Born with AVM: A silent killer of young people

Some people are actually born with something called AVM, it can be life-altering, even fatal.
Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 12:05 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Every 40 seconds in the U.S., someone has a stroke. But not all strokes happen to older people – up to 15 percent of strokes happen to people under age 45. In fact, some people are actually born with something called AVM, and once it ruptures, it can be life-altering, even fatal.

Krysta Owings was 25, living her dream – working full-time in an equestrian barn – until one morning, something strange happened.

“I woke up and started having, you know, some blurry vision, little bit of balance issues,” she recalls.

In the ER, doctors diagnosed her with a ruptured AVM in her frontal lobe.

Neurosurgeon at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Gregory Zipfel, explains, “It’s a tangle of blood vessels that you’re born with. Most people have it for many, many years, often for a few decades before they find out about it.”

Dr. Zipfel says AVMs are rare and symptoms can be stroke-like, others can cause seizures, some never cause any problems at all and are found during routine scans.

“We want to get it treated, and treated pretty quickly so it can’t rupture again,” he adds.

Dr. Zipfel was able to remove part of Krysta’s skull. And using a high-powered microscope, he was able to seal off the AVM with special clips, and then remove it from surrounding brain tissue. Right after surgery, Krysta still suffered from the same symptoms.

“I couldn’t use anything on my left side of my body. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t tell time,” Krysta tells Ivanhoe.

But that did change – it took three months before Krysta was ready to get back on a horse, but she knew her buddy Swiper would not let her down.

“He’ll just take care of you. He’s very intuitive, you know, he’ll listen to you,” Krysta says about her horse.

Dr. Zipfel says 10 percent of patients who have an AVM rupture will die. Of those who survive, up to 30 percent will have long-term neurological problems due to where in the brain the rupture happened.