Andy Broido

A Broido Consulting,  Swimagine Institute




July 9, 2011 started as just another day at the beach for one of our students and her family. Kendall “Roo” Gillis was a healthy, happy six-year-old splashing and playing in the sand and surf when she suffered a catastrophic stroke that could have taken her life.


Only knowing something was seriously wrong with Kendall, the family rushed to the emergency room where the Doctor’s discovered the large bleed in her brain. She was flown via life flight to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH) where it was determined that an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in her brain caused a severe bleed and subsequent swelling resulted in her brain’s midline shifting dramatically.


Kendall was put into a medically induced coma with the hopes of minimizing any continued swelling that could cause further damage to her brain. She remained in a coma for five days, during which time it was determined that she would need brain surgery. However, while she was being prepped for transport to her surgery, her brain continued to swell until she “blew a pupil,” an ominous sign that usually results in death if immediate action is not taken.


The medical team spent seven hours operating, ultimately saving her life. And while physical, occupational and speech therapy was started just four days after her surgery, it was immediately apparent that as a result of the stroke, Kendall was paralyzed on the left side of her body. Although she was breathing on her own, she had no control of her muscles and she did not open her eyes or mouth for two weeks.


Fast forward six months, and with the help of an aggressive therapy schedule, the doctors are calling Kendall “miraculous” because she has once again learned how to swallow, eat, talk, support her head, go to the bathroom, stand up, smile and talk. She is truly an inspiration who charms everyone who works with her.


Within the last few weeks, I am so pleased to have Kendall back in the pool. And while she isn’t preparing for swim meets as she was before the stroke, I am working hard to compliment her other therapies and help her regain strength and flexibility. She had been swimming with me since she was a baby, so she has a lot of comfort in the water, which I believe has benefitted her greatly in her recovery.


The experience has shaped the mission for Kendall’s family, including her mother, Greta. “Bill and I have both felt that it is so important to educate others about the symptoms of stroke and we want to get the word out there. I have thought so many times about what if Kendall had not been with us when this happened? What if she had been with a babysitter, at school, or at camp? Would they have seen the same signs we did? Educating everyone that takes care of children is so important,” Greta said.


I share the Gillis family’s enthusiasm for educating about childhood strokes, so I am sharing these statistics to help inform others. I believe these facts should be posted at the side of every pool, because what would happen if a child in swimming lessons (or gymnastics, golf, soccer, basketball, etc…) were to have a stroke? Every person who works with children should know this about childhood strokes:


  • Impacting more than 18,000 children under the age of 15 every year, strokes are the sixth leading cause of death in


  • Stroke symptoms include SUDDEN severe headaches, numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body) and confusion or trouble


  • The most effective stroke treatments must be given within the first 3 hours after symptoms start. By recognizing the signs of stroke in children and acting fast, you can help medical professionals lessen a stroke’s damage to a child’s


Use the following tool to help you think F.A.S.T.:




Ask the child to smile.


Does one side of the face droop?



Ask the child to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?


Ask the child to repeat a simple sentence.


Are the words slurred? Can the patient repeat the sentence correctly?

TIME If the child shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.



Kendall Gillis is with us today because someone recognized this and moved quickly and efficiently to get her the help that prevented the unthinkable. She is an adorable daughter, sister, friend and student whose family and friends are doing everything possible to educate and inform. Won’t you join us in this effort?


For more information about Kendall’s story and what you can do to help, please visit the Kendall Roo Gillis Pediatric Stroke Foundation at