December 21st, 2010
09:02 AM ET

Human Factor: At 26, a young mind disabled by stroke

Katherine Wolf's life changed in a split second, when a brain bleed nearly killed her. Here is her story in her own words.

At 26 years old, I was living out my dreams in Los Angeles, with my husband, Jay, and 6-month old baby, James.

All that would change on April 21, 2008, when I nearly died of a massive brain stem stroke.

Defying all odds, I survived and am fighting for my recovery while battling many significant deficits to this day. As a result of my stroke and lifesaving brain surgery, I was left unable walk, talk, or swallow, with severe double vision and right ear deafness, as well as right side facial paralysis and lack of fine motor coordination in my right hand.

My son was left in the care of family and friends as I lingered on life-support in ICU for 40 days. For the next year and a half, I underwent daily physical, occupational, and swallowing therapy in the hopes of regaining all that I had lost. After two months of silence, communicating by pointing to letters on a board and spelling out words, I uttered my first breathy word on June 18, 2008.

After 11 months without eating orally, I finally passed a swallowing test (after failing nine previous ones) on March 29, 2009, and was cleared to eat normally again. After being in a wheelchair for 18 months, at first unable to even hold up my own head, I began walking with a quad-based cane on October 21, 2009. After nearly two years of depending on others to completely care for my child, I was able to balance my weight against the crib and safely put him to bed on April 5, 2010.

Now, over two and a half years later, I have learned that combating life's deepest unmet expectations with hope has made all the difference. I write updates about my recovery and the lessons I am learning in the process at www.katherinewolf.info.

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Filed under: Brain • Human Factor

soundoff (767 Responses)
  1. Odalice Yolanda Feliz

    so glad she is doing better

    December 21, 2010 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. JC-VA

    You Know To all of you that don't believe in God, it's ok if you don't believe, but don’t waste your time trying to find reasons on why we shouldn't believe in a higher power, this is a free Country. Who know why God let things like this to happen, who are we to question His intentions..? After all, when you question Him, that doesn't change things, all it does is fill your heart with resentment and hate. I rather live my life believing in "something" that it might not exist, but it gives me hope, than living my life with my heart full of hate...... Merry Christmas to all!!!!

    December 21, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GodTookNoPart

      Higher Power – quite possible
      Jesus Christ – quite unlikely
      All loving – quite funny

      December 21, 2010 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      G*dtoonopart...really with the name? like people said, if you don't believe that's fine, what ever gets YOU through your day. For A LOT of folks, that IS what gets them through their day. I admire those that have faith and belief, it is one of the few things we can truly call our own. Not even your lame remarks can take that away.

      December 21, 2010 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
    • GodTookNoPart

      It's GodTookNoPart, not G*dtoonopart, good try though. Keep working on your spelling and your grammar and eventually someone will take what you have to say seriously.

      December 21, 2010 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
    • LaJoe

      This God took no part character is just an instigator. Trying to get you all worked up. Much like a hild throwing a fit, just ignore it and it will subside. God bless you and your family, I hae a person I work with that will get a great deal of comfort from your story. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

      December 21, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    What an amazing story of perseverance. Instead of thanking a fictional man in the sky who had the power to prevent giving a young mother an almost fatal brain stem stroke just to test her, we should thank the doctors who saved her life and the will of this woman to survive for her family. Much as we walk through life with nothing but luck, the odds and complete random chance the difference between being a millionaire and getting hit by a bus walking to Starbucks, we also forget to thank those people that help us through tough times. Also, wonder how those medical bills are treating her...what with us having the perfect corporate for profit health care system in the world. I'm willing to bet our very compassionate insurance companies regarded this a a "pre-existing condition."

    December 21, 2010 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GodTookNoPart

      Preach it sister.

      December 21, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
    • Ashley

      Please read her story in regard to her surgeon. Dr. Gonzales at UCLA. He is a believer in God and he gives credit to God for saving Katherine's life. He wept the day after Katherine's surgery as she squeezed his hand because he knew he was witnessing a miracle. There are just too many coincidences for this to just be random "good luck". God is using Katherine for his purpose. I have met her, heard her speak and know this to be true.

      December 22, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    Imagine what her husband has gone through. An amazing man to be there for her while raising a newborn all on his own.

    December 21, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      Amen, he deserves to be nominated for "Father of the Year".

      December 21, 2010 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
    • Alabama Girl

      actually he wasnt alone. They had family and friends all over the country helping out! The Body of Christ enveloped this family....I know them and they are incredibly faithful to the Lord.

      December 31, 2010 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
  5. Lauren

    You are an inspiration to lots of people. The last min of the interview about your husband, truly moved me. That is love, deep love. Some people would of bailed out to lead the life they dreamed of, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball and gives you the most fantastic partner. May you be blessed this holiday season and for the upcoming year. 🙂

    December 21, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Guest

    An amazing woman. I don't live my life for some "God", I live it for myself. When I tore my ACL earlier this year, I never once prayed to God. I had faith in my surgeon and my therapist and I worked hard. Today I am almost totally better. She is a very lucky woman with an amazing family and support system. If it makes people feel better to think that God had something to do with it, by all means believe it. Not everyone does.

    December 21, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Simon Templar

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope you keep doing well.

    December 21, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Bianca

    Wow – what an incredible story! I don't know you Katherine but I can tell so much by your written words and your video, you are full of vim & vigor (as my grandmother would say) and while it's been a tough road you're cognizant of the fact that there are still many good things in life. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

    December 21, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jeff

    Good job Katherine with your perseverance, good job doctors and those advancing medical knowledge and technology 🙂

    December 21, 2010 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. PABob

    Wow why did a very inspiring story about a family's misfortune and a lady's fight for life and dignity evolve into a discussion about religion or the lack there of. To those who turned this into making a point you should be ashamed of yourselves, PERIOD! To the family and especially to Katherine I hope the best for you and to your family always.

    December 21, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Marsha

    When we think our life is tough, just remember the article about Katherine Wolf. I applaud her outlook on life. Keep on striving to attain all that you possiblly can. May God Bless.

    December 21, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Onigiri

    Thank god she have health insurance. Otherwise she will be screwed like millions of families that sadly have to live on the street. Hey, Sanyay can you visit a free clinic today?

    December 21, 2010 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. NotaPoster

    There is nothing a nameless face on the internet can say to provide comfort.

    December 21, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Travis

    Atheistss gotta suck the joy out of everything.. Every article I read on cnn, there's always negative feedback from atheists.

    Let people believe what they want to believe.

    December 21, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Zach

    "There is no true faith like a struggled faith" Elie Wiesel. Your god puts you through struggles to test how religious you are.
    Keep on keepin on Mrs Wolf!

    December 21, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. T's Grl

    Its so wonderful to read a true story of courage and hope like this than most of the other useless info that's posted. Shame on all of you who cannot see the strength and courage someone like Katherine must summon from within to meet such a challenge-and I dare say many of us would not have had it either. Blessings to you, Katherine, and your family. You are all amazing!

    December 21, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sharmila Kazim

    What an amazing story...Katherine's fight for survival, and the love, devotion and compassion shown by her husband and family.

    Beautiful and simply inspiring – I wish Katherine and her family all the best.

    Life is full of surprises, up's and down's, but love, hope and faith conquers all.

    December 21, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Matt

    You are a living miracle, and truly brave and remarkable young woman with so much determination to keep "working hard" as you said, so that you can be an inspiration to us all. I believe that God works in mysterious ways, and the true meaning to your story is about your recovery, which appears to be getting better and better. Your perseverance is what others need to see in their own struggles and triumphs for overcoming the biggest of hurdles and life altering challenges, so that we can all be witness of the impossible becoming possible once again.

    December 21, 2010 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Catherine

    Katherine, You are such a great inspiration and testament of God's healing power! You and your family are always in my prayers. Merry Christmas!

    December 21, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. erika

    i know this family in real life and have to say they are some of the most inspiring, uplifting, and amazing people i have ever met. whatever your religious beliefs, please respect theirs as they would respect yours. they are an inspiration to all who go through hard times and show us how to rejoice in miracles, both large and small, and how to not take anything in our lives for granted. i know it is easy to be cynical (especially on the internet)- just know that these people are the real deal, and even though their struggle has been incredibly difficult, they have shown so many people how to live their best lives in spite of things not going as planned. i know they inspire me on a daily basis!


    December 21, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. LiberalNN

    Amazing article but the link doesn't seem to work?

    December 21, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. nogods

    Why is stating that god had nothing to do with this so offensive to people? It is offensive to some of us that anyone would claim that god is responsible for this "miracle." If god can perform miracles and is all-powerful, he could have prevented the stroke. He could also heal Katherine completely with no medical intervention. Don't you think that would be a bigger miracle? Why are the "miracles" so convoluted? We don't see allowing (causing?) suffering as consistent with the loving and all-powerful god that so many people try to claim. That would mean that we have god to thank for every war, tragedy and death. At least those of you who are willing to concede that point aren't contradicting yourselves.

    December 21, 2010 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bbeech

      @nogods – I don't think it's the fact that someone would voice their opinion that God had nothing to do with this, I think it's the militant and condescending tones those posters usually take. Typically it's the intention of those to insult or condemn believers.

      To your other point, the Bible is full of passages that talk about suffering, specifically Paul's letters to the 1st century churches. He says, 'expect suffering' and even further, you see in Acts 5 that after being beaten, the apostles rejoiced for being worthy to be shamed for Jesus.

      Our Bible tells us that all things will work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose. Many see Katherine's struggle and watching her faith and God's miracle has empowered many Christians around the world. We may not see the good in something now, but God can work all things for good.

      January 6, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
  23. sarah

    Katherine is one of my best friends. I have walked this with her and jay from the beginning. To see her story on CNN is beautiful and empowering; I dont feel the same about some of these comments/opinions. We know exactly whom we have believed and are persuaded that He is our ever present help in time of need,regardless of any body's criticism or logic. We do appreciate all the doctors and amazing team in LA! oh how we have seen His grace. Im grateful she is alive and certain that her life story has volumes left in it! To Jesus Christ be all the glory. Thank you CNN for airing her story of Hope.

    December 21, 2010 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. sarah

    Katherine is one of my best friends. I have walked this with her and jay from the beginning. To see her story on CNN is beautiful and empowering; I dont feel the same about some of these comments/opinions. We know exactly whom we have believed and are persuaded that He is our ever present help in time of need,regardless of any body's criticism or logic. We do appreciate all the doctors and amazing team in LA! oh how we have seen His grace. Im grateful she is alive and certain that her life story has volumes left in it! To Jesus Christ be all the glory. Thank you CNN for airing her story of Hope. We have an awesome community around us.

    December 21, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. kacki

    Thank you, CNN, for such an inspiring story. There is far too much fear and negativity on the news these days. I was glad to see some good news for a change. It is obvious that Ms. Wolf is a person of faith. She referred to her recovery as "miraculous." If anyone should know, it is she. She also said that she is "blessed." Most people who had everything going for them, as she did before her stroke, would not say that about what many people would view as a terrible tragedy. She was a beautiful woman before her injury, and she still is. Let's have more stories like this one.

    December 21, 2010 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Caroline

    Katherine is definitely a living miracle. I am so thankful God spared her life that April day, so that I could follow her story for the last couple years and be inspired beyond words. Her family's devotion to her recovery is the type of dedication and love we can all learn from. James is one lucky little boy to have such strong, Godly parents (not to mention grandparents, aunts, etc). Keep fighting, Katherine. We are walking and praying with you every step of the way. Thanks to CNN for reporting this story so that others may follow her journey and believe in MIRACLES!

    December 22, 2010 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Krissi Looney

    I will never forget that scary day. There were so many people gathered at the hospital just praying and waiting. The outpour of love from so many is a testament of the way you poured yourself into others. I love you and still pray for your full recovery.

    December 22, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. SusanPL

    THANK YOU CNN for posting this incredible story. This should be made into a movie, as it portrays abounding love, faith and hope. The kind of stories we all need more of !!

    December 22, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. tv

    My husband had left-brain stroke almost 7 years ago; he was 32. He is still working on the recovery process and its slow, but we're determined. I will be praying for you to make a full recovery.

    December 23, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Arlene Griffis

    Faith in God is not something tangible that the believer can explain to the unbeliever. All we as believers can do is to relate what God has done in our lives. That is exactly what Katherine and Jay have done since this tragedy occured. I have been following her blog for two years now and I am always humbled and blessed by it. To Christians who feel frustrated when trying to convince non-believers, remember John 1:5 "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." The same is true today and always will be. Those who dwell in darkness cannot comprehend the light.

    December 24, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Mark Stanton

    I also had a brainstem stroke. It is not correct to pray for any specific result. Gods plan may keep you on the earth a while longer or maybe not. Either one ultimately represents the will of God which will remain a mystery to mortal man. If something like this happens to you the fundamental difference between mortal and spiritual will likely be revealed to you. It has nothing to do with any church or religion, all creations of man, not God

    December 24, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. SUSAN M.

    Thank you for your strength and the hope and insipration of your story. You and your husband are amazing and I appreciate who you are..You have my continued prayers and I know the love and prayers of many.. Thank you for telling us of your story and of your amazing courage...You are so easy to listen to and I love your joy and humor. Thank you!!!

    December 24, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Chris

    My husband just forwarded me your story. I must say that you are a true inspiration.

    I have two friends who have also had strokes but BOTH a lot older than you and I know how hard it was for them to go throught the therapy etc.

    Bless you and your family

    December 26, 2010 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Diane

    Thank you for sharing your story. i had a similar experience caused by a brain aneurysm. the fight back is so difficult, but you take it day by day and cling to faith. our stories are important for all because you never know what challenges will face you. i, like you, struggled with re hab. learning to walk the second time around is much more difficult. Take note to all who read this story, the human spirit is ferocious. KNOW that fighting as hard as you can against adversity with faith in the positive, can help you through all challenges! Katherine's story proves this. THANK YOU KATHERINE. i am still fighting to regain all i had..........i will never give up. Your story has shown me yet again, WE MUST NEVER GIVE UP.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. jesse

    If God loves this woman so much, and God knows all, and is able to do it all, then why did he cause this woman who seems nice and sweet and had a newborn child to have a stroke? Don't tell me it's beyond my understanding - that's an easy cop-out. Either your God is dumb or he is mean, pure and simple.

    January 2, 2011 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bbeech

      @jesse – one reason may be that YOU will once again have reason to ponder whether there is a God in heaven. Maybe this is one of the ways God is trying to get YOUR attention. I'm willing to bet that Katherine would have willingly undergone this horrific tragedy if she knew that YOU would be born again and come to a knowledge of Christ crucified and what that means for you. That is something we can all understand and if one soul is regenerated out of this or one's faith is strengthened, good has come of it.

      January 6, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
  36. GT

    Let's take religion and atheism out of the equation and look at the facts. What happened to this woman was a random act. She was born with undiagnosed, congenital condition that lead to her stroke. Her initial survival was the result of modern medicine. Had this happend 100 years ago, the likihood of her surviival would have been virtually impossible. Her longterm recovery is also the result modern medicine and her personal determination and belief in a higher power. If that belief helps her get to where she needs to go than so be it. She has as much right to believe as others have not to believe. To categorically assert that a god does not exist is just as foolish as saying one does. The existence of a god can neither be proven or disproven.

    January 7, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nogods

      @GT – I agree with most of your post. However, I think that there is flaw in the following part of your argument: "To categorically assert that a god does not exist is just as foolish as saying one does. The existence of a god can neither be proven or disproven." I see what you are trying to say, but this argument would have to hold true for any number of imaginary beings. For example, you would have to say the same for unicorns, leprechauns, and the flying spaghetti monster. I cannot say with 100% certainty that there is no god. I am reasonably sure. The burden of proof is not on my shoulders. Contrary to the argument of many believers, it requires no faith to be an atheist.

      I hope that Katherine continues to recover and that the knowledge the doctors gain by treating her helps other people with brain injuries. In my opinion, it is more important to spread the word of the medical and scientific advancement than spread the Word of a being that (probably) doesn't exist and whose existence would require a tremendous suspension of logic, science, and reason.

      January 7, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.