Doris Connor died after complications from a brain aneurysm in the summer of 2003. Now, her daughter, Hope Bednarski, has made it her mission to memorialize her mother as well as raise awareness of this scary disorder. For the second year in a row, she’s organized the Doris A. Connor 5K Race/1 Mile Walk in her mom’s honor.
“My mom was a great person,” said Bednarski, of Cicero. “She became a single mom when my parents divorced as I entered high school. She did everything for me. She drove me back and forth from cheerleading and track practice, sat through hours and hours of football and basketball games I cheered at, track meets I competed in, karate classes until I earned my black belt and brought my friends and me back and forth to the mall and each other’s houses constantly. She was a registered nurse working full-time for Syracuse Developmental Center, and worked part-time jobs as a private nurse to help get me through college and grad school.”
Connor was dedicated to children, as well as her job — so much so that it was odd when she called in sick in late January of 2003. It was even stranger when she just didn’t show up the next day.
“A co-worker tried calling her, and there was no answer,” Bednarski said. “They immediately knew something was wrong and called my sister who was local. I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time. My sister got in to her apartment to find her completely out of it. She was brought to the hospital by an ambulance, and my sister was told shortly later by the neurosurgeon that she had a ruptured brain aneurysm and she was not going to make it.”
Connor’s condition improved slightly from that point. By the time Bednarski made it to Upstate Hospital from Atlanta, Connor was awake and talking.
“Just like my mom, she was more concerned about me flying home when ‘the doctors just need to take care of this rupture,’” Bednarski said.
However, her prognosis was still grim.
“The neurosurgeon again told me there was very little hope because of the location of the rupture,” Bednarski said.
Connor’s ruptured aneurysm was something that about 30,000 people in the United States go through every year. There are almost 500,000 deaths worldwide each year caused by brain aneurysms, and half the victims are younger than 50.
“A brain aneurysm is a weak bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery very much like a thin balloon or weak spot on an inner tube,” according to The Brain Aneurysm Foundation’s website. “Over time, the blood flow within the artery pounds against the thinned portion of the wall and aneurysms form silently from wear and tear on the arteries. As the artery wall becomes gradually thinner from the dilation, the blood flow causes the weakened wall to swell outward. This pressure may cause the aneurysm to rupture and allow blood to escape into the space around the brain. A ruptured brain aneurysm commonly requires advanced surgical treatment.”
According to the website (bafound.org), about six million Americans, one in 50, have an unruptured brain aneurysm. The annual rate of rupture is about eight to 10 per 100,000, or one every 18 minutes. Ruptures are fatal in about 40 percent of cases; of those who survive, about two-thirds suffer some permanent neurological disability. Women are more likely than men to suffer from brain aneurysms at a ratio of 3:2. Smoking, high blood pressure, family history, certain disorders, age, drug use, traumatic brain injury, tumors and infection are also risk factors.
In Connor’s case, as in that of many others, there were no warning signs.
“She was very active, worked out at the gym, ate healthy and walked several miles a day,” Bednarski said.
But Connor’s good health, sadly, did her no good in the end. Two weeks after her aneurysm ruptured, doctors decided to operate. The surgery caused a series of strokes.
“After that she was never the same.” Bednarski said. “She spent several months in different rehab facilities, but she was never my mom again.”
Connor passed away on June 21, 2003, at the age of 59, nearly five months after the aneurysm ruptured and two weeks before Bednarski’s wedding.
“Thank God for my husband,” Bednarski said. “He knew what he was doing putting the two of us together. I could not have made it through that very difficult time without him.”
Indeed, Bednarski said she is grateful for the support of her husband, as well as family, friends and the many businesses who supported last year’s walk. This year’s event will take place at 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. It will also include a half-mile kids’ fun run with a registration fee of $10, as well as a wellness fair.
“Local health- and fitness-related businesses will have a ‘team’ at the event and also set up an informational table for participants to browse,” Bednarski said.
Last year’s walk raised about $5,000. Bednarski hopes to raise even more this year to benefit The Brain Aneurysm Foundation and to let others who take part in the Doris A. Connor Memorial 5K Race/1 Mile Walk can also get to know what a kind, loving woman her mother was.
“She was an outstanding friend to many and was always there to help others,” Bednarski said. “She was a very positive person, and that is something I always remember about her. She always encouraged me to work hard and never give up.”
Participants in the walk/run can preregister at bafound.donorpages.com/DorisConnor13/ through Sept. 20 for $20; registration includes a T-shirt. Registration is also open the day of the race at 8 a.m. at Oneida Shores for $25. Top male and female finishers will receive prizes, as will random finishers. All participants in the kids’ fun run will receive ribbons. Snacks and refreshments will be provided for the racers, and a post-race celebration will be held at Cooper’s Landing in Cicero (7459 Murray Drive, off of Lakeshore Road) with free appetizers and drink specials for all participants.
For more information, email RunForDoris@yahoo.com.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.