She had it all and was living in the prime of life when people tend to think nothing could ever happen to them.
Many people assume that strokes happen to old people, not in people in their 20s. Yet, former beauty queen Katherine Wolf almost died from a brainstem stroke in 2008 at a young age. She was unconscious for 2 months and on life support for 40 days, but survived the tragedy that fundamentally changed her life, Christianity Today reported.
Though surviving the stroke, she was rendered unable to walk, speak, swallow and properly see; she was paralyzed on the right side of her face, inhibiting her ability to hear from her right ear. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to drive for a time, Wolf said her experience helped her to redefine the concept of beauty.
“I am grateful that the Lord has allowed me to experience suffering at an early age,” Wolf told the magazine. “The Cross and the suffering of Christ doesn’t appear beautiful at face value, but in the Kingdom of God, we know it is the ultimate source of beauty because it means that the end of the story is no longer sadness, pain, and death, but new life—and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Wolf grew up in Athens, Georgia according to the Online Athens, and was a theater superstar in her Athens Academy high school years. After graduation, she attended Samford University in Alabama, continuing in theatre and acting. She entered a beauty pageant and was crowned Miss Samford in 2002, and participated in the Miss Alabama pageant, coming in second runner up out of 80 participants.
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Wolf eventually married her college sweetheart Jay Wolf, a pastor’s son, the Online Athens continue. The young couple then moved to California where her husband attended Pepperdine Law School and she continued in entertainment and modeling pursuits.
Their son, James, was only 6 months old when Wolf, age 26 at the time, was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation. Also known as an AVM rupture, the young actor, model and former beauty pageant winner had ruptured vessels and significant bleeding in her brain. She underwent a 16 hour emergency surgery at UCLA Medical Center in 2008.
“Western culture often instills in young people the idea that they are invincible and nothing can happen to them, but the truth is that we are all going to experience suffering on earth, and if we never see it coming, we won’t know how to cope with it,” Wolf told Christianity Today.
“Our lives will fall apart. Suffering is the common denominator in our humanity and points us to Jesus, and so I want to instill in my kids the notion that hard and good are not mutually exclusive to each other—that things can be very good and very hard at the same time,” Wolf continued.
Christianity Today posed a question to the young former beauty pageant winner, acknowledging that she is used to a life of being judged by the external beauty, and having that beauty define your success, failure, self-worth, and identity. The magazine asked Wolf to advise women about healthier perceptions of beauty and self-worth.
“God uses everything for his glory,” Wolf responded. “Even our appearance can be used by God—think of Esther. Outer beauty is fading away as you age, but inner beauty has the potential to continually grow and increase. How can we grow more discerning when it comes to the voices we allow to influence us? It starts with re-narrating beauty and meditating on the truth that our worth is 100 percent connected to who we are in Christ. We are people made in God’s image. We have the glory of God in us and we are his beloved. Nothing else is required from us to be worthy but accepting that He loves us, imperfections and all.”
The cause of an arteriovenous malformation isn’t entirely known, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it is believed that there is a “tangle” of blood vessels in the brain providing proper oxygenation, and that an AVM experience, for whatever unknown reason, disrupts the ability of these vessels to properly oxygenate the brain. It can also occur in the spinal column. Brain damage and strokes are the complications of these arteriovenous malformations.
According to Mount Sinai Hospital, these neurological events can occur in childhood, but may be slightly more prevalent in the 20s and 30s demographics. Symptoms may include seizures, brain hemorrhaging, neurological impairment, and headaches, and occasionally may be detected during imaging procedures done in the context of other medical testing.
“We must tell our daughters that we are pleased with them, that we are delighted they are in our lives and in the world, and that God sees them as his beloved daughters,” Wolf elaborated. “It’s important to use deeply inclusive language so that they know they have an important place in our family and God’s family. The words after Christ’s baptism, ‘You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased’ are so powerful. Our children need to hear the same, ‘I am so pleased with you— there’s nothing you can do to change how I feel about you.’”
Wolf created a ministry, Hope Heals, where she shares her experience both through her blogs and public speaking events. She elaborates on how the brainstem stroke fundamentally transformed her views of beauty, not only in her eyes, or in the eyes of the entertainment industry, but ultimately as defined in the eyes of God.
“The beauty of suffering at a young age is that it will inform the rest of my life as well as my husband and children’s lives,” Wolf told Christianity Today. “Suffering is not the end of the story. The beauty of the gospel is that we see a better story being written and coming out of our sufferings, which changes the way we live the rest of our lives.”