“I think I’m having a stroke.”

“Matt May is a machine. He just works and works and works and works, and his heart is amazing. If Matt puts his mind to something, he is going to accomplish it, whether it takes him a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months, or a couple years.”

A candid photo of Matt working on his laptop while sitting in a box that overlooks the field and stadium.
As a former Wildcat himself, Matt has long "bled blue."

That’s how UK Baseball Coach Nick Mingione talks about Matt May, the Associate Director of Athletics Communications and Public Relations. Matt has proven his determination countless times over his years at UK, but it’s never been more clear—or more important—than in the days and weeks since he had a stroke.

A photo of Matt and UK Baseball Coach Nick Mingione standing on the baseball field. Nick is a white man with short dark hair. He is wearing a blue long-sleeve UK branded shirt with gray shorts and gray Nike shoes.
“Our team is our family,” said Coach Mingione. “When [they’re] having a tough time, you need to be there for them.”

It started when Matt was diagnosed with shingles a few months before his 44th birthday. An otherwise healthy, active guy, he didn’t let it slow him down much. But he was still feeling off weeks later, with more symptoms slowly piling up.

On January 13, 2022, Matt woke up feeling a little shaky. While picking his older son up from kindergarten, he threw up at a red light and realized he had a bad headache. But the alarm bells didn’t start ringing for Matt and his wife Carmen until a day later.

A candid photo of Matt, his wife Carmen, and their youngest son sitting in the stands of the stadium. Carmen is a white woman with long black hair. She is wearing a blue and white long-sleeve top with green pants, and a brown pair of tinted sunglasses. Their son is a young white boy with long brown hair. He is wearing a white and yellow short-sleeve shirt with Batman on it.
Matt and his wife, Carmen, keep busy with their active careers and caring for their sons.

“Matt came down the hallway to get me and said, ‘Carmen, I think I’m having a stroke,’” said Carmen. “It sounded like he was ricocheting off the walls because he couldn’t walk in a straight line.”

Matt and Carmen knew the typical signs of a stroke, and the BE FAST acronym (Balance, Eyes, Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911). Matt’s symptoms didn’t look like a typical stroke. Carmen called 911, but when the paramedics arrived and assessed Matt, they determined he wasn’t having a stroke. After consulting with Matt’s doctor, Carmen took Matt to the ER for further testing.

A candid photo of Matt sitting on the bench in the dugout and looking off into the distance.
“Thankfully it happened at home,” said Matt. “We got to the emergency room quickly.”

It was the right call. While Matt waited in the ER, his symptoms escalated. The side of his face started drooping—a telltale sign of stroke. By the time he was admitted, the left side of his body and face were paralyzed.

A photo of Matt from behind as he looks over the field from a box seat.
“People who have strokes in the area I did [often] don’t make it,” said Matt. “That’s very sobering.”

“They knew I had a stroke because by that time, weakness and decreased tone were found on my left side—but they didn’t know why,” said Matt. “It took 48 hours and a spinal tap for them to figure out what had caused it.”

The culprit behind Matt’s stroke was surprising: the varicella-zoster virus—better known as shingles—crossed his blood-brain barrier, damaging blood vessel walls in Matt’s brain and causing a stroke.

A candid photo of Matt and Nick smiling and talking on the bench in the dugout.
“There’s no question, Matt’s a special guy,” said Coach Mingione.

“Your stroke risk is the highest the first month after your shingles diagnosis,” said Dr. Tarek Ali, Matt’s neurologist at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. “Matt’s stroke was three weeks after he got shingles.”

A photo of Dr. Tarek Ali smiling as he stands in front of an office at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute.
“Matt’s stroke was actually very small,” said Dr. Ali. “But it was in a region that [had] a huge impact.”

“When I first arrived at the ER, one of the doctors put me on an IV drip for shingles, so I had already been on it for two days when they found out the virus caused my stroke,” said Matt. “It ended up being a 14-day cycle to kill the shingles virus and get everything cleaned up. It was so great she thought ahead.”

Thankfully, Matt’s stroke hadn’t impacted his cognitive or speech abilities. He still had his quick wit and sense of humor—he just needed to focus on re-learning how to walk and use his left hand. Matt’s care moved to
Dr. Stephen Porter at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, where UK HealthCare Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation provides post-stroke care.

A candid of Matt walking through a hallway that has a large UK Athletics branded decal on the wall.
Matt knew the road ahead would be challenging–but he hasn’t ever met a challenge he didn’t tackle head-on.

Immediately after arriving, Matt got to work with his physical therapists and occupational therapists to rebuild his strength on the left side of his body. It was frustratingly slow, but Matt stayed upbeat and positive, with his eyes on the prize: getting home for his birthday. He made it with a day to spare, walking across his lawn with only a cane for help.

A candid photo of Matt reading a note while sitting in the stands of the stadium.
“It’s okay to be vulnerable and to ask for help,” said Matt. “There’s a lot of people that are willing to help.”

As Matt healed, he and Carmen leaned on the support of family, friends, and the larger village that is UK Athletics. Coach Nick Mingione personally talked with Matt’s rehab team. Coach Mingione’s wife, Christen, set up a meal train that filled up in a matter of hours. Players sent Matt handwritten letters to keep his spirits up. Coworkers even sent Matt a pair of shoes without laces so he could put them on by himself. The support was overwhelming—and it made a difference.

A photo of the entire May family posing and smiling together for the family. Their oldest son (bottom left) is a young white boy with short brown hair. He is wearing a navy short-sleeve graphic t-shirt, shorts, and has a chain hanging off his shoulders.
“We help people all the time,” said Carmen. “This is our turn to accept it, and embrace the help.”

“One of the most important things at UK is family,” said Coach Mingione. “There were so many people who got involved because when you love and care about somebody like we love and care about Matt, Carmen and their boys, it’s easy to step in and step up to whatever they may need.”

“When people say life can change in an instant, it really can. Your whole world turns upside down,” said Matt. “There are no guarantees, but I am so lucky I have the opportunity to get back to one hundred percent.”

A photo of Matt standing on the field with his arms crossed as he looks into the camera.
“You just keep going and going until you meet your goals,” said Matt.

See how we care for patients like Matt

at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute.

Brandi Jones, a Black woman with long red and black dreadlocks, poses for the camera with her hand on her hip. She is wearing a black Nike jacket, a black t-shirt that reads “Certified 1 SicB”, black pants, and circular earrings that read “SicB” in the middle.Eli Cox stands in front of the camera with his arms crossed and a determined look on his face. He is a young white man with short brown hair. He is wearing a short-sleeve black t-shirt that reads “Kentucky Football Toughness.”