“I had a stroke. The stroke didn’t have me,” says American Heart Association advocate Gracie Doran. “It doesn’t define me, but it certainly helped me define my path in life.”
Gracie took one important step down that path almost a year ago when she spoke at the White House as part of the “Making Health Care Better” summit. The only youth stroke survivor among many speakers, she shared her story and told how the Affordable Care Act had helped her obtain insurance coverage.
"It was an incredible experience because as a youth survivor I was able to get my message across on a panel of high-level government officials,” Gracie says, “I felt empowered and ignited on my mission to advocate for pediatric stroke and affordable, accessible healthcare for all."
When Gracie was 6 years old, she had a seizure. Her doctors told her that she had a cavernous hemangioma, a malformation weakening a vein located in her brain. She visited several doctors who offered the same advice. “It would be more dangerous to go in and do anything about it. It is best just to leave it alone,” Gracie’s mother Barbara recalls, “So we just left it alone.” Gracie carried on as an active 6-year-old, beginning competitive dance at age 7.
When she was 10, during one of her yearly check-ups, doctors found a blockage in her brain stem. They advised that she’d be more likely to win the lottery than to experience a problem caused by the blockage. Shortly afterward a bleed in the blockage caused Gracie to have a stroke. Her original condition worsened. “It turns out that I beat the odds of a lottery winner,” Gracie recalls.
It was time to attempt the risky surgery they had been avoiding. Gracie emerged from the operating room completely paralyzed. She used her favorite pastime, dance, to help her recover. Starting with tapping her toe to music, she slowly regained most of her mobility. She still struggles with use of her right hand and foot and has a slight droop in the left side of her face.
She says the experience and her rehabilitation through dance guided her to become a dancer, a teacher and cofounder of Rising Stars, a dance training program for kids with cognitive and physical disabilities. She also became an advocate for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.
She returned to Washington, D.C. in June, just before a key U.S. Senate vote on the Affordable Care Act. She met with several legislators and urged them to work towards a bill that ensured accessible and affordable healthcare for people who, like herself, have preexisting conditions.
“Being in Washington with so many people passionate about making a difference was a momentous time,” says Gracie.
Now 18, she will soon attend Saint Mary’s College in the San Francisco Bay area. She hopes to eventually earn a law degree and return to Washington, D.C. to work as a full-time lobbyist on health-related issues.