Amanda Auger’s dozens of tattoos tell individual stories from her life, but the piece on her left shoulder symbolizes the most significant moment of her life — the time she was saved by Scripps Health.
The 29-year-old Carlsbad woman — who grew up in Northern California and suffered from headaches, brain freezes, episodes of passing out all her life and a mini-stroke in her early 20s — was first admitted to Scripps Mercy Hospital Hillcrest in June 2013 for emergency brain surgery after a long-awaited diagnosis of arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
The potentially fatal condition, which doctors found through an MRI due to a hemorrhaged blood clot in Auger's brain, stems from an abnormal connection between arteries and brains. It occurs in less than 1 percent of the general population, and those with it can suffer from it their entire lives, sometimes unknowingly.
"It's like a yarn ball," Auger said, describing AVM. "You just have like a random clot plotted in your head. Instead of a blood clot, it's a clot of arteries and veins, but they hemorrhage."
Prior to that fateful visit, doctors misdiagnosed her with a lack of sleep, improper nutrition and anemia. In June 2013, Auger once again experienced a severe brain freeze, profuse sweating and nausea. She decided to visit an urgent care office, which almost immediately referred her to Scripps. Even then, the medical staff's first thought, after a CAT Scan, was that Auger had a brain tumor. An MRI eventually led to her diagnosis of AVM.
In July 2013, the hairdresser at American Deluxe Barber Shop in Encinitas underwent a second surgery due to the size of her clot.
Auger, whose tattoos cover her body from her right arm to a large piece on her back, decided to commemorate her time at Scripps with ink emblazoned on her left shoulder.
The artwork, which she received from artist Frankie Mancuso at California Tattoo Co. in the city of Citrus Heights in the fall following her surgeries, includes the Scripps logo and reads, "The most massive characters are seared with scars," along with the dates of her procedures.
"To me, tattoos are like a journal of your life," Auger said. "Even the ones that I have and hate, I know exactly what was going on in my life when I got them. ... [This surgery] was the biggest thing that's happened to me."
Auger said she wanted to memorialize her time at Scripps to show her gratitude to her neurosurgeon, Dr. Sohaib Kureshi, and the team that finally diagnosed her life-long issue.
"My neurosurgeon was heaven sent," she said. "I can be hard to deal with, especially in the hospital. Sarcasm is how I get comfortable. The doctor just fed into that so much and felt like family right away."
Auger encourages anyone who has a "gut feeling" about their health issues — even if they've been overlooked or dismissed in the past by professionals — to continue to get the ailments checked out until they receive an answer.
"Don't sit at home and pray for the best," she said. "Don't go on the internet and self-diagnose yourself. Always go to see someone who actually knows. If you don't get the answer, go see someone else... I was born with this and, at 25, I finally found out what was going on. There's a chance if I didn't go, I could have passed away from this. Fate landed me with Dr. Kureshi and put me in the right spot at the right time."