Gracie Doran's Why
Survivor Gracie Doran with her furry friend Cooper
Gracie Doran was enjoying a day surfing at the beach with her dad. She would soon be taking a trip to Hawaii and wanted to get in as much practice as she could. But something wasn’t right — as she got out of the water, she was limping a little and said she was really tired. Once home, she immediately went to bed, even though it was the middle of the afternoon.
When she hadn’t come down for dinner, her mother, Barbara, sent her sister to see if there was a problem. Rachel came back and said something was really wrong. They loaded Gracie into the car and took her to the hospital where they were told she had a bleed in her brain stem.
At 10 years old, Gracie was having a stroke.
The Dorans knew that Gracie had a congenital condition called cavernous hemangioma that caused malformed blood vessels in her brain. That condition had been discovered after a seizure at age 6. A cavernous hemangioma is a cluster of small, abnormally formed blood vessels that are enlarged and irregular in structure. These blood vessels have very thin walls and lack the elastic fibers present in larger vessels. As a result, they are prone to leakage, which can cause hemorrhagic strokes. Gracie’s doctors at the time were concerned about one of the malformations, but every doctor the Dorans consulted advised against trying to remove it.
“They said it would be more dangerous to go in and do anything about it than leaving it alone,” Barbara said. “So we just left it alone.”
But once it started bleeding, it could no longer be left alone, especially as Gracie’s condition was worsening. After emergency brain surgery, Gracie spent seven weeks in rehab relearning how to eat, speak and walk. Although she came home in a wheelchair, she not only walks, now she dances!
“Dance is my passion in life,” Gracie said.
Gracie had been a competitive dancer, and her dance team went out of their way to include her. In a number from “Little Shop of Horrors,” they created a plant on a rolling cart, and Gracie danced from the waist up.
Gracie’s right arm and hand remain paralyzed, but that has not kept her off the stage. Her dance instructor choreographed a lyrical dance to the Beatle’s song “Let It Be.”
The dance tells Gracie’s story. “It was choreographed to use her strengths but also it shows her weaknesses, too, because that’s part of the story,” Barbara said. The group running the competition where it was first performed was so moved that they filmed a short documentary. At that first performance, she received a standing ovation, and she continues to perform it. She also teaches a dance class for students with disabilities. “Dance really helped in rehabilitation,” she said. “So I like to help kids learn how to dance.”
She also speaks to school groups about bullying and acceptance during disability awareness events. And she is passionate about raising awareness of pediatric stroke. “I feel like I need to give back, and I want to educate others and spread awareness that kids can also have strokes.”
She has spoken at Heart Balls and luncheons with the American Stroke Association, as well as at Jump Rope for Heart events at schools and at a Go Red For Women fashion show.
“It makes me so happy when I share my story and I can see how it impacts people’s lives and how it moves them to donate to a cause or volunteer or be a better person in their community,” she said. “Inspiration is one of the most powerful things in the world. I love that I am able to move people and that they are able to look up to me as a role model in their community.”
Gracie feels like the stroke and her recovery was a turning point. “It’s made me a better person 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. My future is my why.”
Everyone has a reason to live a longer and healthier life.