LIVINGSTON, NJ — After surviving a ruptured aneurysm and fully recovering without the permanent damage that is common among survivors, 20-year-old Livingston resident Justin Gelman immediately knew he had to use his second chance at life to help others who face similar situations.
Gelman, whose aneurysm ruptured while he was alone in his Duke University apartment in February, has joined forces with Duke Neurosurgery to form the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund in an effort to save the lives of those who suffer from this silent killer. According to Gelman, the mission is to provide practitioners and caregivers beyond Duke with the advanced training and education necessary to ensure the best brain aneurysm care for everyone, everywhere.
“The thing about brain aneurysms is that there are no signs and no indication that it’s going to happen,” said Gelman. “You never know where you’re going to be when they happen; they’re just in there and they just burst. The fact that anyone can have it and that it can be your son, your daughter, your mother, father, brother, wife, it’s really important that we give everyone the opportunity to be treated.”
Gelman was out of class with the flu for a nearly week when he suddenly began experiencing what he thought was a migraine. His parents, who were home in Livingston, convinced him to go to the hospital, but never heard back that he got there safely.
Campus police found Gelman semiconscious on his couch after his parents discovered via the “Find My iPhone” app that their son was still in his apartment and immediately called for help.
“That made a huge difference; I really don’t know if I would have made it out of my apartment,” said Gelman. “The thing people really should know is if you have a headache that’s so bad that it’s weird, just go to the hospital. It’s not worth it. I’m extremely stubborn and that almost did me in, so don’t be as stubborn as I was.”
Two surgeries and 23 days later, Gelman returned to Livingston on a medical leave of absence from Duke and brought with him a new sense of purpose.
“I feel extremely grateful and I feel a great sense of duty that I was given this tremendous gift and I need to go use it,” said Gelman. “Most people are not as lucky as I was and I have to do something with it … Even when I was in the hospital recovering, (my family and I) knew that as soon as we were able to, we wanted to do something to give back to this community that did so much for us.”
Although Gelman was in such close proximity to Duke Neurosurgery, which employs some of the best neurosurgeons and brain cancer specialists in the industry, others are not always so lucky. In fact, according to Duke Neurosurgery, four in 10 brain-aneurysm ruptures are fatal, and about two-thirds of survivors suffer permanent neurological damage.
The Gelman family is now working closely with Duke Neurosurgery as well as Gelman’s surgeon, Dr. Ali Zomorodi, to bring in as many doctors as possible for training on the most-advanced techniques and practices for these situations. The immediate goal of the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund over the next three years is to bring doctors from all over the world to Duke Neurosurgery for a Brain Aneurysm Forum to be held annually in the spring.
For Gelman, who coincidentally is a neuroscience major and has known since elementary school that he wants to become a doctor, the last year of recovery has only reaffirmed his medical aspirations.
“I was always planning on going to med school, but the one thing that's changed is I'm very interested in neurosurgery now,” said Gelman. “I've always thought the brain was so cool because we know so little about it and it's the thing that drives who we are as individuals. Neurology is what I'm passionate about because I found a new purpose after having this happen to me."
When spring semester begins this month, Gelman said his fraternity plans to start giving back to the hospital by supplying care packages for the current patients and their families. He also said he and some friends intend to volunteer at the hospital as well as raise awareness about brain aneurysms.
To learn more or donate the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund, click here.