The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 12, 2021 1:00 am

Life back to normal after brain surgery

Local teen underwent procedure nearly year ago

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Neurosurgeon Dr. Jodi Smith began to pray for Sarah Faley as she raced to the hospital Sept. 23.

What the doctor didn't know was that other people were praying for her patient as well.

Faley's parents believe a miracle happened that night, which nearly a year later is hard to explain.

It began Aug. 22, 2020, after Faley, 16, drove home from a visit with a friend and began feeling woozy and nauseated as she sat in the driveway. Her mother, Kristi Edwards, and stepfather, Judd Edwards, started asking questions, but Faley wasn't making any sense.

When Faley started experiencing a seizure, her mother called 911.

Doctors at Parkview Regional Medical Center found bleeding on the left side of Faley's brain so the decision was made to airlift her to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for specialized care.

“The whole thing was white noise after they said her brain was bleeding,” Kristi Edwards said.

The damage was a very small bleed, just enough to cause the seizure. However, Faley had been experiencing short seizures for several years, often when she was working out or running. Faley described it as something “caused the noise to get all blurry,” and then it would quickly go away. There was no pattern, and the timing was never significant.

While Faley spent four days at Riley, her father, Matt Faley, reached out to a friend at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital who suggested the family meet with Smith. In fact, a photo of Faley's MRI was texted to Smith while she was playing softball.

Smith immediately diagnosed a cavernous vascular malformation, describing it as if one of the bumps on a raspberry was bleeding. She said Faley's brain needed to rest and scheduled surgery for the following month.

“(Dr. Smith) was so cool and so obviously professional about it,” Kristi Edwards said. “We always felt (Sarah) was in the perfect hands.”

Except for a couple of tests scheduled in Indianapolis, Faley continued as a swim instructor at the YMCA, attended youth group and sang with the worship band at The Chapel.

The day before the Sept. 23 surgery, the family arrived in Indianapolis about noon. Faley began complaining of being tired and started getting another headache.

Her mother had gone to the bathroom and when she came out, she saw that one of Faley's eyes was watering heavily. Edwards said, “Let's go,” and they went to the hospital with Faley digressing during the 2-mile ride.

The formation, about the size of a large walnut, had essentially exploded.

The doctor arrived shortly after the family, marched into Sarah's room and started dragging the bed back to the operating room because she knew there was little time remaining.

“When they called me, I just dropped everything and came in and ran to the ER and saw her lying on the gurney and knew she was about ready to herniate and die,” Smith said. “She was not responsive to my commands, she was a little bit agitated, she wasn't talking. She was swirling fast.”

Smith began operating at 1 a.m., carefully removing the mass, then cauterizing each exposed vessel.

Seven hours later, Faley was moved to recovery at 8 a.m. 

Everyone had high hopes, but no one knew what to expect. Would she be able to speak? Could she walk? No one really knew.

Two days later, Faley's breathing tube was removed, which caused her to wake up. She immediately started signaling for her cellphone.

“About an hour after that her motor turned on and she started talking and she would not stop,” Judd Edwards said. “It was so good.”

Amazingly, Faley felt very little pain and rarely used any pain medicine. Her brain felt normal.

“It was an amazingly quick recovery which is a testament that she is a survivor,” Smith said. “She's a strong-willed kid and just amazing.”

The family believes all the praying from family and friends – including the doctor – helped.

“I pray all the time,” Smith said. “I believe that prayer brings miracles and God hears and answers our prayers. I know with all my heart that I could not do what I do without his help. I knew that she was in trouble and I always pray to ask (the) heavenly father to help me know what to do and help her get through this.”

Faley missed three weeks of school but couldn't wait to get back. By the end of the semester, she was back to being a straight-A student and qualified for the National Honor Society.

A final checkup with Smith happened Aug. 3, and worries about the malformation growing back or bleeding again are gone. Scars are hidden by Faley's hair, and life has gone back to normal.

“After you go through a traumatic experience like that, you definitely have a new state of mind and confidence and mental strength and trust and confidence in your daily life so that's always pretty cool,” Faley said.

And all those prayers had Faley think about her own response to others' situations.

“I would always say when people were struggling, 'Pray for you, pray for you,' but then I was like, 'Do I actually, though?' I had so many people who I knew were praying for me, it was so empowering so it kind of inspired me to start praying for others more, but do it more actively and do it with other people so it made prayer more meaningful.”

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required