Brain Injury Awareness Month

In 2010, after six years of experience in the nursing field, Carolyn Huang graduated with a Master’s degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She quickly found a job pursuing her passion for healthcare at a pain management facility in Fort Mojave, AZ.

Unfortunately for Carolyn, a pre-existing condition was about to turn her life upside-down.

“My first stroke was in January of 2012. I was diagnosed with Moyamoya and Patent Foramen Ovale, so a Neurosurgeon suggested for me to have a right temporal bypass.”

A Moyamoya is a rare condition in which the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain become narrowed, while a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is a hole in the heart that didn't close the way it should after birth, leaving an opening in the septum. This combination limits flow of blood to the brain, and puts individuals like Carolyn at high risk for stroke.

“I underwent the surgery in April of that year, but suffered another stroke in post-op a few days later and ended up staying at in-patient rehab for another six weeks.”

After being released from rehab, the real recovery began. Healing both body and mind is no small task. The stokes left Carolyn with Left Side Neuropathy; any extensive motion leaves her with a tingling, shocking sensation, especially in her leg and hand.

But the physical recovery has been nothing compared to the mental. A nurse of over eight years, Carolyn looked ahead at the steps it would take to return to her passion.  She began her recovery at the Center for Transitional Neural Rehabilitation (CTN) at Barrow’s Neurological Institute and took steps towards emotional, mental, and physical healing.

Part of this process includes spending time at a situational assessment, where participants volunteer and are accessed on some core competencies deemed necessary to reintegrating back into the workforce.

Fortunately for Esperança, Carolyn began work as a Donation Intake Volunteer, using her medical knowledge to help identify and inventory large quantities of donated medical supplies.

This March during Brain Injury Awareness Month, we got the chance to ask Carolyn about her journey…

How has Esperança provided tools and resources for workforce reintegration?

Sorting the medical supplies has helped my memory recall on what everything is and what they are used for. I just really like doing my situational assessment here.  My supervisor, Ramon, is very understanding. He is very kind about my stroke history and my deficits, and he explains things over and over again when I don’t understand. I think part of it comes from when he went through the CTN program at Barrow himself.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Esperança?

I like the group that I work with, it is a lot of teamwork. I remember when I was doing my situational assessment here there were a couple of students from ASU in the Biomedical Engineering Program and they were a lot of help.  We did a lot of collaboration and I really enjoyed that.

You just accepted a new job position! Where will you be working and what are you most excited for in the future?

Right now I am working as a breakfast attendant at the Marriott downtown. My job duties are to open the buffet area and ensure that we have all of the hot and cold proteins displayed and keeping everything well stocked for the guests. I am really excited to get my Nursing License back and to keep working at the Marriot.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Change Your Mind” aiming to de-stigmatize brain injury. What message would you like to send to the community about brain injury survivors?

I like for them to think that even though I have a disability with cognitive issues it doesn’t mean that I can’t do the job right. I also want them to just label me as a disabled person, I did obtain a master’s degree in 2010. I just don’t want them to think because I am disabled that I am stupid or can’t do my job right.

What advice can you offer brain injury survivors struggling on their own journey?

Keep your head up and don’t give up hope. Find a return to work site like Esperança where the people understand your situation and do not judge you.


Brain Injury Awareness Month, recognized each March, provides an important opportunity to bring attention to the prevention of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and to promote strategies to improve the quality of life for persons living with TBI and their families. Learn more about how you can raise awareness on the Brain Injury Association of America website.

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