The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Dietician recovers from stroke

Carolyn Powell with husband Luke Powell and son.
Carolyn Powell with husband Luke Powell and son.

University of Richmond dietitian Carolyn Powell collapsed in her 2-year-old son's bedroom on July 6 after a seizure stopped her heart. Her husband, Luke, woke up at midnight to the sound of their son Landon crying. Powell, a mother of two, was no longer in bed; Luke found her unconscious in Landon's room. Shortly thereafter, Powell was rushed to Richmond's Chippenham Hospital.

During the next few days, Powell was sedated to keep her body and heart rested. The cause of her seizure was unknown. As doctors weaned her off medications to determine her responsiveness, friends and family hoped for the best. They created a Facebook group named "Get Well Carolyn!" to update others on Powell's condition.

"She has been taken off the drugs, but has not woken up yet," her husband said in a Facebook update on July 7. "There is some brain cell loss, but not sure how much yet ... No one really knows the extent of her condition, but we all know she is a fighter and will fight with all she has."

Powell came out of her coma the next day and has continued to improve. The James River High School's field hockey team hosted a benefit at their football stadium on Saturday in Powell's honor. Powell, a former James River HS field hockey player, had recovered enough since July to be able to attend the event.

She thanked her supporters for all they had done during her recuperation process. The benefit's activities included an alumni field hockey game and a silent auction that offered a "Spider Package" with tickets to the Modlin Center for the Arts and a commemorative 2008 NCAA Division I Football National Champion photo signed by coach Mike London. The benefit also featured live music and a carnival.

Powell was a surprising success story. After undergoing three weeks of surgeries and tests at Chippenham Hospital in July, Powell moved on to the UVa-HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlottesville to start her long rehabilitation process. Powell showed signs of improvement within three days of her arrival.

"Today was by far the best so far," Powell's husband posted on July 30. "They have had Carolyn on her feet the last two days and today she stood for 15 minutes straight ... She won't give up, and that is going to be her greatest strength."

Among other activities, Powell gave her speech pathologist tips on being a first-time mother, threw parties and watched a season of Laguna Beach on DVD.

There was a lingering uncertainty, though.

"My worst frustration is things that came so easy before this all happened are now so very tough," Powell said. "For example, my morning routine of getting dressed and eating breakfast is now a huge challenge. I am a very independent woman who now has to rely so much on others, which has taught me a lot of patience."

By September, Powell was able to walk two laps around the rehabilitation hospital's hallways, eat with a fork and name 10 large playing cards. Powell continued to overcome speech and movement challenges, but was uncertain of how much improvement was possible.

"The scariest moment is thinking about the future and my eyesight," Powell confessed. "My eyes are fine, but my brain is having trouble processing what I see."

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But Powell's husband said he was hopeful about her improvement.

"I know in my heart of hearts that this is not the finish line as far as her sight is concerned," he said. "It will be a long, challenging road, just like the rest of this."

Since July, friends, family and strangers have posted 1,305 messages of encouragement on the Facebook group dedicated to Powell. University of Richmond students, faculty and staff are among the group's 1,273 members. Photos, videos and updates from friends and family document Powell's struggles and triumphs.

"This is the scariest time of my life," Powell's husband said. "There is no way I could get through it without everyone's help.... Each morning is a thrill when I let Carolyn know how many people are on Facebook.

"The amount of undying support continues to astonish me. It sucks to be here, but it makes you take a real good look at how important friends and family are."

That undying support was present at Saturday's benefit.

"They say gatherings like today only happen for your wedding and funeral," Powell's husband said on Saturday. "While I wish it was under different circumstances, it was so nice to see everyone out at James River today."

Powell hopes to be released by Nov. 6 and will continue with out-patient rehab. Her goal is to be able to walk and take care of herself and her children.

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Hardy at elizabeth.hardy@richmond.edu

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