March 19, 2021 was a packed day for Pilates instructor Angie Seow, 40.
Then 36-weeks pregnant, she had back-to-back sessions with clients from 7.30am till 2pm.
She took a break for lunch before resuming classes.
All of a sudden, she felt as though her head was being smashed.
Head throbbing in pain, she rushed to the pantry to sit down.
Her last memory was placing her head on the table to rest.
Meanwhile, her colleague noticed that Angie appeared to be asleep … but vomiting at the same time.
Suspecting that she might have food poisoning, the colleague rang Angie’s husband, asking him to hurry down to drive her to the doctor.
“I tried to wake her up when I got there, but I couldn’t,” said Angie’s husband, Adrian Yuen, 42. “It was a strange sight because her eyes were closed yet she was throwing up at the same time.”
It dawned on him that she was unconscious.
He asked Angie’s colleague to call for an ambulance.
Somehow, they managed to manoeuvre the heavily pregnant, unconscious and vomiting Angie out of the pantry.
At the A&E department of the National University Hospital, the doctor told Adrian that he suspected a stroke or brain bleed and immediately ordered a scan. The vomiting was a possible sign of an involuntary reflex action from a brain trauma.
Adrian was then summoned to a room with about six doctors. One of them informed Adrian that they found major bleeding in Angie’s brain. It was likely due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) – an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, which disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation.
“While her womb is being sewn up, the brain surgeons will come in to operate on her brain,” the doctor said.
Angie might have had this rare condition since birth, the doctors said. The pregnancy could have triggered it.
The doctor told Adrian, “We need to do two emergency surgeries. The first is for the baby – mum will be wheeled in immediately and a C-section done by the O&G doctors. While her womb is being sewn up, the brain surgeons will come in to operate on her brain.”
Shock, fear and grief overwhelmed Adrian when he realised he could lose both his wife and baby.
The doctor interrupted his muddled thoughts, saying, “I am not asking you, I am telling you that we need to do this.
“If we don’t do this, your wife will not survive. We are going to try to save her life.”
Dazed, Adrian nodded.
Only about 1% of the general population have AVM, and more than half do not survive a brain bleed.
“I was extremely fearful, anxious and sick to the stomach. I was afraid that I would lose Angie and become a single parent,” recalled Adrian. Their daughter was then three years old.
Adrian could not find the words to pray to the God he believed in since he was a child.
All he could muster was groaning to Him and calling upon Jesus‘ name as he and his mum waited at the hospital.
“I was pleading with Him, and I believe God knows and understands my groans,” he said.
He also felt comforted that family and friends from church were nearby praying for Angie.
After a few hours, Adrian received news that his baby was born.
As he held his new daughter, Natalia, in his arms, he finally broke down.
“I was overjoyed that she seemed fine but I was also in fight-or-flight mode. There was a whirlwind of emotions – joy and gratefulness over the baby, but also grief, anxiety and fear about Angie and the future,” recalled Adrian.
In the wee hours of the morning, at around 2am, he was called into the operating theatre.
“If there are more abnormal parts … your wife will not live to see your children grow up.”
The doctor explained that the AVM in Angie’s brain had burst and flooded her brain with blood. The team had tried their best to locate and clip up all the abnormal blood vessels they could find.
“If we succeeded in finding and removing every abnormal part, her brain bleed will not happen again,” the doctor told Adrian.
“But if there are more abnormal parts than what we were able to see and remove, your wife will not live to see your children grow up.”
Adrian knew that the medical team had done their best.
The next 48 hours were a waiting game. If Angie did not wake up, there was only a slim chance she ever would.
Only about 1% of the general population have AVM, and more than half do not survive a brain bleed, doctors had told Adrian. Those who do may live with severe or permanent loss of their faculties.
Miraculously, Angie woke up in the afternoon. The first thing she said to her husband was: “Dear, untie me.”
She had been restrained as she had earlier pulled out the breathing tube from her throat, damaging her vocal cords in the process.
When her husband gently refused her request, a disoriented Angie became agitated and aggressive.
She was in severe pain – from her shoulders, up her neck, to her head. A shunt had been fitted on her head to drain cranial fluid.
Angie could not recall any of these procedures.
All she remembered was putting her head down on the table in the pantry, and waking up in confusion the next day.
Recalled Angie: “I woke up wondering where my baby was. My legs also felt so weak and I needed someone to help me go to the toilet.”
Adrian was relieved that his wife had regained consciousness, but did not know how much of her was left after the brain surgery.
The doctors discovered that her long-term memory was largely intact, but her short-term memory was decimated.
This meant that she was able to recognise most family members and friends who came to see her. But by the afternoon, she would not remember their visit from earlier that day.
Angie was also unable to recall the first time her newborn baby was brought to her. Photos and videos taken by Adrian are her only evidence of the moment.
Adrian divided his time between visiting Angie and their newborn Natalia, who were warded in different parts of the hospital.
While baby Natalia was lying in the incubator at the paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU), he would sing the song Peace by Bethel Music to her. Christian friends had shared the song with him.
“She came into the world in such a traumatic way,” said Adrian. “So I prayed for God to bring supernatural peace into her soul, spirit and life, to help her fulfill the purpose for which her life was saved.”
He later registered Natalia’s Mandarin name as “An”, which means peace in Chinese.
During this period, Adrian did not have the time to sit down and process his own emotions.
Instead, his primary thoughts and prayers were about asking God for the strength to make it through one more day.
He needed to take daily care of his wife in the hospital and also send his elder daughter to school, so he told himself he couldn’t fall apart.
“Though I was simply in functional mode, I found myself swimming in God’s grace. He sent family, friends and hospital staff to support us and pray for us,” said Adrian.
“I was carried by the prayers of our family and friends. I did what I needed to do, one thing after another, one day at a time.
“It felt like the hand of the Lord was on the small of my back, guiding me forward and carrying me from one day to another when I could not walk,” he said.
When Angie was still in ICU, Adrian received a text from a friend from their cell group.
This friend had seen a vision of angels encamped around Angie, with their swords drawn and their shields up, while praying for Angie the day after her operation.
As Adrian sat by Angie’s bedside praying and thinking about his friend’s vision, he also experienced his own vision: He saw dark shadows pacing outside the ICU room, trying to find ways to get into the room. But they could not because Angie was surrounded by angels.
“I knew the evil one was going to latch onto Angie’s fear of death and pain to attack her,” said Adrian. “But I drew comfort from the fact that God had saved her life and He would protect her”.
The spiritual battle over Angie’s life persisted.
He saw dark shadows pacing outside the ICU. But they could not get in because Angie was surrounded by angels.
A few nights later, Angie turned to her husband and said: “Darling, my time here is done. I miss my Maker. It’s time for me to go home. I know you will be fine.”
Adrian was shocked. Angie had always been an upbeat and bubbly person. This was very unlike her.
He recalled the vision he had seen a few days earlier.
Summoning up his strength, he declared firmly to her: “The fact that you are still sitting here shows that the Lord has saved you and that your work on earth is not yet done. You are not going anywhere.”
A few days later, Angie’s condition improved and she was moved to a general ward.
There was one particular night in the ward when Angie felt such pain that she did not think she would make it through the night.
She turned to her husband in desperation and said, “Can you not go home? Just stay here with me?”
Angie later recalled: “I am usually not needy like that, but that night, my spirit was sensitive to the unfriendly things that were waiting to get me. And I felt I was really teetering between this life and the next.”
Adrian sat beside his wife and, for the first time, decided to tell her about the vision that he saw of shadows and angels.
Reassured by God’s protection, Angie calmed down and fell asleep.
“That night, my spirit was really teetering between this life and the next.”
Adrian found out later that Angie’s fear of death had actually crept in just a week before her brain bleed.
She had dreamt that she was trying to talk to her family and friends, but they were ignoring her. She then realised that it was because she was no longer alive.
She woke up crying from the dream, and immediately reached out for her daughter, Michaela, who was sleeping next to her.
Her fears also stemmed from a trauma during her first pregnancy: Her first baby’s heartbeat fell rapidly and she needed an emergency C-section instead of the natural birth she had planned for.
After 20 days in hospital, Angie and baby Natalia were finally able to leave the hospital.
When she first came home and saw her firstborn, she wept for an hour. Angie thought of how she could have died without ever seeing her daughter again.
Post-surgery, Angie felt easily tired and overstimulated as she cared for her new baby while overseeing her own recovery.
But beyond that, she was in relatively good spirits, happily catching up with family and friends who dropped by to visit.
But the trauma lingered. At 5 to 6pm every day as the sun set, Angie’s creeping fear of death would return.
Intense anxiety and sadness hit her. Even if she was in mid-conversation with friends or Adrian, Angie would excuse herself to make her way upstairs.
Distracting herself with the baby, she would try to keep the gnawing dread at bay.
This happened every evening for over a week.
One day, friends were over when the frightful evening hour struck. Angie explained her situation and her friends decided to walk her up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, her friends decided to say a simple prayer over her.
The next day when evening came, to Angie’s surprise, she felt no fear. The dread that had crippled her was gone, never to return.
“The incident reminded me how powerful prayer is. The Lord hears us even in the simplest of prayers,” said Angie.
While Angie was recuperating and on maternity leave, she felt prompted to tell her clients what had happened to her.
She dug up her mobile phone and saw over 100 messages from her Pilates clients.
They were asking after her. She then realised that they had not been told about her medical emergency. They only knew that she was on maternity leave.
Angie only had enough energy to call one client a day. She prayed each day over who she should call. This was her daily assignment.
With some, she would tell them only what had happened. But if she felt led by God’s spirit, she would go on to share about how He had brought her through the ordeal.
Her clients had always known of her faith, but this was the first time she was speaking openly about it with them.
“I was quite disoriented and could not structure my thoughts well, but God gave me the words,” said Angie.
Because of Angie’s sharing, others started opening up to her to share their own struggles as well.
Today, Angie is functioning well, even as her brain trauma has made her slightly more forgetful and less able to handle stress at times. She has since returned to work and has even set up her very own studio.
Because of their ordeal, Angie and Adrian are now more empathetic to the suffering of others as they journey with them. People around them have also become more open to sharing their problems with the couple.
“We share about what God has done for us,” said Adrian. “It is our hope that He is able to do the same for you, no matter the storm you’re in.”
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.
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