Caregiver Hero:
Loretta Sharp Gray

Oakwood Village, Ohio
“I am deeply honored and humbled to have been selected for this wonderful award. Caregiving, for me, is the practice of caring to a much greater capacity—it elevates me to a place above an ordinary existence. Paul’s experience, and my caregiver journey, has empowered me to reach out and educate my community about perceptions of stroke and the care of stroke survivors.” – Loretta Sharp Gray

Loretta Sharp Gray was a passionate teacher before she decided to become her life partner’s primary caregiver after he had a stroke. Now she’s still educating people — about stroke.

In 2016, Loretta’s life partner, Paul Smith, fell into a coma after having a right hemorrhagic stroke. He wasn’t expected to live. After 40 days, he awoke from the coma, paralyzed on the left side of his body. Weeks later, he slipped into a second coma, after which Loretta became his court-appointed legal guardian. Paul was placed in a skilled nursing facility because he required extensive care.

Loretta was still working as a teacher when Paul entered the facility. Each time she visited Paul, she could see he was depressed, and she worried about his quality of life. Paul had no interest in interacting with fellow residents, and he frequently asked if he could go home.

Loretta eventually retired from teaching so she could bring Paul home and become his primary caregiver. The nursing facility staff initially discouraged the idea, but Loretta was determined, and they helped her set up home health services. Two months after Loretta retired, Paul moved in.

Becoming a caregiver required Loretta to take on many new responsibilities. The home health team offered this grandmother extensive training and education, enabling her to provide Paul round-the-clock care. He also receives community services and periodic visits from his primary-care doctor and nurse practitioner.

Loretta has found new ways to teach, by educating the public about stroke and advocating for patients. As a virtual conference presenter, she discusses ways caregivers can best care for stroke survivors and engage in self-care.

She also shares stroke information on social media, helping her followers understand how to recognize stroke symptoms and how to reduce the risk of stroke. And as a volunteer with the American Heart Association’s STEM Goes Red for Girls, she’s interacting with students again. The program educates local students about heart health, stroke, CPR and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.