Local teacher shares tales of survival in new book
When Lyn VanOver walked into work at ArtSpace Charter School one October morning in 2010, she had no idea how significant a Saturday in November 2017 would be. She also had no idea she would be fighting for her life before the day was over.
Clinging to life with severe headaches that turned out to be a ruptured brain aneurysm, VanOver didn't know if she would make it through the day. On Nov. 18, she’ll be at the Center Within Black Mountain where she will release her book “The Journey Back: A Teacher's Story of Recovery and Learning After Surviving a Ruptured Brain Aneurysm.”
VanOver moved to Black Mountain in 2001. She'd been living in Kentucky, just having earned her master’s degree in teaching when she found ArtSpace online. “I applied for a job, interviewed for it over the phone, came sight unseen, and loved it here,” she said.
A native of Chicago, VanOver was charmed by small town life in the Swannanoa Valley. And she loved her job at ArtSpace, which first opened using facilities in Christmount Christian Assembly.
VanOver taught fourth-grade classes at the school for nine years and in 2010 moved to a third-grade class “to experience a little change,” she said. She was happy with her job and her life. But nagging headaches were a concern.
"I had been having headaches, and I went to see a doctor," she said. "They gave me some medication and eventually asked me to schedule a CAT scan."
On the day of her appointment, VanOver went to work at ArtSpace, as she had for years. She wouldn't make her visit, scheduled for after school.
"Of course (the aneurysm) blew that day, and I ended up with a CAT scan in the ambulance on my way to the emergency room," she said.
An estimated six million people in the country have an unruptured brain aneurysm, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundations' website (bafound.org). About 30,000 people suffer from ruptured brain aneurysms annually. Around 40 percent of those ruptures prove to be fatal.
But an aneurysm was the furthest thing from VanOver's mind before that day, even though a high school friend had died from one the summer before.
"My doctor thought it might be migraines," she said. "An aneurysm never came up."
VanOver found herself in the intensive care unit for three weeks. She was paralyzed on her left side.
"I was in a wheelchair for eight to 10 months," she said. "Then I went to in-patient rehab at Care Partners in Asheville. I cam home on Christmas Eve, which was awesome. There are amazing people who work there."
Experiencing a ruptured aneurysm was "terrifying," VanOver said. "I'm lucky to be alive," she said.
As VanOver recovered, she was supported by the community at ArtSpace.
"My daughter was going to school there at the time, and they made sure she had rides to and from school," she said. "They brought a freezer to our house and filled it with food."
Six months later, VanOver returned to her classroom in a wheelchair.
"I love to teach and couldn't be away from my students," she said. "I came in to read them a story, and I talked with our director, Lori Cozzi, about coming back."
VanOver returned to ArtSpace as a part-time teacher, a "win-win for me and my students," she said. She returned to her role as a full-time teacher the following year; health concerns forced her to reconsider job.
"I thought 'maybe I'm pushing a little too hard,'" she said.
Once again, ArtSpace accommodated VanOver, and she became a full-time substitute at the school.
"They're so amazing," she said of the school. "I took a big pay cut, because we're a charter school and don't have a lot of money, but it allows me to keep doing what I love to do."
In 2011 VanOver attended a memoir writing workshop at the Black Mountain Public Library.
"I always go there on the weekends to get books for the class. It's a great library and I know all the people there," she said. "One day I went and there was a flyer for a memoir writing workshop sitting on the counter. I joked with my dad when I was in ICU, 'I'm going to write a book about all of this.'"
After attending the workshop, VanOver submitted 35 pages of a book she began writing for a contest that followed. Her sample was named runner-up, and the Friends of the Black Mountain Library paid for an editor.
The book, which tells the story of that fateful October morning and VanOver's "journey back," took three years to write. Revisions took another three years.
"Once I started it just came out of me," she said.
VanOver will have copies of her book available at the Center Within for $15 each (cash or check). The book can also be found on Amazon.com.
The author hopes readers can use her experience to help them through difficult situations in their lives.
"I learned a lot of lessons about healing and recovery, and at the end of each chapter I summarize the tools and lessons I learned," she said. "I realized that they not only apply to recovering from an illness, but to everything."