GREENFIELD — About 6 million Americans, or one in 50, have a brain aneurysm in danger of rupturing, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
It’s a statistic Julie Workman and her mother, Janet Morefield, know all too well.
A brain aneurysm is a weak, bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery, like a thin balloon, and over time, blood flow pounds against the thin portion of the wall and can lead to a rupture, a medical emergency about 30,000 Americans suffer from each year. About 40 percent die.
Workman said she knows she and her mother are two of the lucky ones. The 1985 Mt. Vernon High School graduate survived a brain aneurysm rupture three years ago, about 20 years after doctors found an aneurysm in her mother’s brain and successfully treated it.
Now, Workman and her parents, Janet and Raymond Morefield of Cumberland, are working to spread awareness of the condition and to secure funding to research what they said is often a silent killer.
The family is working to have September recognized as Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month nationwide each year. Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Pence signed a proclamation declaring this month as Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month in Indiana, but the family says the proclamation is good only for this year and is working with legislators to get federal recognition, which could lead to more funding for research the family says is desperately needed.
In order for a special month to be recognized every year without a special proclamation from the governor, legislation needs to be passed by the Indiana General Assembly, the family explained.
Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, carried a resolution this year at the Statehouse that recognized Workman for her tenacity in raising awareness and encouraged Pence to sign a resolution declaring each September as brain aneurysm awareness month.
Now, Workman and her family are hoping to see similar language inserted into a bill in the next session. Meanwhile, they’re joining the Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s effort to lobby for federal legislation, as well.
Two congressional resolutions — House Resolution 259 and Senate Resolution 176 — would establish September as National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month. Workman and her parents have met with Hoosier lawmakers in Washington and this month met with U.S. Rep. Todd Young, a co-sponsor of House Resolution 259.
Those resolutions have been sent to committees for further study before they can be approved by Congress.
Raymond Morefield broke down as he talked about the past 23 years. Sure, his wife and daughter survived and recovered, but there were side effects, too; Workman lost her sense of taste and smell.
For 23 years, Raymond Morefield has been a caregiver. And he sat in a waiting room three times — Workman had two aneurysms that needed to be treated through surgery — wondering if the doctors would be successful, if his wife and daughter would survive, and what the future held.
Four out of seven patients who suffer a brain aneurysm rupture will be left with disabilities, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
“We’re the lucky ones,” Ray Morefield said. “Not everyone survives this. I can’t tell you how many times we praised God.”
The family said the goal is to raise awareness for brain aneurysms; a simple brain scan can catch an aneurysm before it ruptures, Workman said, and people should get one every five to 10 years.
After Janet Morefield’s surgery, her doctor encouraged the Morefields’ three daughters, including Workman, to get an MRI. All three did, and the doctors told them they saw nothing to be worried about.
Flash forward 20 years, and one brain aneurysm had ruptured in Workman’s head. Doctors found a second aneurysm that was even larger than the first.
Doctors can treat a brain aneurysm before it bursts, and when the condition is treated successfully, the recovery period is generally shorter than the recovery following treatment of a ruptured brain aneurysm, according to the foundation. Survivors of an unruptured brain aneurysm typically have a shorter hospital stay and less rehab and are able to return to work more quickly.
That’s why early detection is key, Workman said, adding that lawmakers could further awareness by supporting the family’s cause.
“I feel like all I’ve done the last two years is knocking and begging and crying, accordingly,” Workman said of her effort. “I need every single person to know that we know how to find it and we know how to fix it.”
She hopes as more awareness is raised for brain aneurysms, more federal funding will be made available for research. Researchers suspect brain aneurysms are hereditary, but they don’t have enough funding to finish that research, she said.
“I say aneurysm sometimes, and people look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language,” Workman said. “That’s where the awareness needs to come in. It can be a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be.”
The inaugural Brain Bolt 5k is scheduled for Oct. 11 at Marian University in Indianapolis.
All proceeds will benefit the Brain Aneurysm Foundation and the Neurosurgery Foundation at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine.
For more information or to register, visit brainbolt5k.com.