Steph and Holly imageThis past summer our group of six best friends from high school (also known as The Posse) tragically lost two members, Stephanie Ruley and Holly Harrison, both at the age of 30, due to complications from brain aneurysms. Their early departure from this world could only be described as tragic and unfair, and it has changed our lives in way we could never have predicted.

Holly originally suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm on Valentine’s Day, 2013. At the time of her brain hemorrhage, Holly also incurred bilateral vertebral artery dissections and cardiac arrest. The doctors said Holly’s chances of survival were very slim and that she would likely not return to the Holly we once knew. The Posse and her family- including sister Nichole Felton and mother Doni Harrison and fiance, Will Folk rushed home to Charleston, SC to be with her in the neurology intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina. With progressive strategies by both neurology and neurosurgery at MUSC and an unwillingness to quit, Holly survived and walked out of the hospital 1.5 months later much like her old self in many ways. Her recovery was nothing short of miraculous. She fulfilled one of her dreams to marry to her fiancé, Will, later that year. Despite walking out of the hospital in 2013, Holly struggled to return to the quality of life she had before her stroke, developing severe depression and passing away in June 2015.

Less than three months after Holly’s death, our best friend Stephanie suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm on August 24, 2015. Steph’s friends and family traveled from all over to be with her in the neurological intensive care unit in New York at Weill Cornell Medical Center. Steph had few of the initial complications after her initial surgery– she was conscious, making jokes with the doctors, and on track to have a full recovery with minimal time in the hospital. But on day 10 of recovery, Stephanie suffered from nearly all of the feared complications of aneurysmal brain bleeds including vasospasm, severe hydrocephalus, and intractable seizures. Despite the best care that medicine and surgery can offer at one of the premier hospitals in the country, the complications were insurmountable, and Steph’s friends and family including her father and brother, David and Jack Ruley, learned she would not recover on her 5th-year anniversary with the love of her life, William Johnson. She passed away two days later.

The posse formed in 9th grade at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. Steph had just moved from New York with her family and quickly befriended Emily and Katie through the tennis team. Erin, Alice and Holly joined the athletes whenever they were not in practice. Steph’s smile, silly laugh, outgoing nature, and positivity immediately attracted most people who came in contact with her. Holly was incredibly goofy, sweet, and her creativity and artistic ability were unparalleled. The four other posse members had utmost admiration and love for Steph and Holly. Despite separating in college, Steph at Tufts University and Holly at College of Charleston, the six posse members continued to be extremely close into adulthood despite living in different areas of the country. Holly and Steph provided so much light, love and laughter for our group; we cannot put into words how much they are missed.

Brain aneurysms rupture in approximately 500,000 people per year in the US. Holly was 28, Steph was 30 – this is extremely young for such to happen. Brain aneurysm ruptures are difficult if not impossible to predict. Once they occur, it is not often possible to conclude what caused the rupture. 40% of the people die right after; of those that survive, 66% have ongoing complications. We would like to establish a chair of research at the Brain Aneurysm Foundation to learn more about vasospasm treatment and prevention, as well as aneurysm treatment post initial rupture and survival. Each year the Brain Aneurysm selects recipients for the grant funds in amounts of at least $10,000. Please help us reach our goal to provide more research for this medical cause. We appreciate any support you can provide.