More Than a Headache

The Joy Malanyaon Story
Odenton, MD

Joy Malanyaon

Joy Malanyaon

Joy Malanyaon began experiencing severe headaches in December 2016.

“It wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced before. It was radiating from the back part of the head all the way down past my shoulders to my waistline,” Joy recalls.

She is a Nursing Bed Management Coordinator at a hospital and had previously been a Cardiac Care Unit nurse, so she immediately thought it was a blood pressure issue. She used a blood pressure cuff and had blood pressure of 150 mm Hg, which is considered high. When Joy went to an urgent care, she was told to take Benadryl and see her primary care physician if symptoms persisted.


The Ongoing Headache

A few days after Joy visited urgent care, the headache worsened. She immediately booked an appointment with her primary care physician.

When she arrived for her appointment, she learned her doctor was booked for the day, so another doctor at the practice saw her instead. Joy told him her story, and he diagnosed her with a tension headache. The doctor gave her a prescription for Vicodin to help manage the pain.

“But I didn’t end up taking it,” Joy says. “I was scheduled to fly to New Zealand a few days later, and I hoped it would just get better.” She hesitated to use the Vicodin because it would have been the first time she would take it and she would be on a long flight. Instead, she took ibuprofen every eight hours. Whenever the pain returned, she thought it was just the ibuprofen wearing off.

Joy flew to New Zealand and three days after her arrival, while hanging out with family after lunch, she collapsed and was unresponsive. Her family called emergency services and Joy was taken to a community hospital emergency department, where they did a computed tomography, or CT, scan of her head, which showed her blood vessels.

That’s when they discovered the ruptured brain aneurysm.

A brain aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel that can leak or rupture and cause bleeding in the brain. Aneurysms can cause permanent brain damage and even lead to death.

“I was in a New Zealand intensive care unit for five days,” she says. “Looking back, I was really lucky. Even though I had an aneurysm, I didn’t have any brain damage.”


The Aftereffects

Looking back, she wished she had insisted in the beginning that it wasn’t a tension headache. “It was the worst headache of my life. I should’ve pushed for imaging,” she says.

This experience has changed how Joy approaches health care. She is more proactive when she walks into a doctor’s office. As a nurse, she is not on the floor providing care, but she encourages healthcare workers to be more vigilant when caring for patients.

“I was healthy, but now I educate myself more. I think about my symptoms, question diagnoses, and conduct research myself,” she says.

Joy also joined a brain aneurysm support group and brings reading materials for families and patients about the symptoms, treatment and recovery from brain aneurysms. The group is in the process of advocating for legislation that provides more funding for brain aneurysm research.

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Patients and family members have a significant opportunity to contribute to diagnostic accuracy and timeliness by actively participating in the diagnostic process. At SIDM, we are focused on providing tools and resources to equip patients to participate in achieving an accurate and timely diagnosis.