News Column

BrainStormin' Benefit At Outer Space

August 1, 2014

By Michael Hamad, The Hartford Courant



Aug. 01--Area drummer Stephen Cusano organized concerts in 2012 and 2013 on the North Haven Green to benefit area music and arts programs.

This year, Cusano's cause is closer to his heart. Stephen's brother Chris was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2008 and has struggled to regain control of his life through four surgeries, countless hours of rehabilitation and other unexpected hurdles.

The benefit -- called Playing for the Cure: Brainstormin' -- raises funds for tumor and cancer research at the Yale Brain Tumor Center. It is Friday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Outer Space in Hamden; performers include Broca's Area, Daphne Lee Martin and Isaac Young.

"[Stephen] approached me and said he wanted to give back in the true meaning of the phrase," Chris Cusano of West Hartford says by phone, "to recognize the gift I was given and my family was given... The concert is a celebration. It's a way of acknowledging that there's hope for everybody."

Chris was 24 and had just completed his first year of law school when he experienced double-vision for the second time in a year.

"I was seeing two of everything," he says. After returning to his eye doctor and subsequently requesting a second opinion, Chris was sent to Yale for an MRI. He received the diagnosis on June 27, was admitted within two days and underwent nine-hour brain surgery on July 2.

Since then, Cusano has had three additional operations, but the first still stands out the most.

"It was the beginning of this battle," he says. "It defines who I am." A few days after his first operation, Chris developed a blood clot that required emergency treatment. In 2013, doctors inserted a shunt to channel fluid water away from Cusano's brain; the shunt subsequently malfunctioned, requiring a fourth operation.

A small re-growth required additional radiation in December. But at Cusano's most recent MRI, his doctor entered the room and said, "Chris, we got it."

"I go back [to the doctor] again in September," he says. "Hopefully it shows nothing new. What they radiated was a remnant that was left behind."

Chris was told he'd never graduate from law school. He did, but after three unsuccessful attempts at passing the bar exam, he's now looking to do something else.

"While I'm not saying 'never again' to the bar exam," Cusano writes in a follow-up email, "I was cautioned from day one that passing would be extremely difficult given my medical history, which has proven to be true. I am taking my failures as an opportunity to explore other career options for me and believe that I will find success."

He's also married, living happily in the Elmwood section of West Hartford and frequently blogging about his ordeal at greymattersblog.com.

"[Blogging] is extremely therapeutic for me," Chris says. "I had never opened up to anybody about the experiences I went through, the hardships I faced to get back to school... Hopefully it's a source of hope for people going through it now."

To this day, Chris smiles every time he thinks about the doctors who saved his life.

"The day I was admitted to the hospital, I was frightened," he says. "The moment I saw my surgeon, I knew he had my best interests at heart. I just owe my life to him."

Tickets to Playing for the Cure are $15, and corporate sponsors include Doug Anderson, Stop and Shop and the Hartford Courant.

PLAYING FOR THE CURE: BRAINSTORMIN' begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, at the Outer Space in Hamden, with Broca's Area, Daphne Lee Martin and Isaac Young. Tickets are $15. Information: theouterspace.net.

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(c)2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

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Source: Hartford Courant (CT)


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