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Boy, 11, had a ‘ticking time bomb’ in his brain. After almost dying, he’s now grown and saving lives

When the Logans learned their son had a dangerous tangle of blood vessels in his brain and there was little they could do, they felt stunned. They decided to change that.
/ Source: TODAY

In 2013, Ryan Logan, then 11, began experiencing headache and visual disturbances two to three times a day. His head hurt so badly one day that he didn’t get out of bed until late in the day, which was very unlike him. His parents, Sherri and Mark Logan, took him to an eye doctor and a neurologist to understand what was occurring. They learned he has a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM).

“It’s very rare,” Mark Logan, 52, of Houston, tells TODAY.com. “The scary part about AVM is many times there are no symptoms whatsoever, and it’s basically like having a ticking time bomb in your brain and it could go off at any time.”

When the Logans asked doctors how to treat it, they were told to just leave it because surgery would be long, difficult and potentially damaging to the teen.

“They said, ‘Go ahead, live your life. There’s nothing we can do. It’s too risky,'” Sherri Logan, 52, tells TODAY.com. “Then he actually had a brain bleed.”

Boy with deadly brain condition
Ryan Logan enjoyed sports and being active. His parents had no idea he had a potentially deadly malformation in his brain until he started experiencing headaches and visual disturbances. Courtesy Logan family

Frustrated by the lack of understanding and treatments for AVMs, the Logans started a foundation to support research into the condition in the hope that others do not have to go through what Ryan experienced.

“No one was doing any research to find a safer treatment,” Mark Logan says. “I said, ‘How does this research start?’ (A doctor) said, ‘Basically people like y’all, usually a ticked off mom.’”

Visual disturbances and headaches

Ryan enjoyed an active childhood, playing football and basketball, as well as golfing. He was in gifted classes, too.

“His nickname was ‘Bullet,” Sherri Logan says. “He was really good.”

When the visual disturbances and headaches started, the Logans “knew something was wrong,” Sherri Logan recalls. First, they visited an eye doctor, but Ryan had perfect vision. Mark Logan worked in medical sales and started asking some doctors what they thought. Someone suggested migraines. They scheduled a visit with a neurologist, who performed a magnetic resonance angiography, a type of MRI that looks at blood vessels, on Ryan’s brain.

“They found the AVM on Feb. 1, 2013,” Sherri Logan says.

The Logans had never heard of an AVM, which is a jumble of blood vessels that have formed incorrectly, often found in the brain. These blood vessels aren’t connected properly and can have weak walls, making them prone to bleeding. Ryan’s AVM was a grade 4 on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being the most severe.

“They believe you’re born with it,” Sherri Logan says. “Most people don’t know they have one until it bleeds.”

It sounded dangerous, and the Logans felt stunned that doctors simply advised them to do nothing. The diagnosis and lack of treatment felt tough for the family to face.

“It was devastating,” Sherri Logan says. “We were thinking ... we've got to do something, but then Ryan had a spontaneous brain bleed In September of 2014.”

Boy with deadly brain condition
Ryan Logan spent 6 weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit after he bleed during a procedure to remove an AVM from his brain.Courtesy Logan family

It was after a junior high school football game that Ryan first showed signs of what the Logans later learned was a brain bleed. Ryan refused to eat BBQ, a favorite of his. A few days later, he began complaining about back pain, headache and nausea.

For days, his symptoms persisted and then worsened. When he began vomiting, the Logans took him to a local emergency room. While they told the doctors Ryan had an AVM, the doctor diagnosed him with a football injury and gave him muscle relaxers.

Ryan continued to get sicker, and his parents took him to a different emergency room. At first, doctors believed he had spinal meningitis and prepared him for a spinal tap. That's when Sherri Logan mentioned the AVM, and the doctor told her his symptoms were consistent with a brain bleed.

A CT scan confirmed it, and further testing showed it was no longer active and that the blood had collected in his spine, causing his symptoms. After three days in the hospital, Ryan went home and continued recovering without any serious damage.

But at this point, doctors said his AVM needed to be treated. The Logans decided to pursue a procedure called embolization at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston.

“They shoot glue up until the brain around the AVM to cut off some of the blood supply, so that stops (blood) flooding during the actual surgery to remove (the AVM)," Sherri Logan explains.

The doctors hoped to remove the AVM after that procedure, but the AVM collapsed on itself.

“(Ryan) had a massive brain bleed on the operating table,” Sherri Logan says. “They had to take his skull off.” Doctors also drilled a hole in his skull to alleviate some of the pressure from the bleeding.

During the procedure, doctors were able to remove some of the AVM but not all. And some of Ryan's brain tissue was damaged, likely playing a role in the seizures he experienced later on.

Ryan spent six weeks on a ventilator in the pediatric intensive care unit. That’s when the Logans met Dr. Roc Chen, neurointerventional radiologist and neurosurgeon at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences. During a chat, they asked him about research into AVMs, and Chen explained there was little. But he was hoping to investigate further.

“He’s like, ‘I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. … I just don’t have the time or the resources,’” Mark Logan recalls. “He’s very confident. He’s like ‘I know what to do. I know we can find a safer treatment and a cure.’”

The Logans felt grateful to hear someone was interested in preventing outcomes like what happened to Ryan. They started a nonprofit, the AVM Research Foundation, to raise money to help Chen investigate the condition.

As they began the partnership, Ryan started the recovery process. During the procedure, doctors were only able to remove part of the AVM and

“Ryan had to relearn everything,” Mark Logan says. “He didn’t talk for six months.” It took him a year to learn to walk again.

“He was in an inpatient rehabilitation facility for several months, and after that we brought him home,” Sherri Logan says. 

AVMs

AVMs are abnormal growths of arteries and veins that often develop like a rubber band ball. They’re connected to one another but do not have any capillaries, meaning the blood flows extremely fast through them, according to the National Library of Medicine. This intense blood flow can make them weak and prone to bursting.

“Mechanically, it creates this turbulent, high-velocity flow,” Chen tells TODAY.com. “You create a lot of stress on the vein sides, as well.”

When this occurs for years, the stress can lead to a rupture. While rare, AVMs are the No. 1 cause of strokes due to brain bleeds in kids.

“It’s quite devastating," Chen says.

Boy with deadly brain condition
Over the years, Ryan Logan has undergone four brain surgeries to help address the AVM and complications related to it.Courtesy Logan family

Anywhere from between 12 and 25% of bleeding AVMs are fatal, TODAY.com previously reported.

Often parents have no idea that anything is wrong with their child until they experience bleeding in their brain. Signs of brain bleeds include weakness, numbness, facial paralysis, sudden and severe headache, nausea, vomiting, and more.

“Everything’s fine until one day you suddenly have the major (incident),” Chen says. “When they’re born, they’re normal. They’re just like anyone else.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, symptoms that can indicate an AVM include:

  • Seizure
  • Headache
  • Vision troubles
  • Weak muscles
  • Movement or speech difficulties
  • Faintness
  • Loss of consciousness

There’s no real screening for AVM or way to predict who might be born with one, Chen says. It’s mostly diagnosed after something like a bleed or a seizure occurs. Sometimes surgery or targeted radiation can remove them or make them inactive. But surgery comes with risks, namely a brain injury or bleed, Chen notes.

Researchers have found that a gene mutation, which also contributes to melanoma, occurs in about 70% of patients with AVM, Chen says. Thanks to the support of the Logans' foundation, Chen created a mouse model with this gene mutation, and they’re trying to figure out how signaling in the gene mutation works in order to block it and potentially develop a treatment.

"Obviously, there’s a lot about the signal we don’t understand,” he says. “(But) it’s going to be very promising.

While the research remains in early phases, Chen feels hopeful that they can develop a treatment that doesn't involve brain surgery or even repurpose an existing therapy to treat AVMs.

The Logans’ support has helped Chen advance his research. “It’s such a wonderful thing,” he says. “I’m stunned by what they offered to me.”

He feels grateful for how “generous and selfless” the Logans have been, he says. They started this foundation knowing “perhaps it would not benefit Ryan at all because his event has occurred,” Chen says. “They were telling me that they really want to avoid seeing other kids (have this happen).”

'Make something good out of it'

Now 21, Ryan is still in rehabilitation.

In total, he’s undergone four brain surgeries. His last surgery took place in 2019, when doctors removed the remaining AVM and separated the two sides of the brain to stop his seizures.

“Surgery was the only way to stop them,” Sherri Logan explains.

Ryan is unable to lift the front part of his foot, and has paralysis in his left arm, no peripheral vision on the left side, and some issues with short-term memory and motor planning.

Still, he worked with a golf pro to learn to golf with one arm and enjoys working at the local golf course. He has a “good attitude,” his dad says, and feels glad the foundation could possibly help others.

“I just want to make something good out of it,” he tells TODAY.com.

Boy with deadly brain condition
Ryan Logan plays golf with one arm because of lingering paralysis in his left arm. Courtesy Logan family

The Logans have learned a lot about fundraising over the years and continue to build on what they started. They’ve been able to give Chen $1.3 million in funding.

When other parents find out their child has an AVM, they often reach out to the Logans, who offer support.

“Their kids (may be) still in the hospital or ... on a ventilator,” Sherri Logan says. “It’s important to have someone so that you don’t feel alone especially, when it’s a diagnosis that is not that common. There’s not a lot of people out there who can understand what you’re saying.”

The Logans hope that investing in research through their foundation can help others.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something to help somebody,” Sherri Logan says.