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Family fighting to cure a 'silent killer'

Julie Workman, left, and her mother, Janet Morefield, of Shelbyville, right, are survivors of brain aneurysms. They and the rest of the family lobby and fundraise for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation to raise awareness and fund research to someday find out why aneurysms form and if there is a genetic link.

By LUANN MASON - For The Shelbyville News

A “silent killer” visited a local family three times, unexpectedly and unwelcome, but was defeated when the ultimate outcome, death, was avoided. Realistically, it’s a killer that could be lurking inside the brains of so many other unsuspecting people.

Janet Morefield of Shelbyville and daughter Julie Workman have survived brain aneurysms. Morefield is a 26-year survivor, and Workman, a six-year survivor of two aneurysms. Together with family, they have crusaded for four years on behalf of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation to educate the public, raise money for research that could provide answers, and lobbied at all government levels urging politicians to budget research money.

“I want there to be some kind of event that is big enough and raises enough money and awareness that would help the researchers not only figure out the genetic link, but how or why aneurysms form,” Morefield said. “Some babies have even been born with them or had one at a young age.”

Morefield would like an event for brain aneurysm awareness to be as large as, or larger than events like the Susan G. Komen for a Cure walks and runs. Komen is known to be the largest and best-funded breasts cancer organization in the United States.

According to her father, Raymond “Ray” Morefield, the national government funds $300 million to cancer research and $800,000 for aneurysm research.

“It’s befuddling,” he said about aneurysms. “It makes you mad sometimes. It’s like murder. You hear it all day on TV, but until it happens to your family, you don’t know how much it affects all of you, everything.”

Is there a genetic link?

“No one knows yet,” 51-year-old Workman said. “There are no indicators that researchers know of to signify there is or isn’t.”

Yet, Workman was 45 years old when her first of two aneurysms was found. It had ruptured. Immediate surgery was required to save her life.

Her mother was 49, and waited three years for surgery since the aneurysm was intact, taking medications to avoid a rupture.

Workman’s surgeries were done at different times since the aneurysms were not on the same side of her brain.

According to information on the Brain Aneurysm Foundation website, www.bafound.org, a brain aneurysm, also known as a cerebral aneurysm, “is a weak, bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery very much like a thin balloon or weak spot on an inner tube. Over time, the blood flow within the artery pounds against the thinned wall and aneurysms form silently from wear and tear on the arteries. As the artery wall becomes gradually thinner from the dilation, the blood flow causes the weakened wall to swell outward.” The pressure may then cause the aneurysm to rupture, allowing blood to fill the area around the brain. A ruptured aneurysm quickly becomes life threatening and requires immediate medical care.

“There’s no place for the blood to go,” Workman said. “They removed 250 liters of dried blood from my brain.”

Fortunately, she said she received the proper attention when arriving at the hospital because a friend, who was a nurse, was with her when her first aneurysm ruptured. Her insistence that emergency room staff perform a CT scan on Workman revealed the ruptured aneurysm.

“They show the same symptoms as a drug overdose other than the fact that (people with a rupture) cannot talk,” Ray Morefield said.

“Emergency room doctors should do CTAs or MRAs as soon as patients arrive at the hospital,” Workman said. These are medical procedures that provide images of the vascular structures in the brain that could identify aneurysms.

“We want to rule out aneurysms,” she said. “(Medical staff) generally think it’s a sinus infection (due to the headache pain), give medication and send them home. Patients are going home and dying.”

Statistics reported by the BA Foundation showed an estimated six million people in the United States have an unruptured brain aneurysm, or one out of 50 people. About 30,000 people suffer a rupture annually, which it projects to be a rupture occurring every 18 minutes. About 40 percent of cases are fatal within 30 days from the rupture, and those who survive suffer some permanent neurological deficit.

The most notable signs of an aneurysm, according to the Foundation, include localized headache, dilated pupils, blurred or double vision, pain above and behind the eye, weakness and numbness, and difficulty speaking.

Signs that it may have ruptured is a “blinding” headache usually right behind the eyes, a possible tingling sensation in the face and neck, along with light sensitivity and neck stiffness, and possible extreme fatigue, weakness in the limbs, blurred vision and seizure.

“Once the brain starts healing, it does well, but, it takes time,” said Ray Morefield. “It has taken Janet 25 years to recover (from the brain surgery she had) and to get back where she was. Julie is in the 22 percent that survive and have some cognitive issues.”

She also had a surgical stroke that left her with no mobility on the left side of her body. The mother of three and wife went through the rehabilitation stroke patients undergo.

A 1985 Mt. Vernon High School graduate, Workman is back to work full-time. She lives in Mooresville with her family.

At a glance

September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month.

To increase awareness and to raise funding for research, Julie Workman, a 1985 Mt. Vernon High School graduate and former Greenfield resident is hosting “Bowling for Brains”, Sept. 22 from 6 to 10 p.m. at Strike Force Lanes, 1539 W. Main St., Greenfield.

A $10 donation will provide participants with three games and cover shoe rental.

A two-time brain aneurysm survivor, 51-year-old Workman is a volunteer with the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, www.bafound.org

“My main focus is awareness. We know how to find it if you have one and we know how to fix it before it ruptures and kills, or ruptures and disables you for life!” she said. “Secondly, fundraising dollars are important so that the Brain Aneurysm Foundation can fund the researchers with what they need to try and find why these are formed and stop them from forming, help those who have survived so that those who do go through this don’t have to go through it alone like my mother did, and/or most importantly, Genetic Link Research!”

Tax-deductible donations may be made to bit.ly/Bowling_for_Brains_2018.