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    Sean Bretz reflects on overcoming stroke, becoming a dad

Sean Bretz remembers little from the day he had a stroke in 2011.

"One morning, I woke up, and that was it," says Sean. "I just hit the floor and had no idea what happened."

He was 23 years old and serving in the Coast Guard in Jacksonville, Florida, at the time. Sean was taken to nearby Mayo Clinic, where doctors found a blood vessel on the surface of his brain had burst, causing blood and pressure to build in his skull. It was a complex case caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Watch: Sean Bretz reflects on overcoming stroke, becoming a dad

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"The odds are 40% mortality," says Dr. Rabih Tawk, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon. "People who survive in the U.S. with a hemorrhage — half of them are disabled."

Doctors stopped the bleed and inserted a shunt to drain fluid from Sean's brain. Recovery would be difficult, but Sean was motivated.

"All I needed to hear was that inspiration from the doctors: 'We'll see what he can do. We'll try and see what happens,'" says Sean.

Sean Bretz recovers after brain surgery in 2011.

He started sharing his journey publicly, including a new career goal.

"The future is going to be me working in the hospital helping other people," Sean explained in a video from 2015. Sean didn't expect what would come from his few minutes on camera.

"When I learned of him, I reached out," says Tara MacInnes. "We started talking, and we spoke from halfway across the country for six months before meeting in person."

Tara is a stroke survivor herself. She was seeking connection with others like her when she fell in love with Sean. After two years of dating, they married in 2019.

Sean Bretz and Tara MacInnes share a kiss after their wedding in 2019.

Today, Sean works as a physical therapist at the same rehab facility where he received care, using the hope he found there to help others.

"Hope is what gives people that drive to want to better themselves," Sean says. "It can be done. This can be achieved. And that's what I like to be able to tell my patients."

He wants to share that message and legacy with his son, Noah MacInnes, who was born in January.

"We love to help others, and that's our kind of our passion," Sean says about himself and his wife. "That's what we hope our stories inspire in our son."

In July, over a decade after his stroke and now a new father, Sean wanted to introduce Noah to the Mayo Clinic doctors who helped save his life.

"The past 10 years, were what I thought had been the most challenging ever," says Sean. "Now seeing what the next 10 years being able to spend them with my wife and raise our son, I'm looking forward to where my career takes me. I look forward to the unknown."

Sean Bretz introduces son Noah MacInnes to Dr. William D. Freeman in July 2022.

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