There is no doubt that sustaining a brain injury is a life-changing event for everyone involved. It changes families, professional lives, perspectives and attitudes. Living with a brain injury can be especially hard for someone who strongly identifies with and defines themselves through their accomplishments and abilities.
Enter Ekaterina (Kate) Belashova, a smart, strong-willed woman who came to the United States when she was 27 years old. Kate was committed to making a difference and looked for every opportunity to learn. After already receiving a Master of Arts in History in her native country of Ukraine, Kate decided to continue her education and in 2004 graduated from Drake University with an MBA and a 4.0 grade point average. She also completed an organic chemistry class at the local college when she thought the information would be helpful in her career; and although she was already fluent in three languages, Kate also began taking Spanish language classes. An achiever by any standard, Kate was dedicated to meeting her goals.
Everything changed for Kate on March 9, 2012, when she was found on the floor by her 15-year-old son, Daneel, unable to speak or move the right side of her body. Kate was taken to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines where a CT scan confirmed that she had suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain. Kate was admitted to the hospital's acute rehabilitation unit for her initial rehabilitation and started On With Life's Outpatient Neuro Rehabilitation Program on April 2, 2012.
"When Kate started therapy with us, she was
ambulating well, but her right arm was largely
non-functional," explained Courtney Huber,
speech pathologist at On With Life. "Kate also
suffered from severe aphasia, a condition that
robs you of the ability to communicate. She
was only able to communicate verbally with
answering yes or no questions."
For the next few months Kate worked
extremely hard in therapy to gain back as much
as she could, explaining in an interview that
therapy is an extremely frustrating process, but
she tries to stay positive.
"I'm very determined to meet my goals,"
Kate explains through a combination of writing
out her answers and communicating in short
affirmative responses. "It is a hard thing to
know what you want to say, but not having the
ability to communicate it effectively."
Kate continues to visit On With Life on an
outpatient basis to receive speech therapy,
but is more well known within our walls for a
different role. Since February 19, 2013, Kate
has served as a volunteer in our Inpatient
Rehabilitation Program, attending Wellness
Group multiple times per week and helping any
way she can.
"Kate has such a kind demeanor and
our persons served feel almost instantly
comfortable around her," said Amy Bishop,
music therapist at On With Life. "I introduced
her to a former person served recently who
also has severe aphasia and there was an
immediate bond between the two. It is an
amazing thing to be able to connect with
someone on that level and Kate has that
Volunteering has proven to be more than just a
"Not only is Kate able to be a part of a persons
served recovery as someone who is there to
support them, she can also benefit herself
from being in that treatment session to
challenge her own communication skills," said
Kate has been an inspiration to many and even
through a tremendous amount of adversity
over the last year, she continues to remain
"Kate has been the model of persistence,
as well as a stark reminder that internal
motivation is only one piece of the puzzle
when it comes to recovery from a brain injury,"
explained Huber, who continues to work
with Kate on her speech and communication
goals. "She has worked her tail off in all of her
therapies and outside of her therapies and she
continues to make gains every day."
It is clear, however, after even just a short time
with Kate, that she isn't yet satisfied with her
level of recovery.
"I've made good progress, but I want to
make even more," explains Kate. "I'm very
determined and dedicated to meeting my
If history is any indication, Kate won't be giving
up anytime soon.