Accomplished Professor Overcomes Rare Brain Aneurysm

Sam Shanmugam
Sam Shanmugam's famly praises lifesaving, compassionate treatment

Strong willed, smart and stubborn – "in a good way," his son laughs – Sam Shanmugam, PhD, built a distinguished résumé of accomplishments.

In the late 1960s, Sam and his wife, Radha, emigrated from India to the United States. They settled in Lawrence, Kansas, where they raised two sons, Kannon and Ravi, and where Sam fostered an impressive 30+-year career as a highly respected professor of electrical engineering at the University of Kansas. Devoted to both teaching and research, Sam published numerous papers and books and was widely recognized for his commitment to his work.

In his free time, Sam, described by Kannon as "a vigorous athlete," rode mile after mile on his bicycle, determined to conquer Biking Across Kansas, an 8-day, 500-mile bicycle excursion. He crossed that finish line in 2005.

A sudden turn

In Sam's retirement in 2014, this full and well-rounded life was threatened. While on a long bike ride, Sam suffered a rupture from a rare form of brain aneurysm resulting in cerebral hemorrhage and fell to the ground. Passersby noticed the then 71-year-old's obvious distress and promptly called for medical assistance.

Sam was taken by ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where medical staff instantly understood his critical condition demanded specialty care. He was airlifted to The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City.

Endovascular neurosurgeon Koji Ebersole, MD, quickly realized that Sam's brain continued to bleed and that the professor required immediate lifesaving surgery.

"At the moment of emergency, I knew we had the medical capability to save Sam's life, but I also knew that, despite all available technologies, we could not reverse the injury Sam's brain had already suffered," said Dr. Ebersole. "Fortunately, Sam's family was exceptionally close and exceptionally sophisticated in their understanding of the medical challenge we faced. They were prepared to address any obstacles with full resolve."

Dr. Ebersole performed an emergency craniotomy for treatment of the aneurysm and removal of the hemorrhage. Sam spent a week in a coma before he began to progress.

"My family cannot say enough about Dr. Ebersole," said Kannon, a Washington, DC-based attorney. "He possesses incredible surgical skill, but also is highly attentive in terms of emotional support. He took care not only of my father, but of our whole family during an extremely traumatic time."

Man with a headache

Diagnosing a brain aneurysm

Often, the first symptom of a brain aneurysm is a sudden, severe headache. Many patients describe it as the worst headache of their lives. Learn more about the multidisciplinary approach specialists at The University of Kansas Health System take to treat the most complex cases.
neurological care

Top-quality care

Because Sam had never experienced a major health issue in his life, Kannon said his family was uncertain what to expect. Kannon's wife, a physician and director of rheumatology at an East Coast academic medical center, commented on the family's experience in the aftermath of Sam's aneurysm.

"She was absolutely blown away by the quality of care at The University of Kansas Health System. The organization delivers first-class care not only in the metro area, but to citizens across the region," Kannon said.

The Shanmugam family credits Dr. Ebersole and his team with saving Sam's life.

"It was a chaotic period," Kannon said. "We had complete faith in Dr. Ebersole's advice. We had a lot of questions, and I was impressed by the way he explained complex medical situations to us and always made us feel like the most important people in the hospital. He spent the time with us that we needed, no matter how long it was."

Looking forward

The stroke was not without lasting impact on Sam, but many of the qualities that always defined him remain exactly the same. He loves to watch Jayhawk basketball games, enjoys evenings outdoors with his wife and relishes riding his bike – though it is now a stationary model – on Sundays. His eyes still light up when his grandchildren throw their arms around him for a hug.

"The collective strength of Sam's family made my job easier that day," reflected Dr. Ebersole. "Sometimes, being at a high-powered academic institution like ours, where we have all of the latest medical advances available for treatment, isn't enough without a trusting relationship between family and physician."

Sam's family remains highly appreciative of the support they received.

"We're so grateful to everyone at The University of Kansas Health System for the care they provided Sam," said Radha. "We're fortunate to have such a world-class hospital in the state of Kansas."

Kannon echoes her sentiment.

"Our family has tremendous gratitude for Dr. Ebersole and his team," Kannon added. "The physicians, nurses and staff who attended my father and us were just extraordinary. My father's zest for life is as strong as ever."

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