Christina Custodio had just finished grocery shopping when she got a call that her son, Isaiah, couldn’t handle football practice because of a headache.
She went to pick him up, but by the time she got to the field, the 13-year-old outside linebacker was laying on the grass.
And when the coach tried to help him to her car, the Mauldin Middle School (South Carolina) student could barely stand and was struggling to speak.
Custodio rushed him to the emergency room, where a CT scan revealed bleeding on the brain.
His only hope was emergency brain surgery.
“It felt like a dream,” she recalls. “I was not hysterical. But I was shaking. And scared. I was begging God not to take him.”
Isaiah had suffered a ruptured arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, said Dr. Christopher Troup, the pediatric neurosurgeon at Greenville Health System’s Children’s Hospital who operated on him.
An AVM is a tangle of arteries and veins which, according to the National Institutes of Health, can hamper the delivery of oxygen to the brain or spinal cord because of abnormal blood flow.
“It’s like you took a cup of fishing worms and painted half red and half blue and put them into cup, then … dumped (the cup) on the table and everywhere the red touches the blue is an abnormal connection,” Troup told The Greenville News.
AVMs are believed to occur during development or soon after birth and can range from a fraction of an inch to more than 2.5 inches in diameter, NIH reports. About 300,000 Americans of all backgrounds are affected by AVMs, which also account for about 2 percent of all hemorrhagic strokes.
“There are people who walk around with AVMs and don’t know it. Some are less likely to be a problem than others,” Troup said. “But the ones that are high-flow, when they bleed, they bleed fairly massively and it becomes a very dangerous situation.
“This is what happened with Isaiah.”