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Woman's rare medical condition triggers crash

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St. Marks mother OK after Friday accident; she, sons face ongoing challenges

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

ST. MARKS - Angela Blum found out she has Arnold-Chiari malformation after a minor accident in 2000.

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"It was just a fender-bender, but I didn't realize it," she said Monday. "I was pretty incoherent."

Another accident Friday was much worse, totaling the new Trailblazer and limiting the family to the vehicle husband and father William Blum takes to his job at Jasper Engines. Tell City Police Patrolman Roger Smith said the SUV jumped the curb and traveled the grass along Indiana 66 for about 50 yards before a utility pole stopped her. The bottom half of the pole collapsed, but the top half remained suspended by the wires it was supposed to support.

Tell City Electric Department crews worked until the wee hours Saturday to set the new pole, but were able to avoid cutting power to areas served by the major electricity artery, including Cannelton.

Again, Blum didn't know what had happened, and said she didn't regain awareness until after police and an ambulance arrived. Taken to Perry County Memorial Hospital, she counted among her injuries two cracked ribs, "bruises everywhere," a cut on her head and a concussion.

A nurse employed at Miller's Merry Manor in Rockport before Friday's accident, she was working for an Owensboro doctor at the time of her first accident and diagnosis. He noticed something strange about her - the condition had caused a 12-centimeter herniation of her cerebellum, which was cutting off blood flow to her brain.

She underwent surgery twice in 2000, and for a while, "I still had seizures off and on, but I've had no problems besides headaches for the last three years," she explained. She contracted a stomach virus last week, however, and stayed home for four days. Friday was her first day back, and after work, she stopped for groceries, then was headed for home shortly before 5 p.m. when last week's accident occurred. She was treated and released from Perry County Memorial Hospital, and now hobbles around her Autumn Road home with a cane borrowed from her mother.

The new development probably means she can't return to work, she said, and she's checking with her neurologist to see if a change in medications will permit her to drive again.

While her accident in 2000 wasn't as serious, the diagnosis merited a helicopter flight to the University of Cincinnati.

"Chiari is very rare," Blum said Monday. "A lot of neurosurgeons won't do anything about it around here because they don't know how."

No one told her it was a genetic condition until her oldest son, Kyle Stevenson, suffered a concussion while playing football for Perry Central. His Arnold-Chiari malformation was discovered at Perry County Memorial Hospital, and the parents were advised to have younger son Klay tested.

"He had complained of migraines previously," Angela said, "and they found a syrinx, which is fluid collecting on the spine."

That made his need for surgery a priority, the mother said, so Klay Stevenson was scheduled first, followed by Kyle a month later. Those were in 2008, and added to another surgery for Angela in 2007, "even after insurance, we had $60,000 in bills," she said.

A condition associated with Arnold-Chiari malformation, called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, also affects the woman and her sons. One of its symptoms is a joint instability many people take to be double-jointedness but is actually muscles tearing loose from joints.

"I've always had dislocated joints," Blum said, and Kyle "dislocates his knee all of the time in football. In the last two years, mine has gotten worse. As a child, I had sprains and dislocations all the time. Now, as a nurse, I'm walking all the time and need to wear braces; every time you walk, you're tearing something."

When she tells people that, she said, they ask if she's making it up.

EDS also causes heart-valve complications, fatigue and general pain throughout the body, and "it's so rare, and for three people in a family to get both together is even more rare," she said.

A geneticist told Blum she had only a 50-50 chance of passing Arnold-Chiari malformation to her children, "but both my sons got it," she said.

"They still love me," she added with a smile.

It was too early Monday for bills from the accident to have arrived, and Blum wondered if she'd be charged for the pole she hit. But family members had already started planning a dinner benefit to help with expenses for 6 p.m. Jan. 2 at the American Legion facility at 1914 Main Street in Tell City. Freewill donations will be accepted there and the menu will include chili, sandwiches, salad, dessert, tea and coffee.

"We're calling businesses for donations of items we can auction off, but so far we're not having a lot of luck," Blum said. Also, a Blum-Stevenson Medical Fund has been established at Old National Bank, where people can make donations.

Making the arrangements are relatives Angela Fisher, 686-1403 and Sheena Faulkner, 686-3400, who can be contacted for more information.

"We're accepting anything and everything in good condition for the auction," Fisher said Tuesday. She'd already received some offers of furniture items.

Angela Blum said she saw a specialist Thursday, who told her she can expect her EDS to get worse as she gets older. She has already noticed increasing problems, and said even negotiating a single stair is difficult.

"I can wear braces," she said, "but surgeries will have to be done on whichever joints go out first."

Both sons will have to contend with EDS as well, but for now, "it's great to see them out there playing football after having brain surgery," their mom said.