News Release

Nationwide, 6 stroke advocates selected to receive 2024 Stroke Hero Awards

The American Stroke Association spotlights the resiliency of local individuals and groups in the fight against stroke

Grant and Award Announcement

American Heart Association

DALLAS, May 1, 2024 — Each year, approximately 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke.[1] Six local stroke heroes from across the country are being recognized by the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, for their resiliency and dedication in the fight against stroke.

The American Stroke Association’s annual Stroke Hero Awards honors stroke survivors, health care professionals, advocates and caregivers. During May, American Stroke Month, the Association, devoted to a world of healthier lives for all and celebrating 100 years of lifesaving service, honors these Stroke Heroes and proudly advocates for stroke survivors year-round. Those who have had a stroke often must work against physical, emotional and cognitive changes to move forward. The following Stroke Heroes are being recognized for outstanding efforts in educating, inspiring and raising awareness about stroke.

Winners include:

  • Caregiver Hero: Loretta Sharp Gray, Oakwood Village, Ohio
    • Loretta Sharp Gray went from teaching students with disabilities to personal caregiver for her life partner, who survived a serious stroke and wasn’t expected to live. Never complaining or seeking recognition, she takes care of him at home with periodic home visits from his primary care doctor and nurse practitioner. At the same time, this grandmother is an advocate, volunteer and trusted messenger in the community. She also volunteers with the Association’s STEM Goes Red program. Students from local schools learn about heart health, stroke and CPR, as well as careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Equity Hero: Dr. Kimon Bekelis, Babylon, New York
    • Kimon Bekelis, MD has worked tirelessly to ensure equal access to lifesaving stroke care on Long Island, N.Y. regardless of demographics or ability to pay. He led the development of the Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center at Good Samaritan, the first Comprehensive Stroke Center on the south shore of Long Island, expanding access to high-quality stroke care for an underserved population. He believes everyone deserves an equal chance at the best possible outcome. Throughout his career, Dr. Bekelis has embodied this commitment to health equity and worked to enact meaningful improvements in equitable access to lifesaving stroke care.
  • Group Heroes: Centre for Neuro Skills, various locations in California and Texas
    • For more than 40 years, the Centre for Neuro Skills has provided community-based treatment for people recovering from brain injuries. As a recognized leader in the stroke and brain injury rehabilitation field, the Centre’s specially trained staff offer outcome-driven medical treatment, therapeutic rehabilitation and disease management services. The Centre lends its clinical expertise for educational interviews and shares inspiring stroke patient stories to local and national media for national recognition days, such as World Stroke Day and American Stroke Month, to educate the public about stroke prevention, causes and rehabilitation.
  • Pediatric Hero: Reegan Lueken, Ely, Iowa
    • After a stroke at age 12, Reegan Lueken's perseverance is an inspiration. Returning home from the hospital wasn’t the end of her journey. She participated in intensive therapies to help get her life back on track. Now a 10th grader, her stroke has taught her that every day is a gift. Reegan has worked hard to be on the honor roll and complete her first community college course. She uses the Association’s platform to share her story so others can learn from her experience. She and her mom, a heart disease survivor, want others to know that a stroke can happen to anyone at any age.
  • Survivor Hero: Craig Northcutt, Durant, Oklahoma
    • Craig Northcutt nearly lost his life in an ATV accident, leaving him with a brain bleed that caused a stroke. After months of intensive neurorehabilitation, he relearned how to walk, talk and return to work. Now he raises awareness about stroke through professional mentorship and by sharing his story with high school students and stroke survivors. Craig is celebrating his 12-year stroke anniversary and his 30-year work anniversary with the Choctaw Nation. As part of the organization’s Tribal Advocacy program, he helps tribal nation members develop their professional skills and find jobs.
  • Voters’ Choice Hero: Rick Hoeg, Northville, Michigan
    • ​​After having a stroke on Dec. 30, 2022, Rick Hoeg tackled the hardest challenge of his life: recovery. While still in aggressive outpatient rehab, Rick created a nine-part YouTube series on stroke education and prevention, often featuring his rehabilitation therapists. In his series, he taught stroke warning signs and shared his recovery journey, reaching over 100,000 viewers. Rick’s video series culminated in a $30,000 fundraiser benefiting the hospitals that saved his life. Today, he continues to educate about stroke and supports hospital staff in their vital work.

Winners were selected by a nationwide panel of volunteer judges from the American Stroke Association, with the exception of the Voters’ Choice Award, which was selected via online popular vote.

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About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024 - our Centennial year - we celebrate our rich 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us on heart.orgFacebookX or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

About the American Stroke Association

The American Stroke Association is a relentless force for a world with fewer strokes and longer, healthier lives. We team with millions of volunteers and donors to ensure equitable health and stroke care in all communities. We work to prevent, treat and beat stroke by funding innovative research, fighting for the public’s health, and providing lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based association was created in 1998 as a division of the American Heart Association. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-888-4STROKE or visit Follow us on Facebook and X.

[1] S S Martin; et al Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2024 Update: A Report of US and Global Data From the American Heart Association Circulation. 2024; 149:e347–e913. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001209 

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