How a brain aneurysm helped CNBC's Sharon Epperson embrace change

“There is a plan out there for us that we don't know, but we just have to follow it ... " says Epperson.
Sharon Epperson, senior personal finance correspondent for CNBC, at a Know Your Value event in Philadelphia on Nov. 19, 2019.
Sharon Epperson, senior personal finance correspondent for CNBC, at a Know Your Value event in Philadelphia on Nov. 19, 2019.Anthony Scutro

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By Halley Bondy

In 2016, CNBC senior personal finance correspondent Sharon Epperson suffered a brain aneurysm at the gym. It was a terrifying, life-threatening experience, but today, she calls it “the greatest blessing that ever happened to me.”

In an interview with Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, Epperson discussed how the aneurysm put her in the hospital for a month. Her stay was followed by months of extensive physical and cognitive therapy. Epperson was lucky; Fifty percent of brain aneurysms are fatal. Of the survivors, 66 percent suffer a permanent neurological deficit.

“Am I communicating effectively, and am I able to walk upstairs? I had to relearn all of it,” Epperson said. “I took it like a job. I took going to therapy and doing my exercises and all of those things as if it was my career. I wasn't sure if I had a career to go back to. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do it.

RELATED: Surviving a brain aneurysm taught me this about personal finance

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At the end of the ordeal, Epperson was welcomed back to CNBC in 2017. And now, Epperson said her life feels more vibrant than ever.

“There is a plan out there for us that we don't know, but we just have to follow it ... And being able to understand that now, I think, is such a great blessing,” Epperson said.

The brain aneurysm also reaffirmed what Epperson had been reporting about for decades — that it’s crucial to be financially prepared in the event of an emergency. Almost 30 percent of households in the U.S. have less than $1,000 saved. Epperson considered herself one of the lucky ones since she had disability and healthcare insurance, but she recommended that everyone start taking steps to save, no matter their income level. She also encouraged people to talk to their families about financial resources in case of catastrophe.

“I didn't have the emotional stress of finances,” Epperson said. “But I did have the emotional stress of just trying to get back to living.”

Epperson received counseling to help transition back into her daily routine.

“When I came home, I couldn’t be the engaged parent that I've been…[that] was extremely difficult,” Epperson said. “People need to understand the mental health therapy that goes along with almost any major illness. It's important to have someone to talk to about ‘how do I really get back to being able to do many of the things that I wanted to do?’…I don’t say ‘get back to my old self’ because in my case, I think that person is gone.’”

Epperson encouraged people to talk to their families about their health histories. Aneurysms can run in the family. They are more common in women than men. And African-Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to suffer from brain aneurysms than whites. Epperson’s family had suffered three generations of brain hemorrhages.

“We all need to know what's happening. So, having a conversation about your health with your loved ones is very important,” Epperson said.

Still, Epperson wouldn’t take it back.

“Everything is richer now,” Epperson said. “It made me realize what is most important.”