GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Paul Vraney, from De Pere, suffered a stroke while undergoing surgery for congestive heart disease in 2021. Not only did he survive these two life-threatening events, but he took his recovery to the next level, coming out of retirement to pursue his dream of becoming a math teacher.  

“I retired from my transportation engineering profession and was kind of looking for something, the next challenge in life,” Vraney explained. 

Vraney wasn’t about to sit back and coast through retirement. He still had things he wanted to do.  

“I always liked math,” Vraney said. “At one time, I looked at, ‘Maybe I want to be a math teacher.’ I didn’t go in that direction, but something in the background was kind of telling me, ‘Maybe I want to help kids and be going into that field.’”  

He was on his way to completing his goal when everything abruptly stopped.  

“Once I got into grad school, I got about halfway through the program, and then the stroke happened,” Vraney said.   

That’s when Vraney first met Karen Floriano Heimerl, a speech-language pathologist with Aurora BayCare Medical Center.  

“I met Paul at our Stroke Support Group last year,” Floriano-Heimerl recalled.  

Vraney says he feels fortunate his stroke didn’t affect his limbs and was pleased with how much progress he made in regaining his speech immediately following his stroke. However, when he thought about speaking in front of a classroom, he wanted more. 

“I felt that maybe I could do better,” Vraney explained.  

So, Vraney revisited speech therapy.  

“One of his big goals was to try to work on being able to speak more clearly so that people can understand him better the first time he says something,” said Floriano-Heimerl.  

Floriano-Heimerl says she and Vraney mainly worked on motor speech with exercises targeting his goals. She adds that progress doesn’t happen overnight, but you can retrain the brain even years after a stroke with hard work, precisely what Vraney is doing. 

“For me to realize the brain is still helping us with neuroplasticity, even after two years, you can still see improvement,” Vraney said. “That’s a great thing to know for someone coming out of a stroke.” 

Vraney plans to continue improving his speech while completing one last class before he graduates this December with a master’s degree.  

You don’t have to be a math student to understand the value of this lesson.  

“I think it just demonstrates that anything’s possible,” said Vraney. “If you work at it, it can be done. So, I’m just doing my part here and trying to be the best person I can be.” 

Vraney stresses the importance of learning something new from your comfort zone.