Local television news anchor’s lasting legacy
The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation educates, saves lives
Lisa Colagrossi, a local television news reporter and anchor in New York, worked when other people were sleeping. Typically she’d leave for work at 1:30 a.m. in order to arrive home by 2 p.m. just before her young two boys, Davis and Evan, returned from school. She was the type of person who put others first; people were naturally drawn to her because of her giving nature, great sense of humor, and her amazing turquoise-green eyes.
On and off for more than five weeks, Colagrossi complained of sensitivity to light and what she called the “worst headache of her life.” When her husband, Todd Crawford, questioned her about going to a doctor to get checked out, Colagrossi told him, “I’ve got too much to do with work and everything at the house with you and the boys.”
On March 19, 2015, in the wee hours of the morning, Colagrossi made the 50-minute drive from her home in Stamford, Connecticut, to her work at WABC in New York. Around 7 a.m., she called to talk to her boys to tell them that she loved them.
It was the last time they heard her voice. Around two hours later, Crawford received an unexpected phone call from a prominent neurosurgeon in New York City who told him the devastating news that Colagrossi had collapsed on the job, but they didn’t know why. Crawford told the doctor, “You need to check her head.”
Tragically, it was already too late for the 49-year-old Catholic mother. She had experienced a brain aneurysm that ruptured. When Crawford walked into her hospital room, his wife was already hooked up to life support. On March 20, family members had said their goodbyes.
A brain aneurysm may occur when there’s a weakness or thinning of the wall of a blood vessel in the brain. This thinning causes the blood vessel to balloon outward, and the pressure of the blood pounding against the thin wall can cause a life-threatening hemorrhage.
According to the American Stroke Association, an aneurysm typically develops after age 40. Those more at risk are women, African-Americans, individuals with high blood pressure, smokers, drug and alcohol abusers, people with brain trauma, or those with a family history of brain aneurysms. Low estrogen levels after menopause also play a role.
Colagrossi’s only risk was that she was a woman in her late 40s.
According to the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation, up to 15 million people in the United States, or 1 in 20, will develop a brain aneurysm. As many as 40,000 rupture annually with more than 75 percent resulting in death or permanent disability.
A new message
Crawford, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Stamford, Connecticut, blamed himself for his wife’s sudden death. He told Catholic Digest, “I feel that she died because of my inability and lack of persistence to grab her by the arm and take her to the emergency room.”
Four months after her death, he took his boys on their annual vacation to Ocean City, Maryland. While there, he attended the 7 a.m. Mass at St Luke’s Parish and spent the entire Mass crying. During one of those morning Masses, something happened that made him believe that God was looking out for him.
After Mass, the two priests and the deacon went to the back of the church in different areas to greet people as they left the church. As Crawford was walking down the center aisle of the church toward the monsignor standing in the vestibule, suddenly, out of the corner of his left eye, he caught a glimpse of the deacon — someone he’d never met — standing in the back corner of the church.
“As soon as I saw him, the words, “Todd, go see him. He will help you,” shot into my head,” Crawford recalled.
Crawford changed his direction and walked over to the deacon. “I’m crying, and he says to me, ‘Are you OK?’ I replied, ‘No, not really. My wife passed away from a brain aneurysm four months ago.’”
Deacon Bob McNulty responded with empathy. “He told me, ‘I understand what you are going through because my wife and I lost our oldest son 15 years ago to a brain aneurysm.’”
The meeting with Deacon McNulty was a turning point for Crawford. “I spent the rest of the week with him. We’d sit down after Mass and share a cup of coffee and talk for 90 minutes.”
Those talks put Crawford in the right frame of mind to launch the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation in September 2015. Its purpose is to use Colagrossi’s story to raise awareness and to educate the public about the warning signs and risk factors of brain aneurysms through public relation campaigns, public service announcements, and television and radio appearances.
“Some of the most successful organizations in the world are named after individuals, and it all started with the loss of a family member or loved one,” he explained.
Immediately after launching the foundation, Crawford conducted an online survey to determine people’s knowledge of brain aneurysms. He said the results that came back were staggering: more than 94 percent of Americans have no idea what a brain aneurysm is; 96 percent didn’t know who is most at risk, and 100 percent could not identify the top warning signs.
Crawford, who quit his job as a sports and entertainment executive, is dedicated to the foundation full-time and currently does not draw a paycheck. “The foundation was an opportunity to pivot and bring deeper meaning into my life,” he said. “The mindset was if we only saved one person it would be worth it.”
Avoiding the emergency room
The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation is approaching 50 “saves,” and one of those was Kris Sorensen, from Sacramento, California. In late November 2015, Sorensen, 52, had just finished working out and was driving home when suddenly the left side of her head started to hurt intensely. She told Catholic Digest, “I was a person who got headaches, so headaches were not a stranger to me, but this particular headache was not typical.”
This pain — which painkillers failed to alleviate — was followed by a sore neck, and the next day Sorensen felt dizzy. Still, she went to work.
On the morning of the third day of headache pain, she was talking to her sister, Angela Bussio, on the phone. “I told her, ‘I’m just dying with this headache.’”
Bussio, who lives in Provo, Utah, told Catholic Digest, how only the day before she had heard Crawford on a radio program talking about how his wife, Lisa, died from a brain aneurysm. “He had talked about the days leading up to Lisa’s death and how she had this horrible headache that wouldn’t go away, and that she complained about her neck.”
Those two symptoms triggered Bussio’s memory. “I immediately became concerned for Kris.”
She told her sister, “You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but I heard a man named Todd Crawford on the radio yesterday talking about how his wife had recently died of an aneurysm, and her symptoms sounded exactly like what you are describing!”
After talking to her sister, Sorensen heard a voice say, “You need to do something about this.” Yet she resisted. “I work in the medical industry, and I know what it’s like in the emergency room,” she said. “They’re going to tell me, ‘Lady, you’re stressed; go home’ after I’ve spent four hours there.”
Ultimately, though, on her way home from work she stopped at a local hospital. They determined that she had had some bleeding in her brain, but that it had stopped. The next day she found out she would need surgery for two brain aneurysms.
When Sorensen phoned Bussio to tell her that she was correct about the aneurysm, Bussio was shocked. “We both cried, and I was overcome with gratitude to God for the synchronicity of events that had just probably saved her life,” Bussio remembered. “I give all the glory to God, and I am grateful that this series of fortunate events was orchestrated by God and that he worked through me that day to save Kris’ life.”
Two weeks later Sorensen had surgery. She was able to return to work within three months, but it has taken her a couple of years to feel normal again, and she still experiences headaches. She is grateful for Todd Crawford’s dedication to increasing brain aneurysm awareness. “I wake up every morning saying, ‘Thank you. God. I am still here; I have another day.’”
POSSIBLE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF A BRAIN ANEURYSM:
According to the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation, there are 12 potential warning signs of a brain aneurysm:
(worst headache of your life)
Sudden sensitivity to light
Sudden stiffness of the neck
Sudden sharp pain behind or above one eye
Sudden blurred or double vision
Sudden numbness and tingling in the facial area
Sudden loss of consciousness
Sudden confusion or change of mental status
Perceived “gunshot” noise or extremely loud “boom”
Nausea and vomiting
TO LEARN MORE:
To donate or find out more information about brain aneurysms, visit LisaFoundation.org.