News & Stories

Chris Celebrates his 40th Birthday

May 10, 2024

Today, as Executive Director of the CT Brain Tumor Alliance, Chris provides a listening ear to brain tumor patients.

At only 24, he said his final good-byes to his family, and because of donors like you, he just celebrated his 40th birthday

In the spring of 2008, Chris’s future looked picture-perfect. His first year of law school was under his belt, and he’d just met the wonderful Ashley, who later would become his wife.

But just after final exams, Chris started having terrible headaches and experiencing double vision. He knew something was very wrong. His doctor was concerned too, and sent him for an MRI. Awful news followed — there was a large mass in his brain, behind the optic nerve. There was no time to waste.

Chris went straight from the doctor’s office to YNHH, where Joseph Piepmeier, MD, (who was Chief of the Section of Surgical Neuro-oncology at the time) and a surgical team were already waiting for him.

A tumor the size of a grapefruit

“It was such a blur,” Chris recalls. “They were explaining my condition. And at the same time, they were preparing me for surgery the very next day.”

The tumor was not malignant, but that was small comfort. Even if it wasn’t cancerous, it was growing inside Chris’s skull, pressing on his brain.

Chris and his family were still in shock the next morning when he was wheeled into the OR. More than nine tense hours later, Dr. Piepmeier emerged to share the good news: he’d been able to remove about 99% of the tumor.

For three days, Chris seemed to be recovering well. But the fourth day was catastrophic. He suffered a major setback, and was rushed into emergency surgery to remove a blood clot and implant a catheter. His blood work revealed a serious infection.

For the second time in just a few days, Chris was wheeled into the OR, wondering whether he’d ever wake up and see his family again.

The third surgery’s the charm

Dr. Piepmeier repaired the blood clot and saved Chris’s life once more. But the consequences of the infection led to “one of the lowest times of my life,” says Chris.

Chris had lost the ability to communicate. “I’d try to say or write something,” he says. “But I just couldn’t get the words out.” After two months of intensive therapy, he was making little progress.

Chris hit rock bottom when a neuropsychiatrist told him that returning to law school was out of the question. “It was so upsetting, because in my head, I could think clearly and the words were there,” he says.

Dr. Piepmeier suggested a third surgery to implant a shunt to relieve the pressure in Chris’s brain. Typically, this procedure restores some functionality to patients over a period of six to 18 months. Somehow, Chris knew he could beat the “typical” outcome.

The morning after his third surgery, Chris’s parents walked into his room, and were stunned when he greeted them for the first time in months: “Good morning, Mom, Good morning, Dad. How are you today?” He was back!

From life-threatening diagnosis to lifelong purpose

Chris did indeed complete law school, but he has since required two additional surgeries and gamma knife radiosurgery. His life-changing experiences led him to a new career path. He decided to dedicate his life to helping other brain tumor patients and advancing research into this terrible disease.

In 2014, Chris and his family organized “Playing for the Cure: Brainstormin’,” an annual benefit concert that takes place at Stony Creek Brewery each September (see below for information on how to attend). The first five years alone, Brainstormin’ raised nearly $200,000 with a large portion of the proceeds supporting the Oncology Social Work and Brain Tumor programs at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center..

In 2018, Chris became Executive Director of the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting brain tumor patients and their families and providing funding to five CT brain tumor centers — including Smilow Cancer Hospital.

“I wouldn’t wish this diagnosis on my worst enemy,” says Chris. “Yet it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. Because it gave me such purpose and perspective.” Thanks to Chris and the work of the CTBTA, brain tumor patients have a place to go for help.

Which is exactly what you — our donors — provided for Chris in his darkest days, with your generous gifts to YNHH. THANK YOU.