Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco woman copes with rare brain defect

Lisa Abrahams’ symptoms of a neurological disorder were triggered nearly 2 1/2  years ago by the delivery of her daughter, Katelyn. It turned out to be Chiari malformation, in which part of the brain descends and crowds the spinal cord.


Lisa Abrahams’ symptoms of a neurological disorder were triggered nearly 2 1/2  years ago by the delivery of her daughter, Katelyn. It turned out to be Chiari malformation, in which part of the brain descends and crowds the spinal cord.

PORT RICHEY — First came the blurred vision. Then the vertigo, the headaches, the racing heart.

"I started thinking," said Lisa Abrahams, "maybe something was wrong."

It took 1 1/2 years to find out just what that was.

Abrahams, now 31, was diagnosed last June with "Chiari malformation," a neurological disorder in which the bottom part of the brain descends out of the skull and crowds the spinal cord.

This defect puts pressure on the brain and the spine, resulting in symptoms that include dizziness, extreme fatigue and neck pain. Abrahams said her mind sometimes skipped through events; for instance, she would see someone start to smile but then miss the actual smile.

"It's like, 'What happened?' " she said. "I was normal before."

According to a national support group, it appears most people with the defect are born with it. About 300,000 people in the United States are thought to suffer from Chiari malformation, said the group, C&S Patient Education Foundation.

Symptoms, however, tend to develop later in life. Abrahams said doctors believe her symptoms were triggered nearly 2 1/2 years ago by the delivery of her daughter, Katelyn.

Dealing with the symptoms has been a struggle. She can't run around after Katelyn without feeling dizzy. She never knows when suddenly she'll feel off balance.

"I'd get up to walk," she said, "and feel like I was on a boat."

The vagueness of the symptoms has meant many of those who suffer from the defect see doctor after doctor and get test after test before finally receiving a diagnosis. Patients often go five years or more without a diagnosis, the support group says.

Abrahams, who used to work in real estate and is now a stay-at-home mom, said doctors didn't spot the defect in her first MRI.

"The worst thing for people is that doctors don't know enough about it," she said.

A treatment regimen is not clear-cut, either. In August, Abrahams underwent an operation in which doctors removed part of the skull and spine to make more room for her brain.

The operation eased some of the symptoms, though Abrahams still gets dizzy, still feels her face go numb. She said there isn't a lot of direction from doctors about how to live with the symptoms, either.

Abrahams is hoping to at least get people talking about it.

She got Gov. Charlie Crist to declare June "Arnold-Chiari Malformation Awareness Month." (The defect is named for Austrian pathologist Hans Chiari, who first described the malformation in the 1890s, and his colleague Julius Arnold, who added to the definition.)

And she is trying to find other Tampa Bay area residents who suffer from the condition to start a support group, which she believes would be the first in the area.

She knows firsthand that the loneliness of suffering from a little-understood disorder can be the hardest part.

"You feel so isolated," she said. "Nobody understands what you're going through, or even heard of it."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.


Your opinions, please

Are you interested in alternatives to traditional medicine? Do you wonder about natural remedies to common ailments? You will find helpful information today on Page 3. Pulse, our popular feature page of health and medicine coverage, has moved from the Floridian section to this section. You will find Pulse here each Tuesday. We'll also give you a roundup of health-related community notes. We're interested in your comments. Contact us at readerfeedback@


Contact her

Want to get in touch with Lisa Abrahams about a Chiari malformation support group? E-mail her at

Pasco woman copes with rare brain defect 05/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 25, 2008 9:45am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump hails the fallen and their families at Arlington


    ARLINGTON, Va. — President Donald Trump expressed his nation's "boundless and undying" gratitude Monday to Americans who have fallen in battle and to the families they left behind, hailing as heroes the hundreds of thousands buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

    President Donald Trump participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia. [Photo by Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images]
  2. Tiger Woods arrested in Florida on DUI charge, released

    Public Safety

    Tiger Woods was arrested early Monday on a DUI charge in Jupiter, Florida, and spent nearly four hours in a county jail before he was released.

    Tiger Woods has been arrested on a DUI charge in Florida.
  3. Review: The Underwoods bring the political terror in 'House of Cards' Season 5


    The ruthless Frank and Claire Underwood are back, continuing their own form of terror inside and outside of the White House.

    Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards Season 5 on Netflix.
  4. French president attacks Russian media outlets; Putin says Moscow didn't try to influence French election


    VERSAILLES, France — UPDATE, 11:57 A.M.: French President Emmanuel Macron has made an extraordinary attack on two Russian media outlets, saying they acted as "propaganda" organs during France's election campaign.

    French President Emmanuel Macron, right, speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Galerie des Batailles (Gallery of Battles) at the Versailles Palace as they arrive for a joint press conference following their meeting in Versailles, near Paris, France, Monday. [Stephane de Sakutin/Pool Photo via AP]
  5. In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the third hole during the final round at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas. Woods has been arrested on a drunken driving charge in Palm Beach County , various media outlets are reporting. [AP photo]