Chalif and Mittler performed a surgical clipping to treat the aneurysm, placing a clip around the base of the aneurysm to cut off blood flow to it and allow for proper flow through the blood vessels.
Surgery was successful, but recovery was tough for Miele, who stayed in the hospital until June 21.
"I was crying a lot, and I was hurting," she said. "I was wondering . . . why did this happen to me?"
But after getting advice from her aunt, she calmed down and realized God has "something for me to do later in my life," she said.
She will start high school at the Young Women's Leadership School in Queens but is excited for her summer -- after she takes the math and science Regents exams she missed while in the hospital, her mother said.
Miele was upset to miss graduation and other end-of-school festivities, but her father, Michael Alexander, promised to take her and her class to Six Flags instead, she said.
She's free to go on any of the rides, play sports and have other fun with her friends.
"I'm glad it's gone," she said of the aneurysm. "I was thinking about that all the time. I could've been gone."