UPMC Neurosurgery | Jeremiah's Story

Before September 2022, Jeremiah Fielder-Bailey felt in peak physical condition.

At 20 years old, he was working 30 hours a week in a warehouse, lifting and carrying heavy items and putting them on shelves. He also was a regular at the gym.

“I was fit, I was moving, I was doing things,” says Jeremiah, from Pittsburgh’s West End neighborhood.

Then, everything changed.

Preparing for work one afternoon, Jeremiah collapsed in his home. After an ambulance rushed him to the hospital, doctors discovered he had two aneurysms in his brain — one of which had ruptured. He needed emergency surgery to survive — and then extensive follow-up care and rehabilitation to overcome the effects.

Over a year after the incident, Jeremiah has made remarkable progress. But he’s still looking to improve even more.

“I always consider myself to be a positive person,” Jeremiah says. “I’m a realist, but I’m optimistic, and this has just cemented that ideology. I am looking at where I’m at, I’m looking at where I was, and I’m still hopeful.”

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‘Basically on the Verge of Death’

A brain aneurysm is a cerebrovascular disorder in which the wall of an artery in the brain becomes weak and balloons outward. The bulging part of the artery is the aneurysm. Because its walls have thinned, an aneurysm can leak or rupture at any time.

Before his aneurysm rupture, Jeremiah was taking classes at Community College of Allegheny County and working his warehouse job. He had taken an interest in computer-aided design. He hoped to one day work for an appliance manufacturer — “one of the companies that I was putting product on the shelves for,” he says.

On Sept. 22, 2022, Jeremiah was getting ready for work in the upstairs bathroom at his family’s house when he suddenly collapsed. He crashed into several of the shelves in the bathroom before hitting the floor.

Fortunately, Jeremiah’s mother and younger sister were home that day and heard the sound from downstairs. Jeremiah’s mother rushed upstairs and knocked on the door to see if Jeremiah was OK. When she didn’t get a response, she opened the door and found him on the floor.

“The first thing you’re thinking, you’re hoping something fell on the ground,” says India Adams, Jeremiah’s mother. “But in the back of your mind, you just never know. And once he didn’t answer me, I think my mind was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I just remember I was like, ‘I’m going to knock one more time, and then I’m just busting in this door.’

“I just went in there, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And now I’m yelling because I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Jeremiah’s sister called 911, and an ambulance took him to UPMC Mercy. He was in a comatose state and needed a drain placed in his brain to relieve the pressure from the bleed.

As the surgical team was starting to place the drain, Jeremiah went into cardiac arrest and needed resuscitation.

“With pressure in his brain high enough to lead to a cardiac arrest, he was basically on the verge of death,” says Bradley Gross, MD. Dr. Gross is director of Endovascular Neurosurgery at UPMC. “He was very, very ill,” he says.

Dr. Gross and the surgical team stabilized Jeremiah. A scan of his brain showed he had two brain aneurysms right next to each other. One had ruptured, causing the bleed.

‘The main factor in terms of the overall prognosis was the impact of the initial bleed,” Dr. Gross says. “He came in in a very deep comatose-like state. His chance of a reasonable survival due to the bleed itself was less than 50% for sure.

“One thing he had going for him was his youth in general. You can battle more difficult things the younger you are.”

Dr. Gross successfully secured the aneurysms in Jeremiah’s brain. But his recovery was just beginning.

‘He’s Going to Survive This’

Jeremiah woke up the day after surgery, but the weeks immediately following his surgery held challenges.

He was experiencing cognitive effects from the brain bleed — memory problems, double vision, and vestibular issues.

“My family had to keep reminding me what actually happened,” he says. “My memory was atrocious when I woke up. I was forgetting everything short-term.

“Long-term was intact, but everything short-term was horrendous. So, they were reminding me, ‘Hey, you had an accident, you’re in the hospital, we’re here. You’re OK.'”

A short time after his surgery, Jeremiah developed vasospasm — a narrowing of the arteries that can happen after ruptured brain aneurysms. Vasospasm can cause strokes, so Jeremiah’s care team had to keep a close eye on his condition. They also had to perform additional treatments inside the blood vessels.

Eventually, Dr. Gross placed a shunt into Jeremiah’s brain that would relieve the pressure over the long term.

“It was a good month before we felt like, ‘OK, we can kind of get through this,'” India says. “But even after those three weeks, he still had to go to another floor, and he was vomiting all the time. It was just a lot happening.

“I would say for us, I think it was more like a good month to a month and a half before we were like, ‘OK, he’s going to survive this.'”

Dr. Gross says Jeremiah’s calm demeanor and his family’s support got him through the initial recovery process.

“There was a component of the family support that was uniquely powerful,” Dr. Gross says. “He had a lot of excellent family support, and that was very contributory to a successful outcome, in my opinion.”

‘I’m on My Way Up’

Jeremiah spent more than a month in the hospital — including 20 days in intensive care — after his surgery. On Nov. 1, he moved to inpatient rehabilitation in the brain injury unit.

Because of the effects of the ruptured aneurysm, he needed occupational, physical, and speech therapy.

Physical therapy focused on functional mobility — sitting up in bed, walking, and using stairs. Occupational therapy included tasks of daily living like brushing teeth and bathing. Speech therapy focused on talking, swallowing, and other cognitive improvements.

“My brain didn’t really start to get back to normal until I made it to the therapy floor and started working with the therapists,” Jeremiah says. “Just all these basic things I was used to doing, now I’m having to be in class and learn them all again.

“I think that’s when I started to realize something really bad had happened. I’m at the bottom of the mountain right now, and I’m on my way up.”

Cody Bach, PT, DPT, a physical therapist in the brain injury unit, says the therapy team connected with Jeremiah quickly.

“Someone like Jeremiah, it’s pretty easy to develop a good rapport with just because of how he is,” Cody says. “He’s one of those people that you meet and you instantly enjoy.”

Jeremiah says he had difficult moments in the rehabilitation process.

“You don’t realize how much you take for granted until you don’t get that opportunity,” he says. “I took speaking for granted. I took thinking for granted.”

But even on his most difficult days, he kept an overall positive mindset.

“He was always such a light to the unit, which is a very challenging thing to be on our unit because it’s brain injury,” Cody says. “We see some pretty heavy cases, and he gets to see them too because he’s a patient there.

“To come in with his situation and put forth the work and to still retain his character is something that is good to see from a therapist’s perspective.”

Cody also credits Jeremiah’s family — his mother, stepfather, and sisters — for providing strong support during his stay. Jeremiah spent three weeks in the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute brain injury unit at UPMC Mercy before returning home.

‘I’m Down but I’m Not Out’

Even after returning home, Jeremiah still needed help with various tasks around his house. He was vomiting every day and needed help using the stairs, walking, and bathing. He says it was the lowest point of his recovery because he had thought he would have gotten better by then.

“It was just a very big shock for me, and that was hard for me,” he says.

But over time, he showed slow, steady improvement. He continued with rehabilitation on an outpatient basis. His double vision remained, but some of his other problems — like dizziness, balance, and memory loss — began to go away.

Certain milestones became important, like preparing a meal with his stepfather. He now can do many of the things he needed help with after his injury — bathing, dressing, and preparing his own meals.

However, Jeremiah still isn’t doing some of the things he used to, like running or driving. But those are goals for him.

“I know I’ll be lifting 40-pound dumbbells,” he says. “I know I’ll be driving again someday. I’m hopeful. I’m down but I’m not out.”

Jeremiah says the support from his friends and family helped him through his journey. The entire ordeal also strengthened his faith — he began to pray more and talk to others about his faith.

Jeremiah now hopes to launch a podcast to share his story with others.

“If I could give (people) one piece of advice for the beginning and the end of the journey, and as they’re working through it, it’s this: Your tragedy does not define your story — you define it,” he says. “You can either be the victim in it or the victor of it.”

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year, making our team one of the most experienced in the world. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. Find an expert near you.