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Robertson student starts foundation for young stroke victims after surviving a stroke herself

May 5, 2021

Posted in: News

By Zobia Nayyar, Communications Assistant

A headshot portrait of Olivia LewisOlivia Lewis, Robertson School Advertising Student, founder, New Brain Foundation.


After surviving a stroke with a less than 1% chance of recovering, VCU student Olivia Lewis looks to create a foundation to help other young stroke survivors recover and rehabilitate to get back on their feet.

She was a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University when the unthinkable happened. Two years ago, Lewis suffered a massive stroke and almost died, ultimately leading to locked-in syndrome as she was paralyzed from the head down. Locked-in syndrome is a complete paralysis of your voluntary muscles, except for the muscles that control your eye movements.

“It was very rare; I had no underlying conditions,” Lewis said. “I had a very very negative prognosis.”

A picture of Olivia Lewis in a wheel chair as she recovers from a stroke and locked in syndrome.
Olivia Lewis during her recovery journey.


She had to relearn how to use her arms and hands with an arm support. With the help of her family and with access to the right medical equipment and the right health care, she was able to recover. She considers herself to be lucky to have what she needed to survive but knows this isn’t the case for all stroke victims.

“My main mission is to really create a space where that is not an obstacle for future stroke victims, so they can focus on their recovery solely, and not just ‘how am I gonna get this certain equipment that I need,’” Lewis said.

Advertising students at VCU’s Robertson School of Culture and Media are required to complete Capstones, which are senior projects students must complete before they graduate. Lewis wanted to switch her Capstone project into an independent study to focus more on her goal of creating a foundation that would be impactful even after she graduates.

A graphic of the New Brain Foundation Logo, a foundation started by Olivia LewisNew Brain Foundation. The organization founded by Olivia Lewis to raise awareness around strokes in young people and locked-in syndrome.


She was able to work with her teachers and fellow students to get the project afloat by working on the website and logos. One of the individuals helping her start it up is Interim Director of the Robertson School Peyton Rowe, who is inspired by Lewis’ story and looking forward to bringing her vision to life.

“Olivia wants to give every stroke victim a fighting chance. It takes incredible focus and hard work,” Rowe said. “Having a support team to handle everything else would offer someone that focus.”

Rowe describes Lewis to be “tenacious, full of ideas and ready to make things happen.” With Lewis’ passion after going through her traumatic experiences, she’s ready to work hard and keep the foundation moving after she graduates this May.

“It's a joy and privilege to get to watch the New Brain Foundation develop and Olivia wrap up her college career,” Rowe said.

Emily Mattice is a graduate and former classmate of Lewis’. She’s currently working on the foundation. She said that Lewis’ story is so powerful and wanted to help her launch the project.

Mattice is planning on potentially teaching yoga to people who have recovered from strokes with the foundation, using the skills they’ve learned at VCU to create an impact in the world.

“Working with her is always great - we’ve had a history of working with each other in the past and I am so happy that we can work together again, this time making a valuable impact,” Mattice said. “I am so proud of Olivia and cannot wait to see what she does for the world.”

As the foundation is still in its beginning stages, they are currently working on their website and social media so by this May, they are hoping to have an outline done for their first big event, which would be a walk to raise money and awareness for the foundation. Lewis plans for many more events to come.

“[Locked-in syndrome] happens to less than 1% of stroke exams and there just isn't enough awareness around that. I really want to drive out that awareness with the foundation,” Lewis said.