Section: Highlights

St. Jude Neurosciences Institute: Making the Exceptional Common

St. Jude Neurosciences Institute: Making the Exceptional Common

The 75-year-old grandmother from Tustin and the 45-year-old mom from Placentia were both victims of ruptured brain aneurysms — and despite very poor odds — both would have their lives and wellbeing restored by a team of physicians and staff that specialize in redefining what’s possible.

Each initially went to the closest hospital, but were quickly transferred — just weeks apart — to St. Jude Medical Center, home to one of California’s most respected neurosciences institutes and stroke centers. Once inside the hospital’s Neurointerventional Suite, the minimally-invasive repair or “coiling” of the ruptured blood vessels was complicated by vasospasm which dangerously narrowed and weakened the arteries of both women — a complication successfully overcome during the technicallychallenging procedures.

“The survival rate for a high-grade ruptured aneurysm is very low and the odds of making a full recovery are even lower,” explains Hamed Farid, MD, MBA, medical director, St. Jude Neurointerventional Radiology. “To see patients like Joni and Amber step back into their lives, with no permanent deficits or limitations, is a powerful reminder of why optimal outcomes matter and why, for us, the only acceptable standard is excellence.”

Amber’s path to recovery included a medically-induced coma and six weeks in St. Jude’s Critical Care Unit (CCU), while Joni’s journey involved nearly five months in the CCU, much of it spent unconscious and unresponsive.

“These nurses and doctors were put on this earth to do exactly what they do,” explains Don Feldman, who celebrated his 54th wedding anniversary sitting by Joni’s bedside. “They looked past all the tubes and wires and fought very hard for the person underneath, giving Joni extraordinary care. It was clear to me that if it was possible for Joni to get better, it would happen here.”

According to Jacque Taylor, BSN, RN, CNRN, SCRN, a neuro-certified nurse within St. Jude’s CCU who helped care for Joni and Amber, because so many physicians and staff see their work as a calling, there is tremendous passion and commitment to returning each patient to their family. “We know the national averages for survival and disability, but we see those numbers simply as a starting point,” she explains. “Through constant research, improvement and collaboration, we’re able to make ‘miracles’ a little more common.”

Amber, who has returned to her job and her role as an active mom of a 10-year-old, says it is impossible to find the right words: “How do you thank a hospital for doing what St. Jude did for me and my family? You can’t,” she says, explaining that while her life was saved, her husband’s life was forever changed. “The almost unfathomable compassion and kindness from physicians and staff, during what was easily the worst time of our lives, made me a different man,” explains Neil, who says it wasn’t just those wearing scrubs that left an indelible impression on him.

When he sat crying in his car after first learning just how serious — and fatal — Amber’s condition was, a St. Jude parking attendant reached through the car window to put her arm around Neil’s shoulders and offer comfort. When Neil went to the hospital’s cafeteria for breakfast each morning, the cashier would ask him for updates, offer encouragement — and on one morning, pull from her pocket a book of prayers she had purchased for him. When Neil brought Amber back to the hospital to say thank you, the Environmental Services employee who provided warmth and humor while cleaning Amber’s room would be among the first to hug the couple. Physicians, nurses technologists, therapists and phlebotomists, who had cared for Amber and those who had only prayed for her — as well as Dr. Farid, who Neil says treated he and Amber like cherished friends — would each help the couple celebrate as they walked the hallways.

Joni’s husband, Don, says their experience was the same. “You’re so impressed by the kindness and skill in the CCU — and you understand why the unit wins awards — but then you realize that level of caring is everywhere,” he says, “even in the empathy of the volunteer who greeted me by name when I walked into the lobby. It’s hard to imagine another hospital could equal the level of care and compassion we received here.”

The St. Jude CCU was recently awarded the Beacon Award for Excellence (please see back cover). The St. Jude Neurosciences Institute has earned several honors, including being named an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center by The Joint Commission and American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. St. Jude is proud to be among only 100 hospitals to have earned this designation in the nation, and only 10 in the state. “The awards we’ve earned are wonderful,” Dr. Farid explains. “But, no plaque can equal helping a grandmother of eight or a mother of a 10-year-old beat the odds to not only survive, but face a complete recovery. That is the best award possible.”

To find out more about the St. Jude Neurosciences Institute or stroke center, please call (714) 446-5677 or visit

Learn more about Amber and Neil’s story by watching their video at

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