Pediatric Hero:
Reegan Lueken

Ely, Iowa
“Receiving this award is an honor. Life really is a gift even though it can throw some challenges, but there are also so many good things that can come out of it even though it might not seem like it at first. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my story and to help reinforce how strong we all can be.” – Reegan Lueken

On her first day of 7th grade track practice, in 2021, Reegan Lueken suddenly felt dizzy, so she sat down. When she tried to get back up, she realized her legs weren’t working. Her father rushed to the school and brought Reegan to the emergency room, where she learned she’d had an ischemic stroke. She was only 12 years old.

Doctors gave Reegan medication to break up the blood clot that caused the stroke, then airlifted her to a children’s hospital, where surgeons removed the clot. When Reegan woke up, she couldn’t move the left side of her body. She spent most of the next 11 days in the intensive care unit, where she had a second stroke.

Once her condition stabilized, Reegan was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation therapy facility. She met with physical and occupational therapists daily for 36 days. They helped her relearn skills she’d taken for granted, like walking or picking up items with her left hand. By the time Reegan was ready to go home, she could walk, climb stairs, move her left arm and grasp with her left fingers again.

Returning home was an adjustment. Reegan was glad to sleep in her own bed, but she had to accept the fact that when she needed to move her left side, she had to think about it; it no longer happened automatically. Meeting with physical and occupational therapists continued to boost her progress, and a life coach has helped her cope with the emotional aspects of recovering from a stroke during adolescence.

Today, Reegan is a resilient 10th grader who recognizes that every day is a gift. She studies hard and is on her high school’s honor roll. She relearned how to ride a bike, works as a hostess at a local restaurant and recently completed her first community college course.

Reegan decided to share her stroke story through the American Heart Association. Her mom, Maria, had been an AHA volunteer years before Reegan’s stroke. (Maria survived an aortic aneurysm when Reegan was a newborn.) By letting people know she had a stroke as an athletic preteen, Reegan hopes to help them understand that it’s possible for anyone to have a stroke anytime, regardless of age or health status.