Patient Stories

Carly’s Journey from College Student to Stroke Survivor

Dec. 11, 2019

The Loveland, Ohio native’s path to graduating college and starting her career took a major detour after suffering a stroke and brain aneurysm.

Carly Nunn had her future mapped out. She was going to finish her bachelor’s degree at the University of Cincinnati before moving on to her career in social work. After an internship at Lighthouse Youth & Family Services, she knew she wanted to make a difference and serve as a role model.

But Carly’s path would take a major detour in the early morning of Nov. 13, 2018. As she was settling in for the night, she lost feeling in her right hand.

“All of a sudden, I got very dizzy and laid back. I felt like I was spinning,” Carly said. “I tried to sit up and noticed I couldn’t move anything.”

She was able to get the attention of one of her roommates, who called 911 for her.

Paramedics would transport Carly to UC Medical Center, where she would have a CT angiogram. Doctors found that she had an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, that had ruptured. An AVM is an abnormal tangling of blood vessels that occurs in the brain.

The young, healthy 21-year-old was having a stroke and a brain aneurysm. She was unable to speak or walk.

Jonathan Forbes, MD, UC Health neurosurgeon and assistant professor of neurology at the UC College of Medicine, removed her AVM just days later. Aaron W. Grossman, MD, PhD, neurointerventionalist at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, UC Health neurologist and associate professor of neurology at the UC College of Medicine, also assisted in Carly’s lifesaving care.

“Carly’s amazing story, from her initial care through her recovery, is a great example of the multidisciplinary care we provide ourselves at UC Health,” Dr. Grossman said. “Nurses, therapists and physicians working hand in hand to restore function and hope.”

Both Dr. Forbes and Dr. Grossman supported Carly every step of the way on her journey. They kept constant communication with her and her family. They made her feel safe and comfortable, even during a frightening and frustrating time.

In addition, nurses always offered their support to Carly by decorating her room and giving her positive reinforcement.

“I had the most amazing nurses I could ever ask for,” Carly said. “They really changed my entire outlook on life, because all of this happened only a couple weeks before the end of my first semester of my senior year of college.”

Carly would spend time in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit following her surgery. Throughout her entire time at UC Medical Center, she had the best support from her family, close friends, physicians and nurses. Her two older siblings—Megan and Kyle, and her parents—Diane and Bob, were at the hospital every day during her stay to give her the support she needed while she recovered.

One of her best friends also made a poster for Carly for her hospital room. The poster had pictures of her friends and family and had the quote, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and more loved than you’ll ever know.” This daily reminder was a motivating force for Carly to remain strong and to persevere. It also allowed her to think about her power to overcome a diagnosis that was entirely out of her control.

UC Health’s Comprehensive Stroke Team

Carly praises her care team at UC Health for their commitment to her and her family. UC Medical Center is home to Greater Cincinnati’s only adult Comprehensive Stroke Center certified by The Joint Commission. Experts at UC Health lead the world innovative breakthroughs in stroke treatment, care and recovery.

“The doctors are so knowledgeable on what they are talking about,” Carly said. “They don’t want to put anyone at risk. They looked at every part of my health and together as a team, would make sure everyone was on board with what was best for me.”

To celebrate her one-year anniversary from her stroke, Carly took a trip to the Bahamas. She remains involved in the community as a stroke survivor and advocate. Recently, she joined the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, where she continues to help fundraise. She also wants to raise awareness that strokes are prevalent even in young adults and that there are “invisible” disabilities with a brain aneurysm, AVM rupture and a stroke.

“Stroke survivors need support,” Carly said. “They need support from the community, family and friends. That’s one thing I’m grateful for.”

Carly had to go through occupational, physical and speech therapy. Improving her speech is one of the main issues she had to work on during recovery. Even during the most challenging times, Carly remained determined to recover and showed great strength and courage.

“It has been an incredible privilege for me to take care of Carly. Imagine at 21 years old having speech and strength on one side of your body taken away in an instant,” Dr. Forbes said. “Carly had every reason to give up, but she never stopped working toward recovery. She is an incredibly strong young woman—stronger than I think even she realizes. I’m so proud of how far she has come and what she has accomplished. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.”

Over the past two years, Carly’s journey has remained difficult, but she remained strong and persevered. Her biggest goal was to finish college. On Dec. 12, 2020, she did just that. Carly completed her bachelor’s degree in social work from UC. She is now on her way to a successful career and a long life, both of which seemed unlikely just two years earlier.