May. 5, 2015
Posted by Jennifer Huron
Savannah Hollis, a healthy three-sport athlete who had just turned 21, was one week into her senior year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette when a sudden internal bleeding episode nearly killed her and left her severely paralyzed on her right side.
Her symptoms came on with dizziness, which she tried to sleep off with a nap, followed by balance issues and numbness, and she was rushed to the ER. Hours later, unable to speak, she could hear doctors talking beyond her hospital bed, saying they did not think she would make it. This intense experience was the first sign she had the rare disease Cavernous Angioma, caused by blood vessel abnormalities that lead to altered blood flow.
Refusing to lay idle in the hospital, she researched and read everything she could find about her condition. She met with two neurosurgeons who said the necessary surgery would be too risky, and then she met Dr. Duke Samson.
“Dr. Samson touches the cases that nobody else is willing to touch. He was exactly what I needed at that moment, to tell me how it was, and not promise anything,” she remembers.
Savannah adopted her doctor’s “no sugar coat” approach and has used it to help her long recovery. For three years, she could eat only with a feeding tube and she needed to re-learn how to swallow and speak. Now, she has graduated from college, teaches advanced placement high school biology, and is planning her June 2015 wedding.
Savannah feels thankful for her experience, saying she no longer takes things for granted. She uses her drive to help others, has served on the Board of Angioma Alliance, and has organized runs and walks as fundraisers.
“Courage means believing that you will make it to the finish line, even though you have all these hurdles. It would have been really easy to stop trying, and it is so important in recovery to keep going.”
NORD is honored to tell Savannah’s story as part of the 2015 Portraits of Courage celebration.