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Foundation, athletes raise awareness about brain aneurysms

Blacks are twice as likely as whites to suffer from the devastating condition

Former Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth almost died from brain aneurysms in November 2014. He spoke up about his near-death experience on Nashville, Tennessee, radio station 104.5 The Zone.

“Nobody really knows: I almost died,” he said. “I had two brain aneurysms that were nearly rupturing. I went and talked to my doctor in Florida, and he was like, ‘Man, your blood pressure is through the roof. I’m going to admit you.’ They did a lot of tests and found the aneurysm that was rupturing at that point.”

Surgery resulted in an 11-day stay in intensive care at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hospital.

Detroit Lions wide receiver T.J. Jones had never heard of a brain aneurysm until his father, Andre, died in June 2011. Jones told the Detroit Free Press that his father had lost a lot of weight, was dealing with chronic headaches and sudden bouts of narcolepsy – all classic symptoms of the disease.

A brain aneurysm is a weakness or thinning of the wall of a blood vessel in the brain that gradually bulges outward. Eventually, the bulging blood vessel may leak or rupture causing bleeding into the brain. A ruptured aneurysm quickly becomes life-threatening and requires prompt emergency treatment.

Blacks are twice more likely than whites to suffer from the devastating condition. Studies show that 93 percent of Americans say their knowledge about brain aneurysms ranges from limited to nonexistent. Peak incidence of ruptures among blacks occur a decade earlier than other populations. It’s not a race issue, but it’s an issue that affects the black community at higher rates.

According to The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation (TLCF), the most common sudden onset symptoms of a brain aneurysm are the worst headache of your life (WHOL), stiffness in the neck, sensitivity to light, sharp pain behind or above an eye, blurred or double vision, drooping eyelid, seizures, loss of consciousness, numbness or tingling in the face, nausea and vomiting, confusion or changed mental state and perceived gunshot noise or a loud boom.

Some of the risk factors for a brain aneurysm are smoking, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heavy alcohol or drug abuse, head injury, lower estrogen after menopause, family history of brain aneurysm and polycystic kidney disease.

When ABC News journalist Lisa Colagrossi got the headache of her life, it was too late. She didn’t realize it was the beginning of a brain aneurysm. She died 18 months ago, while on assignment, from a brain aneurysm rupture.

Colagrossi’s story is one of many. TLCF recently revealed new survey findings about the African-American population to help guide the focus of brain aneurysm education. Ninety percent of Americans ages 18 and up cannot fully identify what a brain aneurysm is, and 30 percent don’t believe you can do anything about it.

“If someone had been doing the work TLCF is now, advancing the signs and symptoms, we could have recognized Lisa’s sudden onset headache as one of the classic warning signs of a brain aneurysm, and chances are that she would be working right alongside of us advocating for increased awareness,” said Colagrossi’s husband, Todd Crawford. “Our mission and approach are very different and have already been validated as a number of people have credited TLCF with saving their lives in just our first year. We have barely scratched the surface and won’t stop until our mission is complete.”

Crawford realizes the impact brain aneurysms have on the black community, so he’s committed to raising awareness. He reached out to Jones to share his story about Colagrossi and the foundation. Jones was looking for a charity to spread awareness about brain aneurysm research after he was drafted by the Lions. Crawford’s brother was a friend of Jones’ father at the University of Notre Dame.

According to Crawford, TLCF is the first organization devoted to awareness and education. He believes millions of lives can be saved if Americans are equipped with the critical information necessary to self-diagnose themselves and are informed about what to do.

The foundation’s primary focus is to create awareness and education for the signs, symptoms and risk factors for brain aneurysms while enhancing research and support initiatives that will help save lives. The organization also encourages programs that promote early detection and innovative research from world-renowned neurologists in the quest to find more effective methods in prevention and treatment.

Dr. Howard Riina, a leading neurosurgeon at NYU Langone Hospital and the head of the medical board for TLCF, said there are prevention strategies and treatments in place to stop a brain aneurysm from rupturing.

“The real problem is that brain aneurysms occur suddenly and Americans are not informed to recognize all the signs,” Riina said. “Consequently, they aren’t getting to the emergency room early enough and lives that might have been saved are lost or diminished by lifelong disabilities.”

Haynesworth joined TLCF for its first major fundraising event, A Cerebral Affair gala, on Sept. 29 to raise funds for national awareness and educational programs.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.