A day of festivities instantly transformed into a life-or-death emergency late last year for Billy Brogdon-Simmons when he collapsed during a Christmas party at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital.
Brogdon-Simmons, 29, works at the health care facility as a patient-family experience coordinator, helping people who have been admitted feel comfortable while in the hospital.
But the young aide was the one in need of help when he suddenly lost consciousness during a tree-lighting ceremony.
“I remember having a headache. Then, I collapsed. I was on the patio here at LIJ Valley Stream. I had a burst aneurysm,” said Brogdon-Simmons, who lives in Queens.
Thursday marked his first day back at work after six months of struggling to recapture his health. As he recalled the dark day that threatened his life, he marveled at the warm welcome he received from colleagues, happy to see him back at work.
Brogdon-Simmons had been in a deep coma for weeks after collapsing.
His diagnosis was unusual because doctors discovered five additional aneurysms — ticking timebombs in the young man’s brain.
An aneurysm is a life-threatening bulge in a blood vessel that like a balloon being pumped with too much air can burst under pressure. The ruptured aneurysm, in Brogdon-Simmons’ case, caused him to lose consciousness.
The Brain Aneurysm Foundation estimates a brain aneurysm ruptures every 18 minutes in the United States. Ruptures are fatal in about 40 percent of cases.
Brogdon-Simmons, who had a starring role in the holiday bash — dressed as a toy soldier a la Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet — was lucky.
To save his life, staff members at the hospital rushed him to the facility’s emergency department where physicians began the first in a flurry of medical maneuvers.
“I had stopped breathing so they did a tracheotomy,” Brogdon-Simmons said of an incision into his windpipe that allowed him to receive oxygen. That procedure stabilized Brogdon-Simmons whose fate ultimately relied on doctors at two additional institutions.
A CT scan taken at Valley Stream confirmed bleeding in the brain, a finding that necessitated a move to a Northwell Health facility where experts could further assess Brogdon-Simmons’ case.
Doctors at the Northwell Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, where he was transferred next, found the breathtaking cluster of aneurysms in the young man’s brain, some having developed in brain regions where operating is risky.
The discovery of a half dozen of the pulsating bulges was surprising, even to a seasoned neurosurgeon.
“Six is pretty rare,” said Dr. Amir Dehdashti, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon at the institute. “We see patients with two or three aneurysms. But six is a lot.”
Aneurysms had emerged in the central pericallosal, pericallosal and ophthalmic regions of Brogdon-Simmons’ brain.
Dehdashti performed a procedure called “clipping,” in which a tiny clothespin-like device is placed at the base of an aneurysm to block its blood flow.
For Brogdon-Simmons, the titanium clips were put in place by entering his brain through the skull, although some neurosurgeons perform it by routing the clip on a catheter through an artery in the leg. Dehdashti was taking no chances.
Clips remain on the vessel permanently, causing the bulge to wither and die, the neurosurgeon said.
“I was still in a coma after the operation,” Brogdon-Simmons said.
When he finally emerged after weeks of unconsciousness, Brogdon-Simmons said he was surprised that he had lost so much time.
He remained at the institute in Manhasset until Dec. 21 when he was transferred to Northwell Health’s Glen Cove Hospital where he began the arduous task of regaining coordination and strength.
Physical therapy has become a routine part of his recovery, and he still has one of the aneurysms in his brain. It is small and not life-threatening, Dehdashti said, who has recommended watchful waiting.
“I feel really great now, and so many people are happy that I am back,” Brogdon-Simmons said.
An overriding medical condition may have played a role in the aneurysms’ development.
“I have sickle cell [disease] so I am guessing that’s the initial cause of it,” said Brogdon-Simmons, referring to the genetic condition that affects red blood cells, causing them to be shaped like sickles, tiny crescent moon configurations.
His dad, who died of a stroke in 2006, likely had sickle cell too, the son said.