Special brain surgery helps young newlywed couple rebound from devastating disorder

At an age when most young couples are planning their futures together, Travis and Tricia were faced with the challenge of a permanent disability caused by a “brain attack." Suddenly, Travis—an athletic 24-year-old—could no longer stand, walk, read or shower on his own.

It all began when Tricia Metzger received an urgent phone call from her boyfriend, Travis Osting. The call came just as she was getting ready to head home after working a night shift as a nurse at a local hospital. Travis told her he just experienced the worst headache of his life.

"The situation was scary and strange," said Tricia, then 25 years-old. "I left the ICU as a nurse and returned to the same unit just a few hours later as the family of a patient."

A devastating condition
That night, the young couple—who, at the time, had only been dating a few years—found themselves facing a challenging medical situation more common for couples twice their age. 

Doctors found that Travis had suffered a stroke and had bleeding in the back of his brain. Further examination revealed the stroke occurred near his brainstem—a control center for many critical functions of the human body, such as breathing, swallowing and even consciousness. 

Hospital staff also discovered that, in the same area, Travis also had an AVM (an arteriovenous malformation)—an abnormal web of tangled arteries and veins that had caused a blood clot in his brainstem. Brain AVMs occur in less than 1 percent of the general population, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA).

Travis’ AVM became a source of constant fear for the couple. Similar to a ticking time-bomb that could explode at any moment, the thread-thin and highly pressurized vessels in his brain could rupture and cause more damage, even death. 

Times proved especially difficult for the couple after Travis’ initial diagnosis. Although intense rehabilitation sessions over the next few months helped Travis to overcome some of his cognitive and coordination deficits, he was still far from his normal self.

“During that time, we both wondered how long his deficits would last. And, worse, what deficits could return or develop if he had another stroke?” said Tricia.

A commitment to love, and faith, despite uncertainty
After spending the next few years researching and trying various failed therapies to remedy the AVM, the couple began to feel discouraged. “It definitely wasn’t easy to always completely trust in God's plan for us,” said Tricia. "Here we were, in our mid-20s, trying to get our careers off the ground and dealing with a life-or-death situation. It really put things in perspective for our relationship." 

Faced with medical uncertainties and hardships, the couple decided to wed. Tricia describes their wedding day as surreal. During their first dance, Tricia said she began to wonder: “Would I remember this moment, and all the priceless memories from this day as one of the first Travis and I would have together, or one of the last?”

A life-changing surgery
Two weeks after their wedding, the couple headed to Indianapolis for a last resort treatment: a high stakes brain surgery to remove Travis’ AVM.

They arrived at IU Health Methodist Hospital where they met Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D., a neurosurgeon with the IU Health Neuroscience Center who specializes in treating complex brain tumors and vascular disorders often considered inoperable by most other surgeons in the United States. 

"This is definitely one of the most difficult surgeries we do in the most delicate parts of the brain," said Dr. Cohen-Gadol, who led the five-hour operation. "An operation such as this tests the courage of the surgeon and the patient simultaneously." 

A new man
After his surgery and a four-day "honeymoon in the hospital," Travis returned to his bride "feeling like a new man" and slowly began to regain those daily functions he initially lost to his stroke.

Tricia remains amazed by his recovery since the surgery. “Travis has been doing really well. In fact, he's active and can pretty much do everything he did before his AVM. He can drive, read and exercise now. He even goes to the gym and works out on the rowing and elliptical machines…We’re finally living a normal life.”

The couple now lives in Van Wert, Ohio, about 30 miles from the Indiana border. Travis owns and operates a nearby campground and Tricia works as a home care and hospice nurse. 

A renewal of faith. A desire to encourage others
The entire experience, which led the couple to a renewal of their Christian faith, also inspired Tricia to write a book about their medical journey to inspire and encourage others going through similar circumstances. Her book, "An Everyday Miracle", is scheduled for release in September.