Meet the inspiring survivors behind this silent killer

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Aneurysm Awareness

Did you know that right now, six million people in the U.S. are living with an unruptured brain aneurysm?

According to the Joe Niekro Foundation, a brain aneurysm "is an abnormal, weak spot on a blood vessel wall that causes an outward bulging, likened to a bubble. The bulging aneurysm can put pressure on a nerve or surrounding brain tissue. It may also leak or rupture, spilling blood into the surrounding tissue." Of these with a ruptured brain aneurism, half will die instantly. The other 50%, the survivors, have a road of recovery ahead.

Tamala Jones, star of the hit TV show "Castle," is one of these lucky survivors. Jones was only 23 when she experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm in 1998.

Ever since, she has made it her mission to bring much needed attention to the fight against brain aneurysms. Jones partnered with the Joe Niekro Foundation to search for extraordinary survivors who exemplify the hope and determination of living a fulfilling life after a brain aneurysm.

Thousands of entrants submitted essays telling their stories and these women were chosen to represent survivors from across the country. Here are incredible survivors and these are their stories.

Monica Sauls

Photo courtesy of ABC"In March of 2014, a blood vessel ruptured in my brain. I had been out of town, in Chicago, for work, alone in a hotel room. It was the middle of the night and I could not sleep. I had had the world's worst headache for days and now this evening I suddenly I was unable to even move my neck. I knew something was terribly wrong but I wasn't thinking clearly. Instead of asking for help from hotel personnel, I stumbled alone down to the hotel lobby around 1 a.m. in the morning and flagged a cab to take me to the nearest hospital emergency room. It was there I found out my problem was a brain aneurysm. With only hours to live, my life as I had known it up till then, would cease to exist. For the first time, I faced my mortality.

My friends and associates all tried to help. They offered advice. 'You should quit your job,' they said. 'You should cut back on your schedule,' they suggested. Or they would quietly whisper, 'You should just slow down and enjoy life.' But my brush with death was guiding me in a different direction. It was, for me, a wake-up call to do just the opposite, not to slow down and swaddle myself in fear, but to get up, get moving, and go for it. Doing the work, about which I am passionate, and living my dreams is, for me, enjoying life."

Dulce Isler

Photo courtesy of ABC"It was a beautiful sunny morning on August 13, 2008. I had just hung up with my best friend when I felt like I was being stabbed in my right eye. My neck stiffened and then my back. I felt like I was swerving but I was in standstill traffic on Interstate 287 in New Jersey. I started to get scared because I didn't know what was happening.

I called my sister, who luckily was at home. She put me on hold and called a family friend who is a police officer. He called an ambulance to come to meet me. It was surreal. This young doctor came and blurted 'you have blood in the brain and will need brain surgery.' I thought he was joking. I started crying again and my sister called my husband and my mother.

They performed the surgery to insert the coils the next day and then I was in the Neuro-ICU unit for two weeks. I don't remember a lot of it except a lot of sleep and poking and prodding. I wasn't even 40 yet. I survived though. Thirty-three percent of people die when the aneurysm ruptures, during surgery, or during the two-week period when they 'watch' you. I didn't die. I can't work anymore — I have headaches, memory issues, and exhaustion, but I survived."

Cindy Mann

Photo courtesy of ABC"I found out that I have brain aneurysms in February, 2014, when one burst while I was driving to work. I remember having a headache the two days prior, but just working through it. Blondie was playing on the radio 'One Way or Another.' My vision went funny, and it felt as though angel wings were flapping in my ears. Then pain and a tight feeling zipped from the base of my skull to the front. I could feel my pulse in my face and my neck and throat felt like they were swollen.

The next thing I knew, I was parked in front of the convenience store that I stop at every morning before work, wondering how I got there. I kept thinking that I needed to get to work. I'm not sure why, but I instead drove to the emergency room. The emergency staff found the brain bleed. I felt certain they must be mistaken.

Being a prisoner in my own body was the worst feeling. I know that I beat the odds, more than once and enjoy life so much more now."

Jamie Moore

Photo courtesy of ABC"I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss the migraine headaches that I have had throughout my life. When I spoke with her, she suggested that I get a follow-up MRI done due to the car accident that I was in in 2010. In the car crash I had a subdural hematoma, facial lacerations, and small facial fractures. She was concerned that perhaps my brain wasn't 'healthy' due to the car accident and she wanted to make sure that everything was okay before prescribing me any new medication. I got the test done about a week later after my prior-authorization went through and the radiologists saw a 'small' aneurysm and referred me to a neurologist.

The doctor actually told us afterwards that the aneurysm was much larger than they thought and he was willing to bet that it would have ruptured sometime soon. This was horrifying but also somewhat comforting knowing that it was clipped and taken care of. The surgeons also told me post-op that they didn't believe the aneurysm was related to my car accident, and thought that it had just formed on its own.

I found out a few days ago that my great-grandmother actually passed away from a brain aneurysm rupture in her late eighties- so perhaps I developed the aneurysm due to genetics. Maybe the car accident was actually what ended up saving my life. If I hadn't been in the car accident, I highly doubt that my doctor would have had me get an MRI due to headache complaints."

Sandra Marante

Photo courtesy of ABC"September, 2012: My last year of graduate school. Soon it will be the first time I am on my own outside of academia and finding my way in the big opera music world.

But for now, its rehearsal time. In November, we are performing for Opera Fest. I am a part of the production of Viardot's salon opera 'Cinderella,' which I was chosen to sing and perform the role Cinderella (a dream come true). We have just finished singing the first scene and now it is my ballroom entrance.

Smiling, I wait for my music to begin. Silence. Dead Silence. Minutes must have passed by before I hear my name. As I awake, laying on the ground, trembling, I hear the whimpering of friends and an E.M.T looking to help me. With just the stare of my begging eyes for all to calm down so I didn't panic, a hush came over the room while I was asked many questions by the paramedics. 'Do you know where you are?' 'What is your name?' Everyone was silent, hoping to hear an answer. NOTHING. I could think of the words but nothing came out. I was told I had a grand mal seizure. I had turned blue and stopped breathing for minutes. I couldn't remember my name or the name of others. It dawned on me that my life was about to change forever."

Melanie Taylor

Photo courtesy of ABC"May 10, 2012, I had a headache so bad that it woke me up from my sleep. I was 33-years-old. I have had migraines as long as I can remember, so I took my usual Advil and tried to rest. The medication didn't even touch my headache and by 9 p.m. that evening I was vomiting and had lost use of my left hand and leg. My boyfriend at the time recognized that something was very wrong and dialed 911.

The EMTs quickly assessed that I was in trouble and took me to the nearest hospital. A CT scan showed brain hemorrhaging. I was put on a medical helicopter bound for Rush Hospital University Medical Center. Rush physicians determined that I had an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) with five aneurisms contained within the AVM. Doctors spent hours in surgery removing the AVM and preformed a craniotomy to help with brain swelling. I spent three days in a drug induced coma. I spent three weeks in physical, occupational and speech therapy in the hospital. Once home, I spent months rehabbing on an outpatient basis.

I nor my family had ever heard of an AVM, and the only thing any of us knew about an aneurism is that if you get one, you die. No one should have to learn about these conditions in an ambulance. I got through this ordeal with the support of my family, doctors and nurses, and lots of self-determination. People would tell me how fortunate I was, and that I was a miracle. I felt as though I wasn't special for having this happen to me. I was fully aware that many others had, or will have experienced this same fate. I was lucky enough to have someone around me at the time that immediately recognized the signs of a stroke and took quick action. I was also lucky enough to have unwavering support from friends and family. My mission then became to both educate and help others."

Felicia Harrison

Photo courtesy of ABC"On April 16, 2001, I woke up and prepared for work as I normally did. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day in Hudson Valley. I remember having a smile on face, as if I knew this day was going to be great!

As I was walking into the hospital [where I worked], the doors slid back. I took one step inside and the lights from those gleaming bulbs nearly blinded me. I felt this sharp pain in my head that infiltrated my left eye. I was seeing double. My ears started to ring. My nose started to run. My neck stiffened. I lost awareness of where I was and who was around me. I could not speak or yell for help. I dropped my bags and collapsed to the floor. I was immediately rushed to the emergency room.

The emergency room doctors performed every test they could to figure out why I had collapsed. All my vital signs were normal except for one specific thing. My left eyelid started to droop. At that moment, I told the doctor, 'This is the worse headache in my life.' She immediately ordered an MRI. The MRI results proved that I had a 4mm aneurysm of the left Ophthalmic Artery."

To read the survivors' incredible full stories, click here.

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