The rupture happened when Andrea Timmins was 25. She was snowboarding down a run at Blackcomb mountain on Christmas eve when she was hit with extreme tunnel vision, a severe headache and saw stars.
Nobody came to her aid, so she set off down the mountain, vomiting and falling. She made it home but the pain and vomiting persisted overnight, causing a blood vessel in her eye to rupture.
On Christmas morning her housemates took her to the hospital. After describing her symptoms, she was rushed by ambulance to the Lions Gate Hospital where doctors discovered a blood vessel had ruptured in her brain caused by a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
Timmins was lucky. The surgery was successful and the only lasting problem was the loss of peripheral vision in her left eye. This September, Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, she launched a website intended to build community for those who have AVM or brain aneurysms, and to tell the stories of those who have survived.
“This is the eighth year since my rupture and it took me seven years to fully open up about it. It’s a sensitive subject to many,” Timmins told Coast Reporter.
Timmins, who now lives in Gibsons and works in marketing and as a professional photographer, decided to launch the AVM Aneurysm Photography Awareness Project to educate and build awareness.
She said she was motivated to start the website in part because she knows so few survivors. “After sharing my story with a couple of people, it felt good for me to open up about it and I realized more people are affected by aneurisms and AVMs,” she said.
Finding survivors to interview and photograph has been a challenge, with two people on the site so far. “It’s been a little difficult, having other people reach out to me,” said Timmins.
One of those people is Brenda Hawitt, who was initially misdiagnosed and spent several weeks in the hospital following surgery to address the burst AVM. She has since recovered and is living with her partner in Halfmoon Bay.
Timmins has set up a Facebook Page for the project and has encouraged people to reach out to her through social media. Those interested in getting involved in the project or who have questions can contact Timmins at email@example.com.