Deb Shaw Champions the Challenges after 3 Strokes

Deb Shaw was at the top of her career, selling cybersecurity technical products to government customers for a silicon valley powerhouse. Things were going great. Then she had a stroke. And then she had another stroke. And then she had a third stroke, paired with a concussion.

Since then, she started a nonprofit with her husband and has produced more than 10 booklets for stroke survivors to help them navigate their new lives.

Recently, the American Heart Association named Deb their latest Survivor Hero.

Deb shares her journey in this conversation.

If you don't see the audio player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/deb to listen to the conversation.


About Deb Shaw

A professional headshot of Deb Shaw. He wears an orange jacket against a dark backdrop and looks at the camera

Deb Shaw is an inspirational three-time ischemic stroke survivor and the Founder & President of a nonprofit who remains steadfastly upbeat, despite her ongoing difficulties. Deb channeled her energy into creating “Champion the Challenges,” a nonprofit organization that helps motivate stroke survivors to pursue her three P’s of a successful recovery: Patience, Positivity, and Practice. Be patient in everything, have a positive outlook, and practice your exercises every day.

Deb founded and launched ChampiontheChallenges.org, a rapidly growing 501c3 focused on helping stroke survivors reimagine their stroke rehabilitation journey.  The website is filled with inspirational content, therapy ideas, and success stories all designed to encourage.  Deb has written 11 Quick Read Booklets ™ that are geared to inspire and educate the stroke community. The booklets are available on-line as flipbooks, or in print editions, all compliments of Deb.

“Champion the Challenges” was started during Covid because she wanted to share the inspiration, motivation, technology, and helpful stroke ideas, all in one website. This is her way to give hope to many people needing to discover their inner strength.


Deb's approach to recovery is based on the three Ps:

  1. Patience
  2. Positivity
  3. Practice

Patience with yourself is critical. While we are all trying to recover, it doesn't always happen as quickly as we would like. Sometimes we can't do things yet that we feel like we ought to be able to do. That's okay. It happens. Getting angry and frustrated with ourselves may be natural in the moment, but ultimately is not helpful. We need to be patient with our brains and our bodies to give them the space they need to heal and to relearn our lives.

Positivity helps us get through the day. Negative feelings are natural and okay in the moment, and long term they can become a problem. Living in and dwelling in the negative is not going to get us where we need to be. A positive attitude and approach to our tasks and lives may not guarantee success, but I have never heard of someone succeeding while dwelling in a cloud of negativity.

Practice is the other key element. A positive attitude may make recovery a possibility, but it's practice that can turn that possibility into actual success. Neuroplasticity is a powerful force in recovery, and building those new neural pathways requires thousands of repetitions of activities. It takes practice and then more practice.

2022 Stroke Hero Awards: Survivor Hero – Deb Shaw


Llamas and Alpacas

For my Girlfriend's birthday, we went to Topstall Farm to visit play with llamas and alpacas. It's a short 1.5-2 hour drive from Seattle.

The person who runs the farms limits groups to 6 people so we get a personal experience. She told us all about the critters and explained how they care for them.

Cathy feeds 3 alpacas,

A recently shorn dark brown alpaca with a furry heard stands in a field and looks at the camera

Cathy walks the llama Armando

Bill and Cathy stand on either side of Armando the llama

A close up view of the proud gray llama Lafayette.

Then we got up close and personal. We walked into the paddock and got to feed them by hand. One thing that amazed me was how soft the alpacas lips were as they took the pellets right from my palm. They were aggressive about getting to the food but gentle about taking it.

After we fed the alpacas, we took the llamas for a walk. It was 2 people per llama. Cathy and I got to take Armando on a half mile hike around the property.  Armando wasn't terribly interested in the walk, but he went along with it. Every 20 or 30 feet or so he would stop and bend down to start snacking on some grass, as though to convince us he hadn’t eaten in FOREVER. We weren't buying that however.

The walk itself was a challenge because it wasn't a paved path or smooth trail. The ground was uneven and muddy in places, as you would expect. I managed pretty well with my cane (I used the cheap one), but I certainly got my PT in for the day.

A recently shorn alpaca stands in a field. he has white fur and one eye is blue and white. The other is brown.

This is the alpaca I spent time feeding. His name is Woody. He's 14 years old and deaf since birth. His different color eyes are also a genetic quirk. Once we all wandered into the paddock with our bowls of food, Woody ignored everyone else and sauntered right up to me for his snack.

Isn't it a coincidence that the disabled llama found the disabled human and decided to make a friend? Maybe, but I like to think he sensed a connection.

If you want to get up close and personal with live, fluffy animals, and you happen to be in the Puget Sound region, head on over to Topstall Farm. Tell Armando, Woody, and (oh, yeah) their humans that I said, "Hi."


It took more than two years, but COVID-19 finally got me.

A picture of a Rapiid Antigen COVID-19 test that reads positive.

I was on a business trip in Hawaii. It was a successful trip, which was great. The day before I was supposed to fly home, I felt off, and not in a stroke-y way (you know what I mean). I took a rapid test. The instructions say to wait 15 minutes for a result. My test lit up brightly and boldly positive in less than 3 minutes. The next day, I visited a doctor's office for a PCR test to confirm. It confirmed.

That meant cancelling my flight and isolating in the hotel for another 5 days. I probably could have gotten on the plane without telling anyone, but intentionally exposing 150 people like that seemed like the wrong choice.

The CDC recommends 5 days of isolation. After that, if symptoms are mild, the CDC allows masked travel if necessary and recommends isolating as practical after that.

You may think, "Awesome! Five bonus days in Honolulu!"

Sounds great in theory, but,

I was still not feeling well

I couldn’t leave the hotel room

The beach and surf were tantalizingly close, but they just teased me from my city view room with a peek of the water.

A slight beach view between to hotels from the 18th floor

Housekeeping brought up a big table and put it in front of my door to signal that this was a quarantine room. They piled it high with towels, tooth brushes, and coffee packs so I would be all set to hunker down. I ordered all my food through Uber Eats. They would deliver to the front desk. The front desk would deliver to my blockading table. They would knock on the door and scurry away. I'd put on my mask, pop open the door and snatch my dinner.

A room service table filled with towels and supplies to last 5 days.

Then I'd go back to washing my underwear in the sink so I'd have clean clothes the next day.

After 5 days, I was well enough to head back to Seattle.

I'm still recovering. My voice is a little rough, as you may have heard in the opening and closing of this episode. I'm a little stuffed up. I still feel a little off, but for the most part I'm fine. I just need to get more sleep. My main concern at this point is not infecting Cathy so I'm masking up at home and sleeping on the couch.

This could have been so much worse. And you know why this more of an inconvenience and not a full on health crisis? Because I got my damn vaccines! They may not have completely stopped the infection, but they gave my body the training and tools it needed to fight off this infection.

I'm annoyed, but I'm not in a hospital on a ventilator. And I'm not knocked out. This is a big win during the pandemic.

Hack of the Week

Deb talked about 2 hacks this week.

There is a lot of value in thinking about other people. I don't mean to compare ourselves to other people; that path leads to despair. Instead, think of how you can help other people, even if that's just a kind word. Brightening someone else's day can easily brighten yours as well.

On the more concrete aspect of recovery, a towel can be a great tool to help with hamstring exercises.

The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thighs. When they contract, they bend your knee and lift your heel towards your butt.  That bending is important for walking, stair climbing, balance, and more. Using a towel wrapped around your ankle can help you exercise your hamstrings to help them come back online consistently. Deb describes this in our conversation.

I would add that this is a great process to discuss with your PT to make sure you know how to do this safely. The last thing you want is to fall and acquire another injury while rebuilding your life after stroke.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast


To Read, Write, and Speak Again

Sophie Salveson survived a stroke at 19. It's not the way any freshman wants to end their first year of college. She was a writer, actor, and singer. The stroke stole her right side limbs, her speech, and her access to language.

Sophia Salveson looks at the camera in an ethereal headshot.

Over the past 10 years she fought back through PT, OT, speech therapy. She learned to stand, walk and speak again. And she continues to make progress.

In the previous episode (http://strokecast.com/ExpandedPractice) I spoke with Marabeth Quinn, Sophie's Mom, and Danielle Stoller, one of Sophie's Physical Therapists. This week, we hear from Sophie and Marabeth and learn more about Sophie's journey.

If you don't see the audio player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/Sophie.



Many people with aphasia find it easier to sing than to speak. Early treatment sometimes involves getting folks to sing their name or sing a greeting. Or even sing a song deeply embedded in their memory, like Happy Birthday.

It has to do with the way music and song live in different part of the brain.

Aphasia isn't the only place music as an impact. In episode 106, I spoke with Brian Harris of Medrhythms about his work using music to bypass limitations of the motor cortex and help people significantly improve their gait.

This is an amazing video of Sophie from 2020. You can hear her sing, "A Change in Me" from Beauty and the Beast.

Now, I really want to hear Sophie's Eponine.

Maggie and Michael

Sophie isn't the only stroke survivor with a passion for theater.

I talked with Maggie in episode 38. Since then she has acted in a theater company fill with folks with disabilities. She continues to make progress on her documentary, The Great Now What. Here's the trailer:

Michael Schutt was on the show in episode 124 talking about creating his solo show to share his stroke story. COVID lock downs meant planned performances didn't happen. He pivoted it into a radio play available on line. You can listen at http://ALessonInSwimming.com.

Sophie's Book Recommendations

The first book Sophie really read for pleasure after her stroke was "Shatter Me," by Tahereh Mafi.* It came with a powerful endorsement -- her sister's. And connecting about the book with her sister was a powerful incentive to read it, no matter what it took.

Sophie's current favorites include "Good Girl's Guide to Murder," by Holly Jackson and "Elsewhere," by Gabrielle Zevin. * Pick up a copy or find them at your library and tell Sophie what you like about her favorites.

Hack of the Week

Keep trying. Speaking with aphasia is tough, but the only way out is through the key is to keep trying and to keep working on it.

I've found it best top to try doing a thing with my affected hand three times before switching to my unaffected side. By trying three times, I'm reminding my brain that my left hand is still there and has a job to do. By stopping after three failed attempts, I stave off frustration and can try again another day.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast