Stroke victim, 27, determined to get back on her feet — with husband's help

Carly White woke up in a hospital with a piece of her brain removed and no recollection of how she got there. Now, she is warning others to not ignore symptoms of what could be a stroke.

'Just terrifying': Carly White thought it was a migraine, tells others not to ignore symptoms

Carly White used to have long, flowing hair. When she woke up in a St. John's hospital in early August, it was gone. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

At 27 years old, Carly White woke in a hospital bed with no memory of how she got there and a piece missing from her brain.

She tried to speak. Her throat was paralyzed.

She tried to move. Her body was frozen.

With a whisper, she managed to ask where she was and how she ended up there.

White had suffered a major stroke.

"This is all just terrifying," she said.

Mistaken for a migraine

On Sunday, July 30, White complained of a headache.

She told her husband, Nathanael White, how she felt pressure building at the back of her head. She was dizzy and felt sick to her stomach.

All symptoms of a migraine, she thought.

When the problems persisted into Monday morning, she made the trek from her home in Carmanville, in central Newfoundland, to the James Paton Memorial Hospital in Gander.

Carly and Nathanael White were married on May 21, 2016. A little more than a year later, Carly suffered a stroke. (Submitted by Nathanael White)

Soon after, her condition deteriorated and she had to be airlifted to St. John's. At one point, White says she was restrained by six nurses.

But she doesn't remember any of that.

"I walked into the Gander hospital with a migraine, that's all I can remember," she said. "And then to wake up in a completely different town, different hospital, it was terrifying."

What the hell, why is my dad here?- Carly White

She was rushed in for emergency surgery, where part of her brain was removed to alleviate pressure on her skull. Doctors said White would have died if she waited another hour or two before going to the hospital.

White woke up several days later with her father watching over her.

She hadn't seen him since her wedding, more than a year earlier.

"When I woke up, the first thing I saw was my dad," she said. "I thought 'What the hell, why is my dad here?' ... Then I woke up and realized where I was and what had happened."

Staying positive with help from husband

On Tuesday afternoon, White left the hospital for some fresh air with her husband.

Nathanael pushed his wife in a wheelchair from the hospital to a shaded trail next to a scenic garden.

The pair sat near a picnic table, held hands and enjoyed a few small moments of freedom away from doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

Carly White says she feels thankful to have her husband, Nathanael, whom she calls her rock. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

In the days his wife lay unconscious, Nathanel couldn't stop thinking of their wedding day — a happy day where the only concern was the bridesmaids getting sunburned.

Now, it's Carly who — even in her darkest moments — can't stop thinking about a sunny day in May when she married the man she loved.

"I'm glad that I married such a great man, too. Someone who cares and listens and doesn't sit there and judge you about how you feel.

"Nathanael is my rock. He's been there through everything that I've had to go through. And I hope in the future, if he has to go through anything, that I will be as strong as he was for me."

Know the symptoms, seek help

It's been five days since White began trying to walk again.

She has to relearn swallowing. She can't eat when she wants to — only when it is her scheduled feeding time.

But had she continued to wait for the pain to subside, she would be dead.

White did not immediately exhibit all the symptoms of a stroke, but she did have sudden and lasting pain in her head, along with dizziness and confusion.

At just 27 years of age, Carly White looks to her husband, Nathanael, for support as she recovers from a stroke. The pair are determined to get through it together. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

At her age, the thought of a stroke never crossed her mind — even as a blood clot blocked the flow to the left side of her brain and began killing cells.

She feels lucky to have survived, and now wants to share her story so other young adults won't dismiss the symptoms.

Sitting in her wheelchair, she raised her one good arm and removed a ball cap, showing a large scar across her shaved head. 

"It may only be a headache, it may be a lot worse," she said as she ran a thin hand across the scar. "I lost all my hair. It feels weird. It's completely life-changing."

About the Author

Ryan Cooke

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.