Meredith Brosnan is, by many accounts, lucky to be alive. After suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm almost two years ago, the Glen Head resident has slowly and steadily been getting her life back on track and has even competed in sailing races this summer in Hempstead Harbor. To help create awareness, she will be one of the featured patients participating in Long Island’s eighth annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Four-Mile Fun Run/Two-Mile Walk at Jones Beach State Park on Saturday, Sept. 24, hosted by the Brain Aneurysm Center of Northwell Health’s Neuroscience Institute, along with the Brain Aneurysm Foundation (BAF).
Brosnan underwent surgeries during most of her six-week hospital stay and does not remember anything from the first five weeks.
“My first memory is of a doctor asking me if I know how lucky I am to be alive,” said Brosnan, 70. “I’ve felt really blessed throughout the whole process.”
In November 2014, Brosnan was at her daughter’s house when “an odd feeling” in her head caused her to collapse. She was sent to Glen Cove Hospital, where an MRI scan revealed a ruptured brain aneurysm. Brosnan was transferred to North Shore University Hospital, where Dr. David Chalif surgically clipped the aneurysm, by working through a small opening in the skull, locating the aneurysm with an operating microscope and cutting the blood flow by placing a clip across the base, allowing blood to flow normally elsewhere in the brain.
“Meredith’s case was very severe,” said Chalif. “She had a severe leak and she had a blood clot that had to be removed first.”
She was required to spend five to six weeks in the hospital and underwent rehabilitation to regain strength.
“She’s had an amazing recovery,” said Chalif. “It’s miraculous how far she’s come.”
The warning signs of a brain aneurysm include severe headache, nausea, blurred or double vision, stiff neck or neck pain, pain above or behind the eye and loss of sensation. In Brosnan’s case, it came on very quickly, with no prior symptoms.
“I had no health issues. I remember thinking, ‘my life isn’t going to be the same after this’ once I started feeling that sensation,” said Brosnan.
A sudden burst is pretty common, according to Chalif.
“For most people, it happens out of the blue,” said Chalif. “It usually presents with the patient having the worst headache of their life. Every case is different and has its own nuances. Usually, it’s lurking there, but no one knows they have it. In some cases, it’s found by accident, if a patient is being treated for a severe migraine or something else where the doctor orders an MRI or MRA, or if there’s a family history.”
A former assistant superintendent for business in the Valley Stream Union Free School District, Brosnan was forced to retire early since she couldn’t drive. She said she’s still not completely back to normal—and likely never will be—as she suffers frequent headaches, but an avid sailor and member of the Hempstead Harbour Club, she has been able to resume sailing. This summer she is enjoying the boat she had purchased two weeks prior to her incident.
“It’s a great feeling to get back out there,” she said. “I am devoting more time to things that are important. Dr. Chalif and the wonderful staff at the hospital saved my life.”
Chalif said his center treats about 150 aneurysm cases per year, either through coiling or clipping, and they monitor many others. He said it’s important to seek help from a major medical facility if you are experiencing a lot of pain.
“If you have a severe headache, I urge people to go to the emergency room of a major health center and get checked out,” he said, noting that in some instances, urgent care centers have not caught the problem, despite the symptoms, before the burst. “Our center, which has been doing aneurysms for a long time, is one of the busiest in the tri-state area. With greater volume, the outcomes are better due to the experience of the whole team.”
The walk is a celebration of survival, health and seeking appropriate medical care. Proceeds from the walk will benefit Northwell Health’s Brain Aneurysm Center and the BAF, helping support essential research into how to help prevent cases of ruptured aneurysms.
“Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40 percent of cases, but thanks to the quick actions of Meredith’s family members in seeking prompt medical attention, her life was saved,” said Chalif. “By sharing her story at our walk this year, she will help spread awareness about the warning signs of a brain aneurysm and save lives.”
Registration for the walk begins at 8:30 a.m. at Jones Beach State Park, Field 5, 1000 Ocean Parkway, Wantagh. The start time is 10 a.m. and the event will be held rain or shine. The registration fee is $25 through Sept. 10. Entry fee includes the cost of parking and snacks. Tee-shirts will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Those interested can join Team Brosnan; even those who do not want to walk can still donate to the cause. Visit www.bafound.org to register.
Brosnan attributes her recovery to the quick and professional response of the Glen Cove EMS and the care she received at Glen Cove Hospital and at North Shore University Hospital. She acknowledged she was lucky to be in the company of her daughter and not alone when it happened.
“Everything fell right in place,” she said. “I’m especially grateful to the [medical] care I received. This walk is a way of giving back.”