When I Was Told I May Never Dance Again After a Stroke at Age 10


When I was 6 years old, I was diagnosed with cavernous hemangiomas, a hereditary disease that causes weak veins in the brain. The veins can leak and cause a seizure or stroke. My doctors advised my parents that it was dangerous for me to play contact sports, so I took dance classes. I became a competitive dancer and trained 10 hours a week in dance and tumbling. I went along with my life not worrying about the time bomb in my head.

When I was 10, I was at the beach surfing when I had a hemorrhage in my brain stem, which caused a severe stroke. The bleed in my brain stem did not stop, and I had to have emergency brain surgery to save my life. Later, I found out the doctors did not know if I would survive, and asked my parents if they would sign papers to donate my organs. When I woke up, I was completely paralyzed. I could not eat, speak or walk. I felt like I was trapped inside myself. I saw the worry on everyone’s faces and wanted to scream, “I’m here!”

I was transferred to a rehab hospital and received intense therapy. When I was told I may never dance again, I used my training as a dancer to help me focus, even when I was so tired I could barely hang on. It took two months of hard work and determination, but I was able to walk out of the hospital.

I used dance and music as a large part of my recovery. I could do things to music that I couldn’t do at the therapy center. I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive dance studio, teachers and peers who understood how important dancing was to me. When I could not stand, my dance teachers would hold me up. I was back on a competition team a few months after I got out of the hospital. I continue to compete to this day, and have received many awards and honors for my unique style of dance and the way I share my story through dance. I am still partially paralyzed, and have not let that stop me.

Gracie.
Gracie.

Three years ago, I co-founded a class called the “Rising Stars” at my dance studio. This class is a chance for kids with physical and cognitive challenges to experience the same healing and joy that dance has given me. Dance helped me recover and find purpose after I got sick, and nothing makes me happier than to see the kids smiling when they start to dance.

It is a miracle that I lived through everything, and I believe I’m alive for a reason. I’m here to show the world that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control what you do because of what happened. You control your future, so when someone tells you that you can’t do something, show them you can. Your disability, no matter what it is, does not have to define you.

I have been fortunate to share my story at schools and to community members. I speak about resilience and showing people that you can do anything you can set your mind to. I have a favorite quote from Audrey Hepburn, “Nothing is impossible — the word itself says I’m possible.” I share the message that our differences don’t define us as people. What is “normal,” and who wants to be normal anyway? Our differences make us unique as individuals and beautiful in our own way. We may be different on the outside, but we all share hopes and dreams. We all want to grow up and be successful and have a fulfilling life of our own.

My goal is to grow up to be an advocate for people like me who may not have a voice. I want to be able to make an impact and be proud of what I’ve done. Someday I want to be able to share stories of my life with my children and grandchildren, and make them proud.

This is my disABLEd life.

Follow this journey on Gracie Doran’s website.

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