2020 Stroke Heroes Award Winners

Mark Kincaid

Voters' Choice Hero – Mark Kincaid

Mark is very honored and grateful for this award voted on by his peers. His testimony continues daily and he gives all the glory to God and his amazing support system in his family and friends.

The above quote was a collaborative effort from Mark and his wife, Tonya, since he still struggles with aphasia and apraxia.

Over a decade ago, Mark Kincaid experienced a catastrophic ischemic stroke at age 42 due to undiagnosed high blood pressure. Doctors predicted that Mark might not survive surgery to treat the stroke, and if he did, he would live the rest of his days in a vegetative state.

But Mark defied the predictions as soon as he woke up from surgery. After weeks of intensive inpatient therapy, he began regaining some of his cognitive and physical abilities, and after three months in hospitals, he was finally able to go home.

Mark continued working hard on his recovery, almost always doing double what was recommended. By playing brain games and doing speech therapy activities, Mark continued to improve his cognitive and communication skills, although he still struggles with expressive aphasia and apraxia to this day. His stroke heavily impacted the right side of his body, so his therapy included using a leg brace and electric stimulation units for his leg and arm.

Mark joined his local stroke support group and has been an active member for years. He regularly participates in stroke education activities in schools, helps provide stroke awareness education at local events and works with a rehabilitation center to help patients learn to cope with the aftermath of a stroke. Mark also helps educate graduate students at Eastern Kentucky University on the stroke survivor experience and works to achieve local and national recognition for Stroke Awareness Month and World Stroke Day.

Mark’s undeniable fighting spirit helps make him a great role model for stroke survivors. Read Mark's story, Given a grim prognosis, stroke survivor proved doctors wrong.

Aphasia Choir

Outstanding Group – The Aphasia Choir of Vermont

"The choir members are truly amazing, and they inspire me with their positive attitudes, good humor, and tenacity. I can't think of a better way to honor them!” – Karen McFeeters Leary, Director 

Making inspiring music together is the Aphasia Choir of Vermont’s goal. While helping its members express themselves more freely through singing, the group also educates the community about communication disabilities and provides a supportive community for stroke survivors with aphasia.

Karen McFeeters Leary, a retired speech-language pathologist and singer/songwriter, started the group and has directed it for six years, growing it from 22 members to more than 50. The first aphasia choir in Vermont, the group includes stroke and traumatic brain injury survivors, family members, caregivers, physical therapy assistants, speech-language pathologists and University of Vermont students studying communication sciences. They rehearse for months during the spring to prepare for their annual performance in June for National Aphasia Awareness Month, and they also take time to highlight members’ victories and support each other.

The concert attracts more and more people every year, with the 2019 performance entertaining nearly 600 attendees. The music ranges from Broadway hits to Motown classics, including pieces where members play instruments such as kazoos and a one-hand adapted guitar. Choir members also educate the audience about aphasia, including tips for communicating with someone who has aphasia.

The Aphasia Choir of Vermont’s members may struggle with aphasia, but when they make music together, they communicate in a beautiful and inspiring way.

Jill Veach

Outstanding Caregiver – Jill Veach 

“Prior to our daughter having her stroke at only 8 years old, I didn't even know the signs of a stroke, let alone that they could happen to a healthy child. We will continue to educate people about the signs of a stroke and that they can happen to anyone at any age.”

On what Jill Veach thought would be an ordinary day in July 2017, her daughter, Claudia, suddenly could not walk or talk and had a severe headache, right arm weakness and facial drooping. An ambulance arrived quickly and the paramedic shared his initial diagnosis with Jill: “I believe your daughter is having a stroke.” Jill replied, “but she’s only eight years old!” He said, “anyone with blood pumping through their veins can have a stroke.” Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center quickly confirmed the paramedic’s suspicion, and Claudia was diagnosed with Focal Cerebral Arteriopathy, a condition where blood vessel inflammation leads to a narrowing of a major artery in the brain.

When Claudia left the hospital, Jill took on her new role as a stroke survivor’s caregiver with tenacity and grace. She balanced administering daily medications and taking Claudia to doctor’s appointments and tests with her regular day-to-day demands of family and work. Nearly three years later.

Claudia has made a full recovery, and together, Jill and Claudia are working to raise awareness of pediatric stroke in their community. Jill reconnected with the hospital that treated Claudia asking how she could help raise awareness. This led to participation in the International Pediatric Stroke Study and filming an educational video for the hospital and participating in a news story on Claudia’s stroke. Jill has also written a blog for the International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke, is active in the Greater Cincinnati Stroke Consortium and is always looking for opportunities to share the warning signs of stroke.

Jill’s determination knows no bounds. She is now inviting friends and family to walk in the American Heart Association’s Heart Mini-Marathon & Walk in honor of Claudia as part of the team “Claudia’s Crusaders.”

Survivor and Caregiver Support Group

Outstanding Support Group – Hazard Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Support Group

“Our group has worked very hard to make stroke education and awareness a focal point in our rural communities of eastern Kentucky, and I am very honored that our efforts have been recognized by the American Stroke Association," Keisha Hudson, coordinator/leader.

Since 2015, this diverse group of stroke survivors, caregivers, family members and healthcare professionals has been working to increase stroke awareness and provide stroke education to all ages. They have made it their mission to ensure that prevention education is offered and quality services are available for everyone affected by a stroke. Their passion is palpable, and their commitment is strong.

A traditional support group with monthly meetings featuring camaraderie, support and education by local experts, they also actively work to raise stroke awareness in under-resourced rural eastern Kentucky — a region with one of the highest stroke rates in the nation — through outreach efforts, local radio and TV appearances and stroke screening events.

They have worked with city and county officials to establish proclamations for stroke awareness for several years. For American Stroke Month last May, the group educated over 600 elementary, middle and high school students about the signs and symptoms of stroke, stroke prevention and how to become advocates within their communities. In October 2019 they hosted their first stroke lunch and learn for World Stroke Day, where they performed 50 stroke risk screenings and were featured in a local news story. The Hazard Stroke Survivor and Caregiver Support Group works relentlessly to make a positive impact on members’ lives and their community.

Gracie Doran

Outstanding Survivor – Gracie Doran

"Pediatric stroke is one that is not often talked about and I’m glad that I can use the voice that was given back to me to raise awareness and educate about stroke,” Gracie Doran.

Ten-year-old Gracie Doran was surfing when she had a stroke caused by a brain stem bleed. Surgery saved her life, but she was in a coma for several days and woke up partially paralyzed. Then she began her recovery journey. In inpatient rehabilitation, Gracie relearned how to eat, speak and walk, relying heavily on the discipline and determination she’d developed as a competitive dancer to help her persevere. After rehab, she continued with years of therapy and had three more brain surgeries. Though she still faces challenges, including loss of the use of her right hand and a speech impediment due to facial paralysis, Gracie doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her goals.

In the 10 years since her stroke, Gracie has dedicated herself to helping others and raising awareness as an American Heart Association volunteer and advocate. She speaks at Heart Balls, Go Red luncheons and Go Red STEM events, telling audiences, “I had a stroke, the stroke does not have me.” She has been a panelist at the White House Health Care Summit and participated in the You’re the Cure Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

Gracie also started a dance company, the Rising Stars, for children with disabilities. They’ve been dancing for seven seasons and are an all-inclusive group, allowing siblings to participate as well. Gracie is now in college working toward a master’s degree in social justice and leadership. She hopes to go to law school and pursue a career as an advocate for stroke and people with disabilities.

2020 Stroke Heroes Video Gallery