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Brain-aneurysm victim warns at-risk adults

Theresa Robinson struggles to help others avoid her fate

Crystal and Michael are thankful their mother,Terri Robinson, survived a brain aneurysm in 2012.
Crystal and Michael are thankful their mother,Terri Robinson, survived a brain aneurysm in 2012.Read moreTom Gralish/Staff Photographer

THERESA "TERRI" Robinson ignored the pitfalls of working full time as a health-care manager while attending Lincoln University full time to earn a master's degree in human services.

She smoked. She ate salty, fatty foods. She was in her 50s but didn't think about her family's high-risk medical history.

Until one night in late March 2012, when she suffered a brain aneurysm.

"Finding my mother lying on the floor was one of the most devastating moments of my life," said Robinson's son, Michael, 26, who called 9-1-1 in time to save her.

Robinson, 58, who lives in Germantown, said she should have seen the warning signs long before she lost her 25-year health-care career and nearly lost her life.

She told the Daily News she wants to share her story in hopes of raising awareness and thereby saving others.

"There was a history of brain aneurysms in my mother's family," she said. "Back in the day, in the South, out in the country, they called them 'strokes.' My dad died at 50 from a stroke. I didn't know about brain aneurysms."

Robinson said she was diagnosed with hypertension in her 20s, her blood pressure was erratic, and, "People would say, 'Cut back on salt, Terri. Lose some weight, Terri. You have to stop smoking.' "

She didn't.

On that March 2012 day, she came home from work, "grabbed some hot dogs and started working on a college paper," she said.

"I got a headache. I put on my coat to go outside and have a cigarette, but I couldn't get to the door. I was confused. I could see it, but I couldn't walk there.

"I tried to walk upstairs to tell my son that my head hurt but I couldn't get my foot on the step. I saw myself falling, but I couldn't stop myself."

Robinson said her son must have found her quickly "because I was hemorrhaging and would have bled out."

She woke up weeks later in intensive care at Temple University Hospital.

After two surgeries, she spent months relearning to walk and talk, then returned to her job.

She lasted three weeks. "I was walking into walls because my balance was off," Robinson said. "I had anxiety attacks. I started having seizures."

A brain scan revealed more bleeding, which required more surgery and a long physical and psychological recovery at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.

"I dealt with depression," Robinson said. "Nothing felt the same. Nothing. I was in a wheelchair and very withdrawn. I'd find a corner to sit in till it was lunchtime. Then I'd find a corner to sit in till it was dinner time.

"But I had always been a social person in terms of helping others," she said. "Once I recognized my deficits - memory and processing problems, extreme tiredness, a real decrease in concentration, headaches - I started reaching out to others."

Crystal Robinson, 30, a special-education teacher who moved in with her mom to care for her, said, "My mom fought [this] from Day 1. I know she will make it. She often says the words by Maya Angelou, 'Still I Rise,' and she means that no matter the cost of the challenges in her journey, 'Still I Rise.' "

Theresa Robinson has a vision. "As African-Americans, we eat more salt in our foods, more fat and more fried foods," she said, which increases the likelihood of what happened to her.

"My dream is to establish a brain-aneurysm awareness foundation here by 2016 so we can raise awareness of this disease to the level of breast-cancer awareness," Robinson said. "That will save lives. I'd like to see some people's lives get saved."