ROME, N.Y.--For Diane D'Amico, understanding brain aneurysms began with a loved one.
"My father had a brain aneurysm," D'Amico said. "It was incidentally found. He had woken up just with terrible head pain one night."
As a working mother, D'Amico said it was easy to write off symptoms of the condition until they became too painful to ignore.
"My headaches were unbearable," D'Amico said. "My primary care said 'you know, maybe we need to get a CAT scan, an MRI, and MRA, and this was in 2012. We found an aneurysm on my right internal carotid artery."
A brain aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel bulges outward. When they rupture, blood is leaked into the brain, causing pooling and pressure. D'Amico caught her aneurysm before it ruptured.
"I was treated, I have seven coils, titanium coils," D'Amico said.
The coils were inserted into the aneurysm to stop blood from entering the stretched vessel. Other treatment includes clipping the aneurysm and gluing it shut to prevent further growth. D'Amico recovered from coil surgery in only a few days.
"To manage and prevent a rupture is so much better," D'Amico said.
According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in 40 percent of cases. Of those who survive a rupture, 66 percent will suffer some type of permanent neurological deficit. One in 50 people will develop a brain aneurysm, ruptured or intact.
Deborah Dunn suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2013 during a shopping trip. A few weeks before the rupture, she noticed an instance of doubled vision, which lasted two days.
"I was playing Scrabble, and we had a dictionary," Dunn said. "So I'm looking at it, say the word is 'how,' and I see dark letters 'how' and right underneath it I saw light letters 'how.'"
During the rupture, Dunn's symptoms became more severe.
"It felt like I ate ice cream really fast, but horrendous," Dunn said. "I was in ICU for about a month."
Though she survived, Dunn had a months-long recovery ahead of her. She learned how to walk and talk again, and regained the use of her left side.
"They're teaching me flashcards. Two plus two, A-B-C," Dunn said. "After months and months of hard work, I said 'oh, I'm as smart as a fifth grader.'"
Together, the women coordinate a brain aneurysm support group out of Rome Memorial Hospital. On the second Monday of each month, they provide resources and help for survivors and caregivers.
"Nobody can understand like somebody that went through the same thing you did," Dunn said.
Brain aneurysms are detected through CT scans, MRIs or MRAs. D'Amico's ultimate goal is to make screenings for the condition more common, similar to mammograms and colonoscopies.
"What we are trying to do and trying to get through to the insurance companies, is that a simple scan could save so many lives," D'Amico said. "The statistics are almost as staggering as breast cancer."
D'Amico says a regular scan would cost less money over time than a rupture for those over 40, with a family history of the disease, high blood pressure and other risk factors.
"The rupture is astronomical," D'Amico said. "You're going to spend probably a week in an ICU. You're going to probably need rehab. You may need home services, you may have a visiting nurse that has to come out."
For more information on joining the Rome support group, call (315)533-6467.
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