A Wife’s Anguish: Help Barrow Find the Answer

A Wife’s Anguish: Help Barrow Find the Answer

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Her husband James Nelson, a Battalion Chief for the Gilbert Fire and Rescue Department in Gilbert, Arizona, had a horrible headache while they were vacationing in San Diego in August of 2018. A couple days later, James collapsed at home.

James suffered a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. After he collapsed, he had surgery at an area hospital and then transferred to Barrow Neurological Institute. The AVM continued bleeding for several days and unfortunately James passed away.

“I play the ‘what-if’ game,” says Kerry Nelson, James’s wife. “What if we paid attention to the headache? What if we went to the hospital in San Diego?”

James’ youngest daughter, Shealy, started her senior year of high school the day after he died. Firefighters from all over the Valley gathered to escort her to class – lining the street from the Nelson home in a heart-wrenching show of support. In the months since James’ death, the Gilbert Fire Department family embraced their fallen chief’s family – mowing the lawn, taking the car in for emissions testing, picking up simple chores to make life easier for Kerry and the girls.

“James was a mentor, father figure, coach, and friend,” says Mark Justus, deputy chief of the Gilbert Fire & Rescue Department’s Community Division. “He had an uncanny ability to give to anyone in need. Because of his influence in our lives, the least we can do is to give back to his family.”

James Nelson with family on vacation

Still, the questions remain: What if there had been a way to screen James and find this ticking time bomb in advance? What if there were a medication he could have taken?

Then, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of James’ death, an answer came in the mail.

Kerry received a letter from Barrow Neurological Foundation that shared the story of Rita and Sam Garvin. The couple was matching donations up to $500,000 to the ground-breaking research at the Barrow Aneurysm and AVM Research Center. The center explores the genetics and biology of aneurysms and AVMs to find new, more efficient, and less invasive treatments. Kerry made a donation in memory of her husband.

“That research is the only way other families avoid asking these questions. Research answers them,” says Kerry.

May 4 is International Firefighters Day, a day to recognize the sacrifices firefighters make to keep communities safe. In observance of International Firefighters Day and in memory of James Nelson, join Kerry and her family by supporting aneurysm and AVM research at Barrow.

“Our story didn’t end the way you want it to but some stories have happy endings,” says Kerry.

Help other families have their happy endings. Donate to aneurysm and AVM research today.

Support Aneurysm & AVM Research