Mom Helped Save Son's Life When He Told Her to Call 911 for Headache: 'Listen to Your Kids'

Ethan Brautigam, 13, had a sudden intense headache caused by a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels in his right temporal lobe. The rupture caused bleeding in his brain and could have been fatal

Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children’s Hospital

While taking a shower one morning last November, 13-year-old Ethan Brautigam suddenly felt the worst headache of his life.

He grabbed a towel and screamed for his mom. "He was panicking," remembers his mother, Erin Brautigam. "He said, "My head hurts, my head hurts. Something's wrong with my head."

Brautigam had suffered from migraines, so she thought perhaps her son was having one now. He vomited, but she wasn't too alarmed. "I know a migraine can make you feel really crappy and make you throw up. So I wasn't freaking out yet," she tells PEOPLE.

Once he was lying down, she asked if he needed to go to the Emergency Room, and he told her to call 911. "And I remember, I think I said, 'Seriously?' And he's like, 'Yeah.' And so I said, 'Okay.' "

While his mother was on the phone with a dispatcher, Ethan started having a seizure and the right side of his face drooped. "It was like it melted," his mother says. "I was freaking out."

The teen was airlifted to Texas Children's Hospital where he was diagnosed with a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels in his right temporal lobe. The rupture caused bleeding in his brain.

"If he hadn't gotten to us quickly, he would've died," says Ethan's brain surgeon, Dr. Samuel McClugage III, pediatric neurosurgeon at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children’s Hospital

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About one in 100,000 people per year are diagnosed with AVM's, which usually aren't discovered until after they rupture. Left untreated, they can cause brain damage, strokes or death. Fortunately, Ethan's mom was with him when it ruptured around 7:20 a.m. and got him to the hospital quickly. He was wheeled into surgery at 12:30 p.m.

"We had to take him into the OR immediately," McCluggage tells PEOPLE. "The pressure in his brain was very high."

An external ventricular drain was inserted to remove the excess blood and spinal fluid causing pressure in Ethan's brain.

When Ethan woke from the procedure, he was intubated so he couldn't speak. He asked for a pen and wrote his mother notes saying, "I love you so much," and "thank you."

"He's just a little lover," his mother says of Ethan, the youngest of her three sons. "He's very caring and a super sensitive soul."

Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children’s Hospital

Ethan spent the next month in the hospital, while a team of experts determined the best course of action.

On December 22, McCluggage performed a 13-hour surgery to remove the AVM – chances of it rupturing again are low, McCluggage explains, but if it happened again, it could be fatal.

"It can be a very challenging surgery, but his went very well. We were able to get the entire thing out," McCluggage says.

Ethan was discharged from the hospital on New Year's Eve, and more than 200 friends lined the streets of his neighborhood in The Woodlands, Texas, waving signs, confetti and cowbells.

"It was so awesome," his mother says. "All the love we felt and the support and the prayer. Our community and our friends totally wrapped their arms around us."

Ethan turned 14 in March, and the 8th grader is back in school and even made the golf team. But after a full day of school, he is exhausted. He's still regaining the weight he lost while in the hospital. "He's getting back to his normal self," his mother says.

His mom urges other parents: "Listen to your kids," she says. "The moral of this story is: If your kid tells you to call 911 — call 911."

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Read the original article on People.