One man shared his story of a terrifying brush with death. This artist says it saved her life
MIDDLETON — Cheryl Dyment was lying in bed on a Sunday morning a year ago, contemplating what to do with a perfect summer day, when a ferocious headache incapacitated her.
The pain was unlike anything she could recall — and she’d delivered two sons.
Maybe, she thought, if she just waits a minute, it will subside. The seconds ticked past. It did not subside.
If it felt like something exploded, it was because something had: An aneurysm had burst inside her brain.
But she remembered two things: An article she’d read about former state transportation director Tom Tinlin’s near fatal brain aneurysm and her son’s upcoming wedding.
“All I could think was, ‘I can’t die for his wedding. I can’t do that to my son,’ ” Dyment said. But unlike Tinlin, who didn’t know what had felled him while on stage at a charity event in 2016, Dyment (below) knew she had two aneurysms in her brain that doctors had discovered during an earlier unrelated health issue. And from Tinlin’s experience, she knew what to do.
“Call 911,” she told her husband, Dennis O’Brien. She knew that even a few minutes after an aneurysm bursts could be the difference between living and dying. And she was not going to miss that wedding.
Dyment is a visual artist, painting big abstract canvases in her Valley Farm Studio, built inside an old barn attached to the elegant historic home she and O’Brien share. They’re explosive in their own way, intricate but bold. A solo exhibition in 2012 was centered on a series of paintings based on her near-drowning at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester as a teenager.
The ambulance arrived quickly, and the crew carried her carefully down the narrow 17th-century stairs from her bedroom, careful not to bump her head. They raced to North Shore Medical Center in Salem, where a CT scan revealed that at least one, and maybe both of the aneurysms had burst. It was hard to tell: The images of her brain were as chaotic as one of her wilder canvases.
“They said, ‘we’re good but we’re not that good,’ ” Dyment recalled. They sent her to Brigham and Women’s in Boston.
Maybe Tinlin, the old highway chief, was watching over her: It was a Sunday, and traffic was light.
After more than 10 hours of emergency surgery during which doctors coiled her burst aneurysm and clipped the one that was still intact, her recovery could begin. Dyment spent three weeks in the hospital, her head throbbing.
About a week after she returned home, she and Dennis drove up to Freeport, Maine, where she watched her son get married.
As Dyment recuperated, her cousin, Donna Rice, sent me an e-mail.
“It was because of the description of what Tom was feeling in his head [that] she had her husband call an ambulance immediately. Had she waited she would not be here,” Rice wrote.
I’ve been doing this a while, and I can’t say I’ve gotten another e-mail quite like that. I forwarded it to Tinlin, who wrote to her immediately.
“I am sure you will have good days and bad days, but we are grateful to have days,” Tinlin wrote. “Enjoy sunrises and sunsets, good books and good company, laugh freely and as best you can, have no fear.”
After Dyment wrote back thanking him for saving her life, he forwarded their exchange to me with a four-word note:
“I am a puddle.”
Tinlin told me he’d been reluctant to share his story with me a year ago, when I reached out. “But it was my wife, Heather, who reminded me that I kept saying I wanted to help raise awareness,” said Tinlin, who this year was honored with one of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s Survivor Champion awards.
Dyment, 67, said she’s now feeling like her old self. She’s looking forward to a hip replacement that she hopes will help her navigate those steep, narrow stairs. She hasn’t started painting again yet, but she’s confident something will emerge soon. The staples that once held her head together are tucked away in a drawer, and might find their way onto a canvas soon.
When she was feeling up to it this summer, she went back to Good Harbor and waded out into the ocean. She’d been there countless times over the course of her life. This time was different.
“I cannot tell you how profoundly beautiful it was,” she said. She loves the ocean and the beach, and she’s happy to be alive, she said.
Like Tinlin — and because of him — she’s grateful to have days.