‘We’re fighting’: Wake Forest basketball coach, wife refuse to give up after stroke

WINSTON-SALEM (WGHP) — In the summer of 2023, life was good for Johnetta and Steve Forbes.

After 34 years of marriage, they were just beginning to experience the joys of being empty nesters with no plans to slow down.

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“It only takes that one phone call and your whole life can change,” Men’s Basketball Head Coach at Wake Forest University Steve Forbes said.

On Aug. 8, 2023, he was in Kuwait volunteering with U.S. troops for Operation Hardwood, and Johnetta, 58, and their three grown children were vacationing together in Destin, Florida.  

“We had been on the beach the day before,” Johnetta Forbes said. “We just had a wonderful evening, watched a movie, went to bed, and then everything fell apart.”

She awoke to a strange sensation she’d never felt before.

“A noise woke me up and some bright lights, and I felt my left side just being very heavy,” Johnetta said. “I was going to go back to bed, but my youngest son said ‘Nope. We’re going to talk to somebody.'”

A family friend urged them to go to the Emergency Room.

“I walked in, checked myself in, sat down and then started to get nauseous, and I don’t remember anything after that,” Johnetta said.   

Doctors soon determined that Forbes had suffered a stroke. Her husband was glued to his phone waiting for updates.

“I’ve always been here for my family,” Steve said. “And then this really tragic, terrible thing happened, and here I am 7,000 miles away, and I can’t help.” 

It took him two excruciating days to finally reach his wife.

“When I walked in that room, she was plugged into all these machines, and she was sleeping and had this droop,” Steve Forbes said. “I knew then it was serious.” 

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Doctors saved Johnetta’s life in that Florida hospital. After ten days, she transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation.

“I lost everything on my left side,” she said. “I couldn’t pick up my arm, my leg. They were very heavy.”

Rehab was a grueling full-time job. From brushing her teeth and feeding herself to walking and getting dressed, Johnetta had to relearn basic skills she’d always done on her own and never thought twice about.

The progress felt slow at times, but Johnetta was determined. Steve never left her side.

“Doing the things you don’t want to do every day in order to get the things you want out of life, that’s coaching,” he said. “And that’s what she’s doing.”

On Sept. 22, more than six weeks after her stroke, she walked out of Shepherd Center and finally headed home to Winston-Salem.

“I always say this to my players or people in general about coaching: it’s easy when you’re winning. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s having a good time,” he said. “But when you lose is when you really figure out your true character. This isn’t losing, but this is adversity, so you really find out who you are.” 

Alongside her love and favorite coach, Johnetta Forbes is proving she’s a fighter and determined to get back what the stroke tried to steal.

“Your attitude determines your altitude. You’re going to have some rough moments, some ups and downs, and it’s OK to cry. But to come out on the other end, you have to have a positive attitude,” he said. “This was a hard one, and it’s not over. But we’re fighting.  

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