We’re excited to share the amazing story and recent documentary of Gia Patel, our 10th Anniversary Honey Bash Gala Guest of Honor

Watch Gia Patel’s New Documentary: Beyond a Headache Here!


At 15, Gia Patel is setting the bar high. For an aneurysm survivor, her dedication to raising awareness is nothing short of astounding. “I know I’ve been incredibly lucky,” she says. “I just want to pay it forward.” 

Gia had just turned 14 when she experienced the chronic signs of a rupture: vomiting, dizziness, neck pain, and a thunderclap headache- the worst of her life. Rushed to the emergency room- a difficult undertaking in itself during the COVID 19 pandemic – she was given a battery of tests, including blood tests and a  CT Scan. Nothing concerning turned up, so she was advised to take a few aspirin and monitor her symptoms for the next 72 hours. Given her young age and no reported family history, this was not an unusual diagnosis. But Gia’s father, a doctor himself, was not completely convinced. After monitoring her symptoms closely and growing increasingly alarmed as they did not begin to decrease, he rushed her back to the emergency room at the 72 hour mark where an MRI, followed by a confirming spinal tap,  identified the culprit, a ruptured 8×4 mm subarachnoid aneurysm. 


Helicoptered to UCLA, an initial coiling procedure by Dr. Gary Duckwiler addressed some of the problems. Still, because the neck of her aneurysm was too wide to be treated entirely, she found herself on yet another plane to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where Dr. Michael Lawton successfully addressed the remaining issues with a clipping surgery.

A traumatic event for anyone, especially for an active 8th grader who, just weeks before, had been an avid junior varsity tennis player, heavily involved in academics and activities with friends and family. But despite the extent of her treatment and a 21-pound weight loss while in hospital, Gia came home eager to jump back into things. “My parents were trying to slow me down,” she says, but admits she was so used to her previous fast pace that she didn’t listen, working on building her strength and getting back to “normal.” The going was tough. “I had to re-learn almost everything,” she says. Memory loss, for instance, was a huge factor. “I was slower processing things,“ she recalls, “and took longer on tests. I told the same stories over and over, asked the same questions.” Focused on recovery, spreading awareness about her condition was not even on her mind at first. But a friend of her father’s thought differently, encouraging her to think about how she could “pay it forward” to help more people who might experience the same condition she had. With brain aneurysm ruptures so rare among her age group, awareness was even more critical. “ I thought,” Gia muses, “If there’s a way to tell people about it and possibly save some lives. . .that would be extremely gratifying.”

She teamed up with a good friend who was attending the Orange Country School of the Arts. Inspired by the work of the Dragon Kim Foundation which funds worthwhile community projects in California’s Orange County, they submitted a proposal for a documentary on brain aneurysms, using Gia’s personal experiences as a focus. “Our primary goal was to spread awareness and educate people,” Gia says, and the Foundation agreed, selecting her proposal as one of 40 to receive a grant from among 400 submissions.


The result of that decision: a gripping, informative, and very human documentary, The production timeline was aggressive, with a month of filming and a month of editing, with travel and flights to visit in person with the Doctors involved in her treatment. She recalls that both Doctors were amazed when she contacted them. Neither, despite their extensive experience, had ever had anyone come back to do a documentary on their work and despite tight work schedules, dropped everything to talk with her. “Dr Lawton has done thousands of surgeries,” she recounts, and “never had anyone come back to interview him about it!” As well as those interviews, which include in depth information about diagnosis and treatment, the finished product includes critical stats on aneurysm incidence, interviews with Gia, her family, and personal testimonials from other families who have been affected by the condition. Already, an initial screening event at a small local theatre had about 150 people attend. “People were crying,” Gia says, recalling that many had never heard of the condition, nor realized it could affect people so young. The next step – uploading the video to YouTube, where it had 400 views in one day alone. 

Gia still experiences the after-effects of her aneurysm. She still has occasional headaches, and she still struggles with memory loss and confusion. “It’s getting better,” she says, and short term, her goals include regaining her strength and resuming her High School tennis play. Longer term, she’d like to be a Doctor, a goal she had prior to her aneurysm that has only strengthened with her experience.  After meeting TBF co-founders Erin Kreszl and Christine Kondra at the most recent Lobby Day in Washington, DC, she also plans to continue to be involved in organizational efforts to raise awareness and increase funding. “We need to increase awareness,” Gia says, “Education is the most important thing we can do.”