Amanda Tocci has always been a fierce competitor. She’s a fitness fanatic and has competed in numerous sports, including track, golf, and basketball. While starring for her high school basketball team in Hopewell, Pa., she set the school record for the most three-point field goals in a game.
In the fall of her senior year at Penn State University, a sudden dizzy spell triggered an unexpected visit to the hospital. Amanda learned from doctors that her dizziness was caused by a cerebral aneurysm.
“My heart basically stopped,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m 21 years old. I’m healthy. What do you mean I have a brain aneurysm?’”
“Amanda had a 12 to 15 millimeter right middle cerebral artery aneurysm,” Dr. Wecht says. “What made her situation unusual was, primarily, her young age. While not unheard of, brain aneurysms in a 22-year-old are quite rare. Also, her aneurysm was twice the ‘average’ size of 6 to 7 millimeters.”
Because of the aneurysm’s large size, Dr. Wecht wanted to operate immediately. Through a small opening in the skull, he used a specialized microscope to isolate the blood vessel that was feeding the aneurysm. He then placed a small metal, clothespin-like clip on the aneurysm’s neck, halting its blood supply.
Following surgery, Amanda’s family, friends, and professors recommended that she focus on her recovery and take time off from school. Instead, she was determined to follow her passion for physical fitness, and was resolved to graduate on time and pursue her dream career as a physical therapist.
“I remember waking up from surgery and asking when I would be able to run again,” Amanda says. “They looked at me like I had three heads.”
Patients in similar situations typically require one month of recuperation and another month of rehab. Amanda would go on to cut that recovery period in half.
“I think her fitness, young age, and individual determination all served Amanda well in her recovery,” Wecht explains.
Amanda went on to take online classes and finish her studies, graduating with her classmates in the spring of 2014 with a 4.0 GPA.
“It’s incredibly impressive that she was able to graduate on time,” Wecht says. “There are many who get well physically in a decent time frame, but it is highly unusual to function intellectually and cognitively so quickly after brain surgery at that level — senior year of college — and do what is necessary to graduate.”
In January 2015, Amanda attended Elon University in North Carolina to study physical therapy. Her personal battle with a brain aneurysm has given her pause to also consider a career in neuroscience.
“I’ve always wanted to be a physical therapist because I’m interested in sports and fitness and helping people,” she says. “But this experience has definitely opened my eyes from a neurological perspective. I want to focus on neuro-rehab now, and maybe even brain surgery.”
In February 2021, Amanda’s journey took an unexpected turn when she experienced a second unruptured aneurysm. She underwent another craniotomy performed by Dr. Wecht and his team. Proving her strength and determination yet again, Amanda quickly bounced back. “I am doing really well after my second procedure, and I am back in action without any issues.”
Amanda’s experience with Dr. Wecht and his team inspired her to pursue a career, first as a physical therapist and most recently as a physician assistant. She was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She intends to practice in a neurosurgical or orthopaedic surgery setting upon graduation.
Amanda reflected on her journey saying, “No matter what setting or patient population I am working with, my experience as a neurosurgical patient at UPMC has been a life changing one. I am hopeful that my background as a PT, as well as my personal experience on the other side of the ICU bed, will help me to become an amazing PA like the outstanding medical team who helped me through two of the most difficult times of my life. Not only did Dr. Wecht and his amazing team save my life (again), but they demonstrated the perfect example of a knowledgeable, compassionate, effective medical staff.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Amanda's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.