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At the Bedside: Young stroke survivor's inspiring journey highlights the power of resilience, support, and research

Katie Breece, a stroke survivor, shares her journey to empower other survivors on their road to recovery and the importance of rehabilitation therapy.  (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)
Katie Breece, a stroke survivor, shares her journey to empower other survivors on their road to recovery and the importance of rehabilitation therapy. (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)
Katie Breece practices writing as part of her rehabilitation therapy after experiencing a stroke at 27 years old. (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)
Katie Breece practices writing as part of her rehabilitation therapy after experiencing a stroke at 27 years old. (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)
Katie was enrolled in the SUPER clinical trial, an intensive upper extremity recovery program for chronic stroke patients at ƹƵAppHealth Houston. (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)
Katie was enrolled in the SUPER clinical trial, an intensive upper extremity recovery program for chronic stroke patients at ƹƵAppHealth Houston. (Photo courtesy of Katie Breece)

Katie Breece was a healthy, active 27-year-old professional from Seattle starting her career, living life, and never expected it to be upended by a stroke. She woke up one morning and began her day like any other when suddenly her life changed forever. What began as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) while in the bathroom getting ready for work quickly escalated to a full-blown stroke, leaving her facing a challenging road to recovery. 

While in the hospital, isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her boyfriend discovered a research study, an intensive upper extremity recovery program for chronic stroke, known as "SUPER," at the Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases at ƹƵAppHealth Houston. SUPER is a high-intensity, high-quality, and high-dose intervention study offering 30 hours of therapy per week for three weeks, consisting of occupational therapy, physical therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, and cardiovascular exercise. The program focuses on addressing functional use of the affected upper extremity based on participants' individual goals.

Although initially hesitant, Katie traveled to Houston and dedicated herself to the rigorous 6-hour-a-day, 5-day-a-week program, working alongside her occupational therapist, Emily Stevens, MOT, OTR. The results were remarkable; within just a few days, her father noticed significant improvements, and Katie herself began to recognize progress in her arm and leg function.

Emily recalls Katie's drive for progress from their first discussion about the study: “In my first conversation with Katie over a video call, she said that she was an A++ student and up for the challenges ahead,” Emily said. “Failing was obviously not an option for her. I saw that on the first day of the study – Katie was open and eager to try anything we asked her to do, regardless of how challenging it may have been.”

Following the SUPER program, Katie continued her rehabilitation journey closer to home at Pushing Boundaries, a nonprofit organization in Washington. There, she engages in exercise sessions multiple times a week, building upon the progress she made in Houston. The support and camaraderie she has found at Pushing Boundaries, particularly through her gym teacher, have been invaluable in her ongoing recovery.

Katie also lives with aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate. It can occur suddenly after a stroke and affects their ability to express and understand written and spoken language. In a recent interview on the institute's podcast, , she shared her daily struggles while also expressing her hopes to empower other survivors to find their voice and advocate for the support and resources they need to thrive. Katie's plans to continue public speaking engagements and advocate for young stroke survivors highlight the importance of raising awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding stroke and its effects.

Throughout her journey, Katie has relied on the unwavering support of her loved ones, including her boyfriend, Brett Gurzick, her parents, and her sister, Nina Breece. Their love, encouragement, and patience have been instrumental in helping Katie navigate the challenges of stroke recovery. Her story emphasizes the crucial role that a strong support network plays in the lives of stroke survivors.

Katie's message to other stroke survivors is one of hope and perseverance. She encourages them to overcome their fears and actively seek out programs, studies, and clinical trials that can aid in their recovery. By sharing her own progress and connecting with other survivors on Instagram (@Katie_stronger_then_stroke), Katie aims to inspire and motivate others to never give up on their journey to recovery.

Katie's inspiring journey serves as a powerful reminder that with determination, hard work, and the support of loved ones, stroke survivors can achieve remarkable progress and improve their quality of life. Her story underscores the importance of seeking out cutting-edge research, building a strong support network, and never giving up hope in the face of adversity. As Katie continues to share her experiences and advocate for her fellow survivors, she stands as a beacon of hope and resilience for the stroke community.

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