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Long Island

Hundreds walk and run to raise awareness about aneurysms

An estimated 1,500 people participate in Long Island's

An estimated 1,500 people participate in Long Island's Sixth Annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk/Fun Run at Jones Beach on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Alice Patterson's doctor told her it was her luckiest day: They had discovered two brain aneurysms in time to save her life.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm going to die, what are you talking about?' " the 64-year-old West Hempstead resident said.

He promised to save her. And he did.

"I pray for him every single day," she said.

Patterson was among an estimated 1,500 participants in the sixth annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk at Jones Beach Saturday.

Patterson and other survivors shared stories and family members trekked in honor of loved ones during the two-mile walk and four-mile run.

An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge off an artery wall. It can rupture, which is often fatal. An estimated 6 million people in the United States have an unruptured brain aneurysm.

In Patterson's case, only one of her aneurysms was operable. Ten years later, she's living with the remaining aneurysm, but she doesn't waste time worrying about it. "Is it scary? No. I don't even think about it," she said.

One of the speakers Saturday was Holly Hillgardner, a survivor who splits her time between West Virginia, where she's a professor of philosophy at Bethany College, and Forest Hills, Queens, where her husband lives.

Her aneurysm burst earlier this year. She's survived five brain surgeries. She married her boyfriend, Greg Payan, on Friday. "People are making fun of us, saying we're honeymooning at the Brain Aneurysm Walk, and I'm like, 'Yeah, we are!' " she said.

Hillgardner, 40, decided to marry her boyfriend of 10 years after surviving the trauma. "I just woke up and realized I really wanted to do this," she said. "Before, that wasn't a priority."

Last year, the walk raised $70,000 for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's Brain Aneurysm Center and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Officials hope they can meet or beat that amount this year.

Dr. David Chalif, a neurosurgeon at North Shore-LIJ -- the doctor who informed Patterson she was lucky in 2004 -- helped establish the walk. It has grown every year, he said.

In addition to fundraising, the goal is to educate the public about a little-understood health threat. "It's a disease that's under the radar," Chalif said.

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