By Jason Epstein Special to the TJP
Last March, what seemed like a few minor headaches prompted Jennifer Greenspan to go to the doctor to get checked out.
The original prognosis predicted stress, as Jennifer suspected, as the headaches had nagged on for a few weeks. Yet the doctor suggested she go through an MRI just to be sure.
"We had the MRI and then we got a call from the neurologist saying he had an appointment for us in two hours at Children's Medical Center," Terri Train Greenspan, Jennifer's mother, said.
Upon arrival, they were delivered the news. These were no ordinary headaches. Jennifer had been diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and required a multistep surgery, which took place at Zale Lipshy University Hospital. In the early surgeries, they sealed off two arteries during two separate procedures through her leg. Afterward, they engaged in brain surgery.
"They literally removed my skull from my head, took out the abnormal arteries and then put it back in my head," Jennifer said. "Now, my skull is a little weirdly shaped because they had to rebuild it."
As defined by the Mayo Clinic, a brain AVM is "a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain." A brain AVM occurs in less than 1 percent of the population and is not hereditary. The condition is normally congenital, meaning present at birth, though generally discovered between ages 10 and 40.
About half of the time, the brain AVM ruptures before detection; some experience prior headaches, like Jennifer.
"We're very lucky that we found it," Greenspan said.
Jennifer, currently a sophomore at Yavneh Academy, was diagnosed at the age of 15. In April, while in surgery, Jennifer's friends kept up with her condition through a Facebook page called "Jennifer's Update."
"I was surprised at how many people cared about me," Jennifer said. "Afterwards, I had friends who said they would wake up and check the Facebook and then, before they went to bed, check it again."
While the surgery went well, long-lasting effects remain.
"Since it was on the right side, it affected the right side: my coordination and balance," Jennifer said. "To this day, I still can't legibly write or balance and it's been seven months."
Outside of school, Jennifer serves as the Judaic programmer of Fannie Sablosky BBG in BBYO. This Saturday, Sablosky is putting on its first Doll Ball benefiting both the chapter and The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF) -- a fund discovered by Jennifer.
"She's a chapter member and not only are we friends, but we are sisters and come together every week," Sablosky President Isabel Middleman said. "She's one of my best friends and it's really important to support her and the chapter."
Each BBYO chapter adopts a Stand UP cause to affect positive change in a capacity often related to members of the chapter. Sablosky specifically decides whether or not to change causes on a semester basis. In August, they adopted TAAF as their Stand UP initiative.
"In the past, it's been the Vogel Alcove," Jennifer said. "Now, it's a no-brainer."
TAAF is a nonprofit, pro-bono organization that directs money into research and public education. As an all-volunteer organization, survivors, caregivers and medical professionals strive to support those affected by aneurysm and other vascular malformations of the brain.
"We're just starting to look into it, but we are looking into becoming more involved in AVM awareness," Greenspan said.
Doll Ball, also known as the Formal Homecoming Dance, is the region's first formal dance in decades. Members of Sablosky earned approval for the idea in the spring, though extensive planning and conflicts led them to push the event to the end of this semester.
"I go to Booker T. Washington so I don't have a homecoming and I think this is an experience that everyone should have," Middleman said.
Doll Ball tickets have been presold at different schools for $15. Also, BBYO members were given the opportunity to purchase tickets at this discounted price at Preston and Frankford -- a common meeting site for North Texas BBYO members -- on the condition that they wear red clothing to spread awareness.
The Doll Ball will occur this Saturday night at Congregation Shearith Israel from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and tickets will still be told at the door for $20.
For more information about TAAF and how to get involved, please visit taafonline.org.