Teen stroke survivor back in dance shoes

The summer morning started like a typical California day. Gracie Doran practiced surfing at the beach with her dad since a trip to Hawaii was just around the corner. But by the time Gracie left the water, she was clutching her right hand, limping and slurring her words. Once home, she wanted to go to bed. It was 3 p.m.

“I didn’t really notice anything different until I couldn’t even take a shower after that or go to dinner,” she said. “I just had to lie down. It would be too much work for me to even move.”

Her mom Barbara couldn’t quite put her finger on the problem, thinking the 10-year-old was just tired.

She sent Gracie’s older sister to talk to her. “She said, ‘Mom, there’s something really wrong,’” Barbara said. “We got her to the hospital, and that’s when we found out that her brain stem had a bleed in it, and it was causing a stroke.”

The Dorans already knew Gracie had a condition that caused malformed blood vessels in her brain. They discovered it after she suffered a seizure at age 6. They ultimately grew concerned about one in particular, but every doctor they consulted said the same thing.

“It would be more dangerous to go in and do anything about it than just leaving it alone,” Barbara said. “So we just left it alone.”

Gracie Doran had brain surgery after a stroke at age 10.

Gracie’s condition worsened after the stroke, prompting doctors to proceed with the risky brain surgery. Gracie’s entire body was paralyzed afterward. She spent seven weeks in a rehabilitation hospital relearning how to eat, speak and walk. She had to use a wheelchair for two months after she came home, but now walks without help.

“It was a turning point in my life,” said Gracie, now 16.

Her right hand remains paralyzed, and the left side of her face droops a bit. But happily she has regained her smile.

Her love of dance helped fuel her recovery.

“That’s my passion in life,” Gracie said. “I feel very free when I do it.”

“She actually danced in the hospital in the wheelchair,” her mother said. “She could still use her left foot, and she’d just tap little tap songs.”

Although Gracie could barely walk, her dance company helped her take part. They made a plant on a rolling cart in a number from “Little Shop of Horrors” and Gracie danced from the waist up.

Gracie later performed a lyrical dance to “Let It Be” to share her personal story.

Today, she competes with a teenage performance company, teaches a dance class for students with disabilities and continues to share her story.

Last year she spoke at the American Heart Association’s Orange County Heart and Stroke Ball. She also delivers messages about anti-bullying and acceptance at elementary schools during disability awareness events.

“Even though some of us may be different, our differences are what make us great. Everyone should be accepting,” Gracie said.

During her talks, she discusses stroke awareness and how a young person, not just a grandparent, can suffer a stroke. Although uncommon, pediatric stroke is among the top 10 causes of death for children ages 5 to 14, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the challenges she has faced, Gracie said she wouldn’t change what happened.

“It’s made me a better person today, more inspiring, and made me know that I’m stronger than I think I am,” she said. “I can do many more things, like inspire others with my life.”

Photos and video courtesy of Gracie Doran