Written by Michelle Abt | Photographed by Al Cuizon
In November 2012 Stephanie Bezner, an attorney and lifelong resident of
the South Bay, was feeling excitement surrounding the impending arrival
of her first child with husband Brian. Stephanie and Brian had toured
Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s labor and delivery unit as well
as the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and had selected the hospital
as the location of their child’s birth.
As a young expectant mom, Stephanie also planned to use Torrance Memorial
and its affiliated practices for routine medical care as she raised her
family. All was going according to plan. But then it wasn’t.
A Premature Arrival and the NICU
In her third trimester, Stephanie was attending a board meeting and client
event in Palm Desert when she began to experience severe, unexplained
bleeding. With her baby in distress, she was rushed to Desert Regional
Medical Center, where doctors had no choice but to perform an emergency
caesarean. The Bezners’ daughter, Brianna, was born eight weeks
early at just 3 pounds, 6 ounces.
Brianna was rushed to the NICU, where the doctors’ greatest concerns
were her body temperature and ability to breathe. She had immature lungs,
which needed close observation. The doctors at Desert Regional told the
Bezners that Brianna would need to stay in the hospital’s NICU for
eight weeks before returning home.
“That was disheartening,” says Stephanie. “I knew I had
to return to work, and it would be really difficult to see Brianna every
day if we had to drive back and forth. Palm Springs was a really long
way from home.”
Meanwhile, the Bezners had been in touch with Torrance Memorial, where
the doctors and staff had been working on their own plans for Brianna’s
care. Pediatrician Jerry Schwartz, MD, medical director of the center’s
Level III NICU, was determined to bring Brianna home.
“Babies like Brianna almost never get transferred,” Bezner
says, “but Dr. Schwartz and the staff at Torrance Memorial spent
the next five days working really hard to get my baby back. They really
believed she belonged at home in the South Bay.”
On November 16, 2012, Brianna was transported by helicopter to Torrance
Memorial, accompanied by a physician, a nurse and a respiratory therapist.
Once at the heliport, she was transferred immediately to the hospital
and admitted to the Torrance Memorial NICU.
Brianna received the care she needed at Torrance Memorial and went home
within five weeks. She is now a thriving, happy and healthy 6-year-old.
In 2014 the family welcomed their second daughter, Charlotte, who was
born full-term and without complications.
A Second Lifesaving Treatment
For most families, Brianna’s flight transfer and NICU experience
would be enough medical drama to last a lifetime. Yet last year life threw
Stephanie another curveball. This time she was the patient.
Stephanie began experiencing problems with her peripheral vision in the
spring of 2018. A working mother with two young girls, she thought she
was just tired. But a routine appointment with her optometrist found she
had a limited scope of vision.
She was referred to an ophthalmologist, and a series of tests confirmed
that her eyes were healthy but she had a vision field defect. An MRI was
scheduled for July.
The results were a shock. The MRI found a large aneurysm off her carotid
artery that was pressing on her optic nerve, causing her vision problems.
An aneurysm is a weakened area in an artery wall that fills with blood
and balloons outward from the parent artery. The weakened area can enlarge,
bleed or burst, causing stroke, neurological damage and even death.
Stephanie was terrified: “I felt like I was walking around with a
time bomb in my head,” she shares.
The good news was that her symptoms had made the diagnosis possible; many
patients with an aneurysm are asymptomatic until the aneurysm bursts.
Now Stephanie needed to find a doctor who could provide her with the right
She was referred to Michael Alexander, MD, a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai
Medical Center. Dr. Alexander began performing neurosurgery at Torrance
Memorial following the recent affiliation between Cedars-Sinai and Torrance Memorial.
He recommended Stephanie undergo a relatively new process called a pipeline
embolism procedure, in which a specialized stent is placed across the
aneurysm to prevent blood flow into it. This allows the damaged blood
vessel to heal as it shrinks the aneurysm. The procedure is done through
a catheter inserted through the groin into the femoral artery.
“This was the best option given the placement of the embolism and
its size,” Dr. Alexander says. “And the pipeline stent has
a 90 percent cure rate.”
Stephanie’s procedure was over in a couple hours, and she returned
home the next day. “I was so lucky that Dr. Alexander could perform
this surgery at Torrance Memorial," she says. "He's one
of the best in the country at performing pipeline stents, and people travel
from all over the world to see him.”
What’s more, says Stephanie, Dr. Alexander was “warm and welcoming
and kind. No question was too trivial that he didn’t take the time
to explain the answer, and he was available whenever I needed him. I was
definitely frightened, and he made me feel like I was in the best possible
Stephanie’s aneurysm has been shrinking since the surgery, and Dr.
Alexander expects it to be much smaller—perhaps even gone—by
the time she has her next angiogram in a few months. With these difficult
events behind them, the Bezners are now focused on enjoying their family
time and the simple pleasures in life. “We love food and story time,”
Stephanie says. “We like to cook, eat and experiment, including
going to new restaurants. And we just like being together.” •