'American Idol' Finalist Nikki McKibbin Dies After Brain Aneurysm—What to Know About the Condition

McKibbin, 42, reportedly remained on life support for days so she could donate her organs.

Singer Nikki McKibbin, who finished in third place during the first season of American Idol in 2002, died Sunday at age 42, just days after suffering a brain aneurysm.

McKibbin's husband, Craig Sadler, shared the news in a Facebook post. He revealed that "the love of my life" McKibbin had the aneurysm on Wednesday, October 25, but remained on life support until early Sunday to ensure that her organs could be donated.

"That shouldn't be a surprise to us. Even at the end, she is still giving," wrote Sadler. He went on to invite McKibbin's fans to pay one last tribute to her.

"She was so loved that I know thousands of you will be grieving with us," he wrote. "There are only a few hours left for me to hold her hand and kiss her forehead. The current Covid situation won't allow the huge service that she deserves, but I would like to offer you the opportunity to honor her."

Sadler went on to say that McKibbin was scheduled to go to the operating room early that morning, at 3 a.m. Central Time, "to give her final gift that will save the lives of strangers." He added that, because McKibbin "practically worshipped Stevie Nicks," the hospital staff were set to play "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac for her. "If you are able, you can pause at 3:00 wherever you are and listen to it with her. She will know that you're sharing her farewell. She loved so many of you and I know you loved her too."

McKibbin, who came from Grand Prairie, Texas, was only 23 when she took part in American Idol, finishing in third place behind Justin Guarini and the winner, Kelly Clarkson. Guarini paid tribute to McKibbin on Instagram, describing her as "a fiery, funny lady who could sing the Hell out of a rock song with the same kind of ease and command she lovingly used to cut you with her twangy Southern wit (sic)."

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The show that made McKibbin a star sent its condolences to her family and friends.

"Nikki McKibbin was an incredible talent and we are deeply saddened by the news of her passing," Idol said in a statement posted on Twitter. "She was part of our American Idol family and will be truly missed."

What Is a Brain Aneurysm?

A brain aneurysm—also called a cerebral aneurysm, berry aneurysm, or intracranial aneurysm—is an abnormal bulge or "ballooning" in the wall of an artery in the brain, according to the US National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus resource. That bulge fills with blood—it grows slowly and the artery wall becomes weaker and more fragile as it stretches.

Smaller aneurysms often don't cause any issues and are usually detected during medical imaging tests—but a bulging, unruptured aneurysm can put pressure on the nerves or the brain tissue, but it may also burst (called a hemorrhage) and spill blood into the surrounding tissue, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). This can lead to serious health issues, including stroke, brain damage, coma, or death.

What Causes a Brain Aneurysm?

Brain aneurysms can happen to anyone at any age, per the NINDS, though they're most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 60. They're also more common in women than in men and in those with certain inherited disorders.

Brain aneurysms are also not rare—one in every 50 people in the US has an unruptured brain aneurysm, per the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Every 18 minutes, a brain aneurysm ruptures in the US—that's about 30,000 people a year.

The NINDS lays out all of the potential risk factors linked to ruptured and unruptured aneurysms—including those that are both inherited and not.

Inherited Risk Factors:

  • Genetic connective tissue disorders
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Arteriovenous malformations
  • History of an aneurysm in an immediate family member

Other Risk Factors :

  • Untreated high blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Drug abuse
  • Age over 40
  • Head trauma
  • Brain tumor
  • Infection in the arterial wall

Risk Factors for an Aneurysm to Rupture:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Size of aneurysm
  • Location of aneurysm
  • Growth
  • Family history
  • Past history of aneurysms

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What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Aneurysm?

Again, smaller aneurysms don't normally cause symptoms until they become large or rupture. The NINDS says a larger brain aneurysm that hasn't yet ruptured can cause the following symptoms as it grows and presses on tissues and nerves:

  • Pain above and behind the eye
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis on one side of the face
  • A dilated pupil in the eye
  • Vision changes or double vision.

When a brain aneurysm ruptures, however, it becomes an emergency situation. The biggest, most common warning sign of a ruptured aneurysm is a sudden, extremely severe headache (many refer to it as "the worst headache of one's life"). Past that, other symptoms include:

  • Double vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Cardiac arrest

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How Is a Brain Aneurysm Treated—and What's the Likely Outcome?

So, not all brain aneurysms require treatment—and if they're small and unruptured, treating them can result in some potentially serious complications. In the case of an unruptured aneurysm, the NINDS says a doctor will weigh different factors—including the type, size, and location of the aneurysm—to decide the best treatment option. That may include surgeries or other drug therapies to manage the condition.

However, in the case of a ruptured aneurysm, the NINDS says 25% of patients do not survive the first 24 hours, and another 25% die from complications within the first six months. Past that, people who have suffered an aneurysm may have permanent neurological damage, or they may recover with little to no disability, though recovery will still take weeks to months.

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