Livingston Resident and Duke University Student Advocates for Brain Aneurysm Research

Photo Credit: Gelman Family.

By: Evan Wechman

Livingston resident and Duke University student Justin Gelman was just like his peers before suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm in his dorm room in North Carolina.  Everything for him and his family changed that eventful February day in 2018.  

According to the Duke Brain Aneurysm fund which Gelman organized after his recovery, nearly half a million people worldwide die of ruptured brain aneurysms every year, and half the victims are under 50.  In the U.S, approximately 30,000 people suffer a brain aneurysm rupture with four in 10 cases being deadly. It was against these odds that Gelman not only survived the rupture but returned to college, where he is finishing his studies in hopes of going to medical school. 

Many people, according to Gelman, don’t understand the difference between a ruptured and an unruptured aneurysm. However, as he points out, an aneurysm is a bulging in the wall of an artery resulting in an abnormal widening. Many people live their whole life with an unruptured aneurysm without knowing they even had one.  There is danger when the aneurysm ruptures, causing a hemorrhage, where there is bleeding in the space between the brain and its hard-outer covering. This can deprive the brain of oxygen and other nutrients, eventually resulting in a stroke because of the lack of blood supply.

 Gelman is fully aware now of what he went through and is grateful for the love showed to him by family and friends back home in Livingston. He humbly states “without the support of these phenomenal people in Livingston, my parents wouldn’t have been able to survive this ordeal.  And if my parents couldn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to either.”

During that near fatal incident two years ago when Gelman was only 19, something significant does stand out for him. He recalls that he had an extreme headache and was unsure of what to do.  “I fought with my parents on the phone, explaining how I don’t need to go to the hospital, it was just a headache, it would go away.”

Since the headache felt so extreme, he and his parents agreed that Gelman would go to the hospital and call them when he arrived.  After several hours had passed, Robert and Lori Gelman called the Duke University Police to check on their son. He was found semi-conscious in his dorm room, and an ambulance transported him to the hospital.  Justin’s loving parents immediately left Livingston to see their son at Duke University Hospital.

Gelman, now 21 years old, remembers that his parents flew down “when I went to the emergency room with no idea that they wouldn’t return home for a month.  They came with nothing but an overnight bag, obviously not expecting that I would be diagnosed with a ruptured brain aneurysm.”

Gelman who had to undergo surgery to prevent further damage, states that the entire ordeal was a life lesson.  After the successful surgery, “I recall thinking about my entire life up to that moment. What I realized was, I hadn’t really accomplished anything yet. That if I died right then and there, my legacy would have been a sad story about a kid who dies young.  That thought terrified me; the thought of dying before becoming a doctor, finding the love of my life, seeing my kids grow up.”

Justin started to think more about his legacy and  woke up each morning with a purpose. He say’s “I’m trying to live every day with the focus that my actions are contributing to the life I want to live, the purpose I see for myself, and the world I want to create.”

The pre-med student has made a great impact on many lives.  Due to the exceptional care he received at the hospital, he created the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund which helps educate others and raise money to assist those who suffered an aneurysm.

Gelman often speaks in public about his experiences and offers camaraderie to fellow survivors who are looking for help.  He wants survivors and their loved ones to know that he “went through it too and they’re not alone, that they can make a recovery and that we can make a difference for future survivors.”   

Though Gelman is leaning towards a career in neurosurgery, he knows that whatever kind of doctor he becomes, he wants “this experience to help improve my ability to care for my patients”and to “pay forward the love and care received during my darkest time.”

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