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Not Just a Survivor But a Thriver Declaring herself not just a stroke survivor but a stroke thriver, Iris Doolittle has demonstrated most of her life how her name is an oxymoron. Growing up on the family farm near Lyons, Nebr., Doolittle spent hours helping her mom in the family garden and watching her Mom perfect her skills as a seamstress while learning to sew herself. She was the middle child of three daughters. “I was born a perfectionist and so I was bound to be better than my older sister in everything, Doolittle said with a laugh. But Doolittle found her real calling in the world of music. “They tell me I had a love for music in the womb and when I could barely stand, I was reaching above my head, playing Jesus Loves me on the piano keys while singing me, me, me, me, me, me, because I didn’t know the words yet,” Doolittle said. 14vHERVOICEvJANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 Doolittle’s maternal grandmother taught piano lessons for years, but she was never a student of her grandmother. She also remembered her mother’s sister Iva who was one of a set of twins. The other twin died at birth, but Iva lived to be 36. Even though Iva never managed to mature past 12 years of age, she was very musically talented and played piano and organ with gusto. When Doolittle was born her mother named her Iris, not for the 300 varieties of iris she cared for in her garden or for her aunt Iva, but for the Goddess of the Rainbow, because Doolittle had black hair, blue eyes, ruby red lips and clear white skin. Music was definitely in the cards for Doolittle. Instead of taking lessons from grandma, she took lessons when she was in third grade from a wonderful local piano teacher. Those lessons lasted until sixth grade when her teacher told her she had taught her everything she knew and could teach her no more. It was at that tender age Doolittle started playing piano and organ in local churches and other events, a passion she continues today. With just three years of formal training, she taught her first piano students at 15. At Dana College Doolittle received her Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance. She said during her college years she played for almost everything imaginable including musicals and operas while still playing at local churches for a little side income. Following college, she moved to Omaha and played for Benson High School and the All-city Chorus, The Voices of Omaha, the Omaha Symphonic Chorus and several private voice students. Doolittle’s Alma Mater called her back to be the assistant dean of students and continued to play piano and organ on the side. She was completing all the requirements to attend graduate school at Champagne/Urbana, IIl, just short of auditioning, when she met her future husband, Rod. A March skiing trip with Doolittle’s sister’s fiance to Colorado eventually worked through fate to bring the couple together in June. By August she knew he was the one and all thoughts of Illinois went out of her head. By Christmas the couple was engaged and wedding bells rang the following fall. Madison has been Doolittle’s home ever since and she settled into accompanying at the local high school while Rod worked as a carpenter. At least, until that fateful day in May of 1985 when Doolittle suffered from a debilitating stroke. She was only 28 years old when she had to learn to live with her right side being paralyzed and reteach herself the fundamentals of speech. “Of course, I spent hours in rehab and within three weeks I could get up on my feet again and I had the most wonderful Speech Language Pathologist,” Doolittle said. “She was a darling redhead, young like me, and we connected.” She was frustrated all the time and had lots of down days. “I remember laying on the kitchen floor at my mom’s house six months after my stroke and crying, feeling very sorry for myself,” Doolittle said. “I had begun walking again, but I had no muscle in my right arm and wailed I would never play the piano again. My mom looked right at me and said, ‘Well, you have one hand, dontcha?” She said she looked at her left hand and realized Mom was right. That was when she started playing the organ for churches again with her left hand and her left foot. And started teaching again for private lessons. And accompanied for the school choir. “I don’t feel like I suffered that much and I feel like God took out the negative part of my brain because after my stroke, the perfectionism wasn’t there anymore,” Doolittle said. “I became much more caring, laid back.”

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