JNF Names Medical Humanitarian of the Year

diaz imageThe Joe Niekro Foundation is excited to announce Orlando Diaz, MD as this year’s Medical Humanitarian of the Year.

This award honors a Houston based medical professional for their ongoing research advancements and treatment studies of cerebral aneurysms, AVMs and/or hemorrhagic strokes, as well as their philanthropic endeavors.  Dr. Diaz will be presented with this year’s award at the 2014 Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life gala on September 20th at Hotel ZaZa in Houston, TX.

“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Diaz with this year’s award. His professional and volunteer services go above and beyond and his endeavors deserve the utmost recognition,” states JNF Founder, Natalie Niekro.


Dr. Diaz teaching while performing an interventional surgery

Dr. Diaz travels frequently to South America to perform pro-bono services and treat the poorest of a population who would not have otherwise received any treatment. Dr. Diaz states, “Each time we go in these missions, we see our rewards in the faces of our patients and their families.  Our trips also allow for the opportunity to teach other South American physicians the latest techniques that are utilized here in the United States.”

Dr. Orlando Diaz is board certified by the American Board of Radiology and holds a certificate of added qualifications in neuroradiology. Formerly an assistant professor in interventional radiology at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of interventional neuroradiology at Ben Taub General Hospital, he joined the medical staff at Houston Methodist Hospital in 2007 and provides advanced neuroradiology and interventional neuroradiology services at the Texas Medical Center, West Houston, Sugar Land and Willowbrook campuses. He is the program director of the Houston Methodist Hospital Interventional Neuroradiologist Fellowship within the Radiology Department. He is also a part of the staff at Houston Radiology Associates.

Dr. Diaz’ clinical expertise includes:

  • Endovascular treatment of aneurysms
  • Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
  • Spinal dural fistulas
  • Facial AVMs
  • Vein of Galen malformations
  • Cerebral and spinal arteriography with 3D rotational imaging
  • Intracranial stenosis
  • Carotid stenting
  • Devascularization of tumors in preparation for surgery
  • Stroke therapy

Current research projects include the use of Penumbra coils in the treatment of aneurysms and other vascular diseases, the safety and effectiveness in the treatment of wide neck aneurysms with the Penumbra liberty stent, carotid artery stenting outcomes in the standard risk population for carotid endarterectomy – to evaluate safety and effectiveness of a new stenting system, the use of matrix and GDC coils for the treatment of intracranial saccular aneurysms, and Hydrocoil for endovascular aneurysm occlusion.

Congratulations Dr. Diaz and thank you for your incredible work within the neurointerventional sciences.  We look forward to honoring you on September 20th at The Knuckle Ball.






Natalie Niekro




Chairman, Natalie Niekro, of the 5th Annual Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life, on September 20th, at Hotel Zaza, is pleased to announce some of this year’s participating athletes who will be honoring her father and former Houston Astros pitcher, Joe Niekro. Over 40 MLB, NFL and NBA athletes will be attending and mingling with the guests.  To name a few, will be:

  •      Nolan Ryan (Hall of Fame Inductee – 1999) – MLB Pitcher – New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers (1966-1993)
  •      Bert Campaneris – MLB Shortstop – Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, California Angels, New York Yankees (1964-1983)
  •      JR Richard – MLB Pitcher – Houston Astros (1971-1980)
  •      Dave Bergman – MLB 1st Baseman – New York Yankees, Houston Astros, SF Giants and Detroit Tigers (1975-1992)
  •      Bill Dawley –   MLB Pitcher – Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland Athletics (1983-1989)
  •      Jeff DeWillis – MLB Pitcher – Toronto Blue Jays (1987)
  •      Jon Warden – MLB Pitcher – Detroit Tigers (1968)
  •      John Egan – NBA Point Guard – Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Baltimore Bullets, LA Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets (1961-1972), NBA Coach – Houston Rockets (1973-1976)
  •      Chester Pitts – NFL Offensive Guard – Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks (2002-2011)

Since Joe Niekro’s tragic and sudden death in 2006, as a result of a brain aneurysm, his daughter, Natalie established The Joe Niekro Foundation, committed to aiding in the research and treatment of brain aneurysms, AVM’s and hemorrhagic strokes.  The foundation strives to raise awareness about the risk factors, causes and treatments of these conditions, while helping support the advancement of neurological research.  TJNF provides public education and advocacy, support for patients and families, and develops awareness programs and educational materials for hospitals, clinics and other institutions nationwide.

Because of her father’s love for the Houston Astros and the city of Houston, it is only fitting that The Knuckle Ball be held in the city that gave the Niekro family their greatest memories. The evening, emceed by KHOU personality and brain aneurysm survivor, Deborah Duncan, features a festive reception, silent auction, formal dinner, LIVE auction and the opportunity to mingle with some of sports greatest legends.

Bobby Tudor will be honored as the Joe Niekro Humanitarian of the Year for his outstanding commitment and contributions to the Houston community.  A portion of the funds from the event will be granted in the name of Bobby Tudor, to a Houston neurological department of his choice.

As many as one in fifty Americans will develop a cerebral aneurysm or AVM; 10-15% of these individuals will die before reaching the hospital and over 50% will die within the first thirty days after rupture. Of those who survive, over half suffer permanent neurological deficit. For more info, visit www.joeniekrofoundation.org/knuckleball.


Questions, Questions, Questions

Ever wonder what sort of questions you need to ask your doctor when preparing for treatment?  We have put together a few of those for you!


By Carrie Myrick Hirmer

1.         What possible problems should I look for after brain surgery?

2.         What happens after I am discharged from the hospital after brain surgery?

3.         What type of operation do I need?

4.         What do you expect the surgery to achieve?

5.         Will the operation cure my brain aneurysm/AMV/SAH?

6.         Will I need any other procedure after surgery?

7.         How likely is it that the aneurysm/AVM/SAH will come back at some time in the future?

8.         What are the risks and benefits of this operation/procedure?

9.         What are the likely long-term effects of this operation?

10.      How can I best prepare myself for this operation?

11.      When I wake up, will I be in intensive care?

12.      How long do you expect me to be unconscious after surgery?

13.      What are the possible complications of this type of operation/procedure?

14.      What will happen if I don’t have surgery?

15.      Is there any other type of treatment I could have?

16.      How long will it take me to get over this operation?

17.      How can I help myself recover?

18.      Who will speak to my family after the surgery?

19.      What kind of timeframe am I looking after for total recovery?

20.      Is complete recovery possible?


Please note: This list it is not meant to be all-inclusive, rather a guideline to get you to think about the things that you might want to discuss with your doctor. All cases are unique, so some of these questions may not apply to your case, and you may want to add some additional questions as well. You may want to talk with your doctor about what you need to do to designate a health care proxy – someone to make decisions for you when you’re put to sleep or otherwise make decisions for yourself. Also, be sure your file has emergency names and contact phone numbers.


© The Joe Niekro Foundation

For more information, please visit our website – http://www.joeniekrofoundation.org

For online support, please visit these groups, sponsored by The Joe Niekro Foundation

The Brain Aneurysm/AVM Support Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/aneurysmavm/

Parents of Brain Aneurysm/AVM Children Support Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/ParentsBAAVM/



Support is a vital part of recovery and many of America’s hospitals do not offer ongoing support and education after a patient is dismissed or following aneurysm/AVM/SAH discovery. This means that thousands of individuals are left with unanswered questions, no support, guidance or continued care outside of the basics allowed through their insurance. It is our goal to bridge the gap and encourage collaboration, resulting in a more comprehensive support program for survivors and their families. Survivors turn to others with similar issues in attempt to deal with their feelings and our groups allow for this to happen.

TJNF Support Groups provide many and varied benefits, including mutual support, understanding and acceptance, a sounding board, non-judgmental listening, an information source, validation of feelings, role modeling and much more. Our groups offer a safe haven for patients, families, friends and caretakers to be among others in similar situations where they can share their fears, challenges, successes and failures in an atmosphere where they are loved and accepted by all. A few highlights of our support group program include:

*Monthly meetings with a featured guest speaker

*Attendance by physicians and other healthcare professionals, discussing brain aneurysm topics

*Open question/answer sessions

*Participant/family-caregiver breakout groups so that they can privately share stories and challenges

*24 hour one-on-one patient advocacy

Our meetings address issues such as depression, social reintegration, coping with disabilities, nutritional brainpower, exercising your brain and much more. TJNF empowers members by offering information and emotional support, which is monumental in promoting good health and an improved quality of life. The Joe Niekro support groups can play a vital role for both survivor and family members by providing emotional and moral support. Members of support groups receive help by learning new coping strategies, relating personal experiences, obtaining information from health professionals and establishing social networks. TJNF Support groups help others realize that recovery is possible and designed to motivate attendees to follow wellness plans and make a difference in the community while creating a forum of mutual acceptance, understanding and self –discovery.

For more information about our support groups, contact Kimberly@joeniekrofoundation.org.



© The Joe Niekro Foundation

For more information, please visit our website – http://www.joeniekrofoundation.org

For online support, please visit these groups, sponsored by The Joe Niekro Foundation

The Brain Aneurysm/AVM Support Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/aneurysmavm/

Parents of Brain Aneurysm/AVM Children Support Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/ParentsBAAVM/


A Letter from your Brain

I’m glad to see that you are awake! This is your brain talking. I had to find some way to communicate with you.  I need you to take care of me. As time passes and you and I feel better and better, people, even doctors, will tell you that we are fine, “it’s time to get on with life.” That sounds good to me and probably even better to you. But before you go rushing back out into that big wide world, I need you to listen to me, really listen. Don’t shut me out. Don’t tune me out. When I’m getting into trouble I’ll need your help more than I ever have before.
I know that you want to believe that we are going to be the same. I’ll do my best to make that happen. The problem is that too many people in our situation get impatient and try to rush the healing process; or when their brains can’t fully recover they deny it and, instead of adapting, they force their brains to function in ways they are no longer able too. Some people even push their brains until they seize, and worse… I’m scared. I’m afraid that you will do that to me. If you don’t accept me I am lost. We both will be lost.
How can I tell you how much I need you now? I need you to accept me as I am today… not for what I used to be, or what I might be in the future. So many people are so busy looking at what their brains used to do, as if past accomplishments were a magical yardstick to measure present success or failures, that they fail to see how far their brains have come. It’s as if here is shame, or guilt, in being injured. Silly, huh?
Please don’t be embarrassed or feel guilt, or shame, because of me. We are okay. We have made it this far. If you work with me we can make it even further. I can’t say how far. I won’t make any false promises. I can only promise you this, that I will do my best.
What I need you to do is this: because neither of us knows how badly I’ve been hurt (things are still a little foggy for me), or how much I will recover, or how quickly, please go s-l-o-w-l-y when you start back trying to resume your life. If I give you a headache, or make you sick to your stomach, or make you unusually irritable, or confused, or disoriented, or afraid, or make you feel that you are overdoing it, I’m trying to get your attention in the only way I can. Stop and listen to me.
I get exhausted easily since being hurt, and cannot succeed when overworked. I want to succeed as much as you do. I want to be as well as I can be, but I need to do it at a different pace than I could before I got hurt. Help me to help us by paying attention and heeding the messages I send to you.
I will do my part to do my very best to get us back on our feet. I am a little worried though that if I am not exactly the same… you will reject me and may even want to kill us. Other people have wanted to kill their brains, and some people have succeeded. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want you to die.
I want us to live, and breathe and be, even if being is not the same as it was. Different may be better. It may be harder too, but I don’t want you to give up. Don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on yourself. Our time here isn’t through yet. There are things that I want to do and I want to try, even if trying has to be done in a different way. It isn’t easy. I have to work very hard, much harder, and I know that you do too. I see people scoff, and misunderstand. I don’t care. What I do care about is that you understand how hard I am working and how much I want to be as good as I can be, but I need you to take good care of us, as well as you can do that.
Don’t be ashamed of me. We are alive. We are still here. I want the chance to try to show you what we are made of. I want to show you the things that are really important in life. We have been given another chance to be better, to learn what is really important. When it is finally time for our final exit I would like to look back and feel good about what we made of us and out of everything that made up our life, including this injury. I cannot do it without you. I cannot do it if you hate me for the way being injured has affected me and our life together. Please try not to be bitter in grief. That would crush me.
Please don’t reject me. There is little I can do without you, without your determination to not give up. Take good care of us and of yourself. I need you very much, especially now.

Your Wounded Brain

©1996 Stephanie St. Claire



The Joe Niekro Foundation recently awarded three research grants. The first; a $10,000 research grant has been given to Dr. David Miller of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.  This grant will help fund Dr. Miller’s current study “Next Generation Sequencing of a Whole Human Genome.” The goal of this study is to identify the genes underlying the risk of intracranial aneurysm.  Dr. Miller specializes in Endovascular treatment (minimally invasive surgical treatment through the vessels) of cerebral aneurysms, Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), carotid and vertebral artery stenosis, and other vascular problems associated with the head and neck. Also specializes in minimally invasive treatment for spinal fractures and other diseases of the spine. “We are thrilled to be able to support a study that could be instrumental in aneurysm detection in the future and look forward to the outcome,” states foundation president, Natalie Niekro.

The second grant of $10,000 goes to The Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, Department of Neurosurgery for the project: Microcirculation and Brain Injury Following Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. The study, led by Dr. Gavin Britz will explore whether subarachnoid blood released by the penetration of the Willis circle artery penetrates paravascular space in the hippocampus (small region of the brain that forms part of the limbic system and is primarily associated with memory and spatial  navigation) and modify neurovascular coupling and astrocyte-induced responses.  “We are very excited to help support Dr. Britz’ study in this critical area of research,” states foundation Executive Director, Melissa Herklotz.

The third grant goes to The Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery Foundation (SNIS) in the amount of $10,000.  In honor of Joe Niekro, SNIS has named this grant The Joe Niekro Research Grant.  Each year, one research study will be selected as the grant recipient, which will help fund endovascular research of brain aneurysms, AVM’s and/or hemorrhagic stroke.   “The foundation has had a great partnership with SNIS and the SNIS Foundation for many years and we are honored to award this grant to such a phenomenal organization that is making huge headway in the area of endovascular research.  It is with great pleasure that SNIS Foundation is the recipient of these funds and we look forward to our strong continuing partnership for many years to come,” states Natalie Niekro.

The Joe Niekro Foundation is so excited to support these research projects and looks forward to sharing these results with you in the future.


A Year of Reflection and Thanks!

Tonight we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome a new year of adventure, excitement, challenges, happiness and growth.  Before the ball drops, we wanted to take a few moments to thank all those that helped make this year our best yet.

To our amazing Board of Directors –   Your commitment and dedication to our mission is undeniable and we are truly blessed to have each and every one of you helping bring us to greatness.  The countless hours and voluntary time is more than exceptional and you are all awesome!

To our outstanding Medical Advisory Board – Your willingness to offer support to patients, families and individuals looking for answers is greatly appreciated.  Having each and every one of you on our advisory board will only continue to validate the knowledge and backing we have among us.

To our Patient Advocate Committee - There are no words to describe my appreciation for what you have developed and are continuing to grow across the globe.  Your passion and commitment is genuine and we are so lucky to have you in our corner.  Your empathy for survivors and families warms the heart and we thank you for helping us reach those looking for support, guidance and a friend to help them in their road of recovery.

To our Facebook Admins – What you have done with our Aneurysm/AVM Facebook Support Page and our Parents of Brain Aneurysm/AVM Children’s Support Page is magnificent.  It is so exciting to watch the daily growth of our groups and see the bonds forming among all those who have finally found a group they can call “home.”

To our Support Group Leaders – Thank you for your commitment to lead our monthly support group chapter meetings.  Your continued passion to help others and bring people together who need support is vital to our growth and outreach.

To our Fans - You have exceeded our expectations of growth and we thank you for continuing to follow us, share our comments with others and support what we are doing.

To our Survivors – You are the reason we are here!  We fight each day to make a difference and offer the support that is critical to your recovery.  Your perserverance is infectious and we applaud you for your courage, strength and dedication.

To our Partners - Thank you for having faith in our mission.  The relationships we have formed through the years are critical and we are so grateful for your collaborative efforts in helping us reach the masses.

To our Supporters – Without you, none of this is possible.  Thank you for your continued support and for recognizing the importance of brain aneurysm research and awareness.  Your commitment to our cause allows us to reach more people, fund more research, provide daily support and truly make a difference.

To everyone – THANK YOU FOR MAKING THE JOE NIEKRO FOUNDATION WHAT IT HAS BECOME!  2014 is going to be one amazing year, so look out and get ready!

We wish all of you a very safe and Happy New Year and a blessed 2014.


July 2014
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