A day of remembrance, admiration at Back Cove

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Debbie Hanmer of Dixfield walks the 2-mile Kat-Walk, with daughter Ashley Phair of South Portland, left, and her dog, Ellie. (Lebanon Voice/Harrison Thorp photo)

PORTLAND - Eighteen years ago doctors treating Debbie Hanmer of Dixfield gave her little hopes of survival.

"They didn't give me much chance," she said on Saturday.

After suffering from severe headaches for years doctors had discovered an inoperable basal artery aneurysm that threatened to rupture at any time, most likely fatally.

So they performed a procedure never done before, clipping the top and bottom of the aneurysm, actually reversing the blood flow in the brain.

The operation was a success, but six hours later Hanmer suffered a massive stroke, rendering her right side paralyzed, and leaving her unable to walk or talk. The doctors had had no choice, she said. She was between a rock and a hard place.

Bottom line: She survived.

Ruptured brain aneurysm survivors including Lebanon Voice President Martha T. Soto-Galicia, seventh from left, at Back Cove Park in Portland on Saturday.

After two months in the hospital, two years in rehab and more than a dozen years since then slowly rebuilding her body, Hanmer's recovery came full circle Saturday as she managed to finish the two-mile Kat Walk at the Maine Brain Aneurysm Foundation's annual fund-raising event at Back Cove in Portland.

Using a cane, and walking with her daughter and her dog, Ellie, Hanmer was the last to cross the finish line, doing so to wild applause and cheers that matched the Karo 5K winner an hour earlier.

"We just ask that people be supportive to aneurysm survivors when they come home," she said. "Emotions can be very tough, just be there for them."

The 7th annual KAT-Walk & Karo-5K is held each year in honor of Kimberly A. Tudor and Karolina Kurka, both young Maine women who died from sudden ruptured brain aneurysms. Tudor died at the age of 32, Kurka at 27.

The event has now grown to include more and more families affected by brain aneurysms. The day is also used to honor survivors and remember loved ones lost to this often undetected silent killer.

Dave McCausland, organizer of the event said it was put together to honor the two young women and all the survivors and their families as well.

It was also created to help bring awareness to the affliction, which is often misdiagnosed with sometimes fatal consequences.

September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, and McCausland told the crowd of more than 200 at Back Cove park that awareness can save lives.

Another highlight of the event was McCausland awarding a $25,000 aneurysm research grant made possible by fund-raising by the Maine Brain Aneurysm Foundation. For more about their efforts click here.

About brain aneurysms

A brain 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. Aneurysms form silently from wear and tear on the arteries and sometimes can form from injury, infection, or inherited tendency.

Brain aneurysms are a silent killer because most show no symptoms over time. It is estimated that up to 1 in 50 people in the United States will develop a brain aneurysm during their lifetime.

Due to the lack of awareness and research funding, the situation today is grim. Each year about 30,000 people will suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm. Almost half of the victims will die and of those surviving, only a third will recover without disabilities. Brain aneurysms are most prevalent in people ages 35 - 60, but can occur in children as well, often resulting in death. Women, more than men, suffer from brain aneurysms at a ratio of 3:2.

Symptoms - Unruptured

Although people with unruptured brain aneurysms may have headaches, this is often not associated with the actual aneurysm. Most people with unruptured brain aneurysms are completely asymptomatic (have no symptoms), while others may experience some or all of the following symptoms, which suggest an aneurysm:

Cranial Nerve Palsy

Dilated Pupils

Double Vision

Pain Above and Behind Eye

Localized Headache

Symptoms - Ruptured

People who suffer a ruptured brain aneurysms (subarachnoid hemorrhage) will often have warning signs. The following warning signs precede about 40% of major ruptures:

Sudden Severe Headache (worst headache of your life)

Nausea & Vomiting

Stiff Neck

Blurred or Double Vision

Sensitivity to Light (photophobia)

Loss of Sensation

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