Long Island’s Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk will benefit Northwell Health’s Brain Aneurysm Center

From left: Brain aneurysm survivors Terry Bongiorno and Kathleen Smith will speak at Long Island's Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk.

Two patients treated for potentially life-threatening brain aneurysms will tell their stories when the Brain Aneurysm Center at Northwell Health’s Neuroscience Institute, along with the Brain Aneurysm Foundation (BAF), host Long Island’s Ninth Annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Four-Mile Fun Run/Two-Mile Walk at Jones Beach State Park on Saturday, September 23.

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.

The walk will feature two women – Terry Bongiorno, 53, from New Hyde Park, NY and Kathleen Smith, 63, from Westbury, NY – who will share their accounts of early diagnosis and treatment.

Hundreds of walkers – including brain aneurysm survivors, their families and friends – are expected to attend the fun-filled event. Doctors, nurses and staff members from Northwell Health’s Brain Aneurysm Center will also be on hand to show their support for the many patients they have treated over the years. Among those who will be attending are David Chalif, MD, and Avi Setton, MD, co-directors of Northwell Health’s Brain Aneurysm Center.

“One of the goals of this annual event is to increase awareness about the warning signs of a brain aneurysm,” said Dr. Chalif. “The symptoms can include severe headache, nausea, blurred or double vision, stiff neck or neck pain, pain above or behind the eye and loss of sensation.”

Four years ago, Ms. Bongiorno experienced severe headaches and knew at the time that it could be a sign of a brain aneurysm. Her mother passed away of a brain aneurysm when Ms. Bongiorno was a toddler. Family members told Ms. Bongiorno that her mother complained of severe headaches prior to the fatal aneurysm. Decades later, when Ms. Bongiorno started to experience headaches herself, she knew that she should get screened.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan revealed a brain aneurysm, and while it was small and would normally be left alone to be monitored over time, she was told to see a specialist because of her family history. Upon reviewing the MRI scan, Dr. Chalif explained that due to her family history, the aneurysm should be closely monitored for any changes in development. 

Ms. Bongiorno went for annual follow-ups over the next few years, but it wasn’t until August 2016 when growth was detected through a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan. Dr. Chalif clipped the aneurysm, cutting off blood flow to the artery in an October 2016 procedure.

Clipping a brain aneurysm is a surgical procedure performed on both ruptured and unruptured aneurysms. The neurosurgeon works through a small opening in the skull, and once the aneurysm is located with the operating microscope, the neurosurgeon eliminates blood flow by placing a clip across the aneurysm’s base – allowing blood to flow normally elsewhere in the brain.

Ms. Bongiorno has no neurological deficits from the surgery and has since encouraged her own children, ages 19 and 21, to also get screened.

Family history also led Ms. Smith to get screened. Her sister died from a brain aneurysm nearly two decades ago. This past summer, Ms. Smith’s primary care physician recommended she get screened due to family history. A magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) was performed, which revealed a brain aneurysm. She was referred to Dr. Chalif, and upon reviewing the MRA images, Dr. Chalif said she was a good candidate to receive endovascular treatment with coils and a stent – another, more minimally invasive procedure to treat the brain aneurysm.

Ms. Smith underwent an endovascular coiling and stenting procedure in January, performed by Dr. Setton. Coiling a brain aneurysm requires the insertion of a catheter into the femoral artery in the leg, which is then navigated through the blood vessels into the brain where the aneurysm is located. Soft platinum coils and a stent are inserted through the catheter and deployed in the aneurysm. The coils conform to the shape of the aneurysm, fill the sac and block blood flow to the aneurysm to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing.

“Approximately 5 percent of brain aneurysms are linked to a family history,” said Dr. Chalif. “But due to the decisive actions of Ms. Bongiorno and Ms. Smith seeking medical attention because of their family history, their lives were saved due to early detection. By sharing their stories at our walk this year, they will undoubtedly help us spread awareness about the warning signs of a brain aneurysm and the importance of getting screened if you have a family history. We are extremely grateful to both of them and they should be commended for their extraordinary courage and strength.”

Registration for the walk begins at 8:30 a.m. at Jones Beach State Park, Field 5, 1000 Ocean Parkway, Wantagh, NY. The start time is 10 a.m. and the event will be held rain or shine. The registration fee is $25 through September 9, $30 afterward.  Entry fee includes the cost of parking and snacks. T-shirts will be handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis. To pre-register for the walk, click here.

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About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 22 hospitals and over 550 outpatient facilities. We care for more than two million people annually in the metro New York area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 62,000 employees – 15,000+ nurses and about 3,900 physicians, including more than 2,800 members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and the School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. And we offer health insurance through CareConnect. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu.

About Northwell Health’s Neuroscience Institute
Northwell Health’s Neuroscience Institute is a large and comprehensive team of professionals that provide neurosurgery and neurology services across the Greater New York region – from Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Suffolk County. Our physicians cover all subspecialties within the neurosciences, accept most insurance plans and pride themselves in providing excellent and ethical care. For more information, click here.

Michelle Pipia-Stiles
[email protected]