Community supports fourth-year OUWB medical student who suffered stroke weeks before Match Day
An image of Ekene
Ekene Ezeokoli woke up unable to move on Feb. 21, 2023. He soon had to be rushed to the hospital.

On Feb. 21 — about three weeks before Match Day — it was taking Ekene Ezeokoli way too long to get out of bed. 

He chalked it up as a slow start to the day — an unfamiliar feeling for someone who is described by friends as “vibrant and lively,” and “incredibly motivated,” among other things, and loves hitting the gym “a lot.”

But doctors would soon discover that it was way more serious than a lazy day: he was having a stroke.

A whirlwind followed — matching and graduation were off the table (for this year), he began rehabilitation, and a GoFundMe was started to help Ekene and his family (more than $80,000 raised so far).

But, he says, the whole experience has served as a kind of wake-up call.

“The one thing that all of this has helped me realize is that the people in your life — friends and family, especially — are what really matters most,” he says.

Stroke ‘never entered my mind’

An image of Ekene's headshot

Ekene grew up in Taylor, Michigan, and earned an undergraduate degree from University of Michigan-Dearborn.

While working toward his undergraduate degree, he worked as a medical scribe at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. He also has continuously worked as a freelance tutor — helping high school and college students throughout southeast Michigan get a better understanding of topics such as general and organic chemistry, and biology.

He started medical school at OUWB in 2018. In July 2021, he began a one-year pediatric orthopedic research fellowship at Baylor Texas Children’s Hospital.

By early March of this year, just about the only things standing in the way of Ekene becoming an orthopedic surgeon were the exciting few months that include Match Day and commencement.

But as the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re making plans, and that’s exactly what happened when Ekene woke up that morning in early March and couldn’t seem to move.

 “I thought I was being lazy so I thought I needed to get up, grab a coffee, and start the day,” he says. “But I couldn’t get up. I eventually slid to the floor and still couldn’t get up.”

When his roommate, Eduardo Leon, returned from a rotation, he found Ekene on the floor.

“The word ‘stroke’ never entered my mind,” says Ekene. “But he thought of it almost immediately.”

Even so, he says, Ekene didn’t want to go to the hospital.

Still, 911 was called and first responders were able to get him on a stretcher for transport.

‘A lot more than I thought it would be’

An image of Ekene and his roommate
Ekene with his roommate, Eduardo.

Ekene remembers only flashes of events during this time as doctors scrambled to get more answers.  

“There’s so much new stimuli,” he says. “It’s hard to keep everything straight.”

Eventually, he says, doctors determined he had a stroke related to the anterior cerebral artery.

According to the National Institutes of Health, anterior cerebral artery strokes “occur in the territory of the anterior cerebral artery which involves the superior and medial part of the parietal lobe along with the midline of the frontal lobe.”

It led to Ekene being hospitalized for five weeks.

He estimates more than 100 people came to visit him during that time — family, friends from undergrad, and OUWB, and even physicians who weren’t treating him.

“That really helped take my mind off of things,” he says. “It’s nice to know people around you want to help you and care…it was a lot more than I thought it would be.”

The road to recovery

Ekene already is on the road to recovery, taking part in regular physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions.

He says he fully expects to complete medical school.

To help Ekene and his family (whom he helps support), a GoFundMe was started on March 10 by two of Ekene’s classmates: Eduardo and Jithin John.

So far, about 1,200 donations have been received, raising a total of more than $81,000. The GoFundMe page for Ekene remains active and donations still are being accepted.

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Jithin says he wanted to help because he and Ekene have been close friends throughout medical school and he felt “devastated” by what happened.

“When I learned about what had happened to Ekene, just before he was about to match, I was disgusted and confused,” says John. “Eduardo and I set up the GoFundMe because we wanted to do something to help Ekene in this difficult time. We knew that this would at least alleviate some of his financial burdens, especially with everything else that was happening with his family's health.”

People like Mary Nowlen, an M4 and classmate of Ekene’s, donated to the GoFundMe.

She says the best way to describe Ekene in one word is “strong.”

“He does not dwell on problems but works to fix them, and works tirelessly to support his family, loved ones, and the community around him,” says Mary. “He is also a resilient, happy, genuine person that is capable of overcoming any battle.”

Further, she says, Ekene is always willing to extend a helping hand to anyone that needs it, and “has balanced a rigorous education, supported his family, and maintained a life all with a smile on his face.”

“Ekene should have been at Match Day with us celebrating his future as an orthopedic surgeon, and it breaks my heart that he wasn't,” says Mary.

Jithin says he has “no doubt that (Ekene) will recover and complete his medical education.”

“Ekene is an incredibly motivated individual who strives to excel in every situation he's put in,” says Jithin. “He also has a remarkable ability to find the positive in undesirable situations. With the right treatments and therapy, Ekene will undoubtedly work hard to recover and finish his medical education.

Jithin added that, “Ekene remains determined to become an orthopedic surgeon and help others in need, and I'm confident that he will do just that.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at [email protected].

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.