Just before noon on Thursday, March 1, death knocked on her door.

Barbara Kladder had been sitting at her desk, eating a portobello mushroom sandwich, when it happened. Two bites into her lunch, intense pain struck the back of her neck.

“It was worse than having a baby,” said Kladder, who works in medical administration for Lacks Medical Center. “My co-worker next to me said, ‘What’s wrong? You’re really flushed.’ I felt nauseated. It just was not good. It came on so fast—in a split second.”

Kladder thought she just needed to lie down for a minute. Then she’d be fine.

“Our boss is a physician,” she said. “He took one look at me and said, ‘You’re going to the hospital.’ He said, ‘Call Life ambulance and order a priority 1 to go to Spectrum.’ It took the ambulance about five minutes to get here, but it felt like 100 years. By that time, I had thrown up a couple of times. Light hurt my eyes, so I had to keep my eyes closed.”

She promised her boss she would return to work on Monday.

Upon her arrival at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, staff whisked her in for a CT scan.

Diagnosis? Aneurysm.

Justin Singer, MD, Spectrum Health director of vascular neurosurgery, introduced himself.

“I remember seeing Dr. Singer in his scrubs,” Kladder said. “He shook my hand and said he was going to try to put a coil in the back of my brain. I hurt so bad I wanted to cut my head off.”

Kladder remembers nothing after that moment, but later learned that because of the location of the aneurysm, the coil did not work. Instead, Dr. Singer inserted clips to stop the aneurysm from bleeding.

“I was history,” the Grandville, Michigan, resident said. “I don’t know if they gave me something for pain or if my brain was turned off. I remember absolutely nothing. Not a thing.”

Provider turns patient

Kladder, who attended the Butterworth School of Nursing and the University of Michigan, worked at Butterworth Hospital for 25 years, beginning in 1978.

“I remember studying aneurysms,” Kladder said. “But those things happened to other people, not to you. I was 20 years old at the time. Nothing is scary. You’re invincible.”

She immersed herself in the medical world, taking care of patients on the medical surgery floor. Later she worked at Lacks Industries, treating employees with lacerations and other injuries.

When her own medical emergency hit years later, Kladder initially thought it might be a pinched nerve in her neck.

“I can’t go from feeling A-OK to excruciating pain,” Kladder said. “Nothing crossed my mind except maybe if I move my shoulders or sit in a different way, it will go away. I was very happy to be oblivious to everything. It was like, ‘Dr. Singer, do your thing and I’ll see you tomorrow.’”

After two and a half weeks of recovery at Butterworth Hospital, Kladder transferred to Spectrum Health Inpatient Rehabilitation at Blodgett Hospital. Doctors discharged her on March 28 and she returned to work several days later.

“It’s good for me to be back at work,” Kladder said. “You can only watch so much ‘The Price is Right.’”

‘It just popped’

On April 19 she had a follow-up visit with Dr. Singer.

Kladder’s son, Jeff, accompanied her to the appointment. He spoke of the terror he felt when his mom suffered an aneurysm.

“We didn’t realize how critical it was until after we talked to Dr. Singer a day or two later,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we were always hopeful because the medical staff assured us everything looked pretty good.”

At this appointment, Dr. Singer delivered more good news.

“The aneurysm is completely gone,” he told Kladder and Jeff. “That’s definitive on the angiogram.”

Kladder will continue with scans every year for a couple of years.

Dr. Singer said Kladder’s life hung in the balance when she arrived at the hospital March 1.

“She had a lot of blood in her brain when she came in,” he said. “Her aneurysm was in a very tough location. Patients with an aneurysm in this location typically have a more negative outcome. She looks absolutely fantastic and has healed very well. To see her go back to normal life six weeks after what she’s been through is fantastic.”

Kladder chimed in.

“I had a lot of blood in there, huh?”

“You had a lot of blood,” Dr. Singer said.

“It just popped?” she asked of the aneurysm.

“It just popped,” the doctor said.

“It’s spookier after the fact, hearing about it now, than it was then,” Kladder said. “I could feel God’s hand and his comfort wrap around me by the people he put in my life—my co-worker, my boss, Dr. Singer. I’ll never forget it. I’m very blessed.”