Jay and Katherine Wolf: A Beautiful Life

By Marianne K. Hering
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Emily Blake
Jay and Katherine Wolf's picture of marriage radically changed from the one they imagined. Katherine had a massive brain stem stroke. She was just 26. When she woke from her coma, her right side was paralyzed, and she couldn’t swallow, speak or walk.

Long before we walk down the aisle on our wedding day, most of us have mental images of what we think our marriage will look like. Rarely do these pictures include calamity or sorrow.

On their wedding day, Jay and Katherine Wolf could not have imagined what life would bring for them just a few years later. On April 21, 2008, Katherine had a massive brain stem stroke. She was just 26. When she woke from her coma, her right side was paralyzed, and she couldn’t swallow, speak or walk.

The Wolfs’ marriage in 2004 began almost idyllically. The couple lived in a Southern California beach town. Jay was studying at Pepperdine University School of Law. Katherine had quickly established a modeling career. After the birth of their son, James, Katherine found that the experience of motherhood fueled her passion for life and energized her. She even told her friends she wanted to have as many as six children.


But everything changed during lunchtime that fateful April day when Katherine’s senses suddenly became distorted. She was dizzy and nauseated. Walking to the living room to turn down the television, she collapsed. Those would be her last steps for more than 18 months.

Katherine was admitted to UCLA Medical Center and had surgery that mitigated the trauma of a “major neurovascular incident.” The surgeon removed 60 percent of her cerebellum during the 16-hour surgery. Katherine’s stroke had greatly affected her central nervous system.

Jay, waiting helplessly, was having his own crisis. The sudden deterioration of Katherine’s health would affect his belief system and challenge everything he had previously understood about hope in Christ.


The surgeon described the mass of blood vessels in Katherine’s brain as “the largest he had ever seen, in the worst possible location, and with the worst possible amount of bleeding.” But having seen her small son, the surgeon agreed to operate with the hope of saving this young mother.

Six weeks after surgery, Katherine learned that she shouldn’t have lived. The hospital staff, her family and her friends considered her a “slow-motion miracle girl.”

But the term miracle stung Katherine’s soul. What was miraculous about not being able to walk, eat, speak or see clearly? She couldn’t take care of herself — let alone care for her beloved child and husband. Would she be a burden to them her whole life?

At the same time, Jay was leaving the denial phase of grief and struggling to accept Katherine’s physical limitations. He had hoped God would speak to Katherine and say, “Rise up and walk.” But she couldn’t even sit up.

Jay hadn’t signed up for this kind of marriage, a marriage where his dreams were dashed and at age 26 he was caretaker for an infant and an invalid. What then had he signed up for?


Katherine strained to recover the most basic functions of her life, and months turned into two years of brain rehab at UCLA Medical Center and another long-term residential rehabilitation center. Jay remained by his wife’s bedside for the year she spent at UCLA Medical Center. He saw his marriage as a commitment to supporting Katherine. She was the one fighting the hard battle, but he was able to come alongside and lift her up. Deep in his soul, Jay knew it was that kind of commitment that he’d signed up for.

Jay says one key to maintaining commitment is to act in loving ways toward the person you promised to love. He admits he’s not always “feeling it.” But love shows up when he prepares Katherine’s food, helps her on the stairs or fixes her hair. He explains, “In the humbling process of serving, even when I didn’t feel like it … I found that acting in love inevitably provoked true feelings of love.”

As Katherine grew stronger, they committed to nurturing their fragile future. The day-to-day struggle for Katherine’s health consumed them at first, but then it gave them an eternal perspective, which Jay describes as “a newfound freedom, knowing that God would give us life in ways we could never have asked for or imagined.”


Even though Katherine’s body would never heal completely, her spirit mended. She began seeing the miracles she had missed before: that Jay unexpectedly came home and was able to call 911 on the day she had the stroke, that her surgeon decided to operate despite a poor prognosis, that Jay’s sister was able to care for their son, James.

The Wolfs use the symbol of an anchor to describe their renewed hope in God, a concept taken from Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure” (HCSB). They have anchored their hope in eternal life, not in Katherine’s physical recovery, though she fights for improvement every day.

And defying the odds, Katherine became a mother again. On June 26, 2015, she gave birth to a second son, John Nestor Wolf.


Jay and Katherine’s picture of marriage has changed from the one they originally imagined. Katherine now walks to Jay with a limp, kisses him with changed lips and speaks love to him with a changed voice. But they also have a changed hope in life — one that heals.

Jay graduated from law school and eventually passed the California bar exam. Katherine delights in the irony that as a “normal” model she had limited success, but in her new role as spokesperson for the American Stroke Association, her face is on billboards across the nation.

The Wolfs have dedicated their lives to helping other couples with disabilities by sharing their story of hope through speaking engagements and writing. Their goal is to “hope it forward” to other couples in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Marianne Hering has almost three decades of editing and writing experience. Her most recent book is Trouble on the Orphan Train.

You can read Katherine and Jay’s entire story in their book Hope Heals.

© 2016 by Marianne Hering. Used by permission.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Marianne K. Hering
Marianne K. Hering

Marianne Hering is the co-creator of “The Imagination Station” book series and a senior associate editor of Focus on the Family magazine.

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.

If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.