My Brain Explosion

Listen to Sean share his story.

At age 22, while a graduate student at Boston College, Sean Manning had a hemorrhagic stroke.Seemingly out of nowhere, a blood vessel in his brain “exploded” while he was lifting weights.In a second, he went from a physically fit guy doing squats at the gym to someone with lasting physical deficits. Only later did he learn that he had been living with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)--an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins—in his brain, likely since birth.Without knowing it, he had always had an increased risk of vessel rupture and cerebral hemorrhage.

Initially, he was in a coma. When he woke up two days later, he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak or move the left side of his body. He wanted to get up and run, but wasn’t able, and he felt trapped. Still, to this day, he gets a panicky feeling when he is in hospitals, overwhelmed by a sense of confinement and a desire to escape.

While the days in the hospital are somewhat of a blur, he remembers struggling to come to terms with what had happened:

“Can I possibly live a life after this?” he remembers thinking. “Am I am going to be in a home for the rest of my life? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? I play pick-up basketball three times a week. I just dunked last week. And now you are telling me I can’t walk?”

He had never before experienced such an out of control feeling and he was terrified. He describes a long process of recovery, which is ongoing. He worked his way through denial, anger, and self-pity and has come around to accepting his new reality. His three-year anniversary was in March, 2019. He still struggles with some left sided weakness and with periodic seizures, but these challenges aren’t holding him back. He has successfully completed the Master’s degree program in accounting he started before the stroke, but notes that his priorities and passions have shifted. He no longer wants to be an accountant. Today, he works in ambulatory practice management at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and intends to pursue a career in nonprofit consulting.

His stroke caused enormous suffering in his life—something he had never experienced before—but he is finding a way forward, and acknowledges that he is now a different, and in some ways better, person than he was pre-stroke. He is more open to different experiences and perspectives; his relationships have strengthened and deepened; he is more empathic.

*Mixing and sound design by David Goodman


  1. Guitar, “Le Conqerant”

  2. Roxy Music, “If There Is Something,” 1972

  3. Trypheme, “White Douleur"  Thanks God for Air Emotions (

  4. Junkadelic Brass Orchestra, “Baron Samedi,” Travelling in the Footsteps (2017)

  5. Lee Rosevere, “Trying to be Strong,” Living with Trauma, 2018 (

  6. Dee Yan-Key, “Dreamworld” One Hour of Your Life (