The Season of Compassion: Autumn's Legacy in Maternal Health in Ohio

Submitted by on November 21, 2023 - 3:23 pm
Autumn (right) and Brynne Presser Funderburg (left) as captured in a photo by the Cleveland Plain Dealer during a Peer Educator Program.

Autumn (right) and Brynne Presser Funderburg (left) as captured in a photo by the Cleveland Plain Dealer during a Peer Educator Program.

GRC Generosity in Memory of Autumn Nalls

She had a bright future ahead of her. She had a lovely home, loving family, a successful career, and two beautiful children. She had overcome so many challenges and obstacles in her life, and she was ready to take on the world. She had to relearn how to take care of herself following a spinal cord injury about seven years ago. She was a mom, a motivational speaker, a cosmetologist, a loyal friend, and an advocate for wheelchair users. She poured love into everyone around her. But she is now counted among the maternal mortality statistics in Ohio. She left behind a fiancé, two children, family, countless friends, and an indelible legacy.

Her name was Autumn Nalls, and this is her story.

In early 2012 Autumn, an eager high school student, participated in the Case Western Reserve University’s Infectious Diseases Alliance Peer Educator Program in Cleveland Ohio. The program focused on training local teen peer educators who served to educate their peers about sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, local testing resources and sexual health.

It was there that Autumn met both GRC’s Brynne Presser Funderburg, who was working as a Series Facilitator, and Destiny White, who was enrolled as a high school student as well. The three women would form a lasting friendship and bond. Brynne was among the crowd celebrating Autumn during her high school graduation ceremony. After completing the training, Autumn went on to provide information and motivational engagements to high school students.

Autumn and Brynne at Autumn’s high school graduation

- Autumn and Brynne at Autumn’s high school graduation -

"I remember meeting Autumn for the first time; there was something truly special about her," said Brynne. "She was full of life and put her heart into everything that she did," Brynne added.

Destiny White formed a life-long friendship with Autumn while they were enrolled in the same peer educator program. Their lives would soon intertwine, and they would often spend time at each other’s home, talk on the phone for hours and share connections that only best friends could share.

Best friends Autumn (left) and Destiny (right)

- Best friends Autumn (left) and Destiny (right) -

“She was like a little sister to me,” remarked Destiny. “She was smart, caring and a giving person. Autumn was the happiest person in the world when she found out she was pregnant,” Destiny added.

Even after Autumn’s passing, Destiny continues to maintain a close connection with the family, selflessly dedicating her time and resources to assist Autumn's fiancé and their children. Amidst raising her own children and her full-time work, she consistently supports and cares for the family.

Over the years Brynne would reconnect with Autumn, Destiny, and other peer educators. While in route to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital to visit Autumn, Destiny sent a text to Brynne.

Autumn (right) and Destiny (left) while working together in the clinic for the Peer Educator program.

- Autumn (right) and Destiny (left) while working together in the clinic for the Peer Educator program -

“I am still so touched that Destiny took the time to text me to let me know while she was rushing to see her best friend in the ICU to let me know that Autumn was likely not going to make it... I talked with Destiny later after she stayed with Autumn and found out that she died,” said Brynne as she reflected on the moment.

Autumn Nalls died from childbirth related blood clots on November 4, 2023, 4 weeks after giving birth to her second child. Her death is classified as a maternal mortality.

Autumn and fiancé D’Angelo at the recent birth of their son Khai’aire

- Autumn and fiancé D’Angelo at the recent birth of their son Khai’aire -

“The news of her maternal death was difficult to hear and process,” said Brynne. “I have been working on a project that looks at moms who have recently given birth and their barriers before, during, and after childbirth,” remarked Brynne.

Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy. This global health issue highlights systemic challenges and inadequate access to quality healthcare services, particularly impacting marginalized communities. Alarmingly, African American women in the United States face a significantly higher risk of maternal mortality compared to their white counterparts, with statistics showing a disproportionately higher rate of deaths related to childbirth complications.

Every year, approximately 2,000 Ohio women experience a severe maternal morbidity, or an unexpected outcome of labor and delivery that results in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health, and 21 women die of complications related to their pregnancy.

Autumn's passing serves as a stark reminder that beyond the realms of data, research, and evidence-based studies, there exist grieving spouses, children, family, and friends coping with the heartbreaking loss of a cherished loved one.

Autumn's legacy mirrors her life; marked by her selflessness, she continued to give even in passing. As an organ donor, her invaluable gifts will endure, breathing new life into others and perpetuating her spirit of generosity.

Autumn is survived by her fiancé D’Angelo, her daughter, Khari (3 years old), son Khai’aire (1 month old), family (including her mom and siblings), and countless friends. The family and friends have all come together to provide support, but their need outweighs their financial and social resources.

Autumn’s life and story intersect with the mission of the Ohio College of Medicine Government Resource Centers (GRC) research projects. Through numerous projects, GRC members have contributed to the overall health of Ohioans while supporting access to quality care for all.

Autumn Nalls' story is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the challenges faced by many families, particularly concerning maternal health.

In the wake of this tragedy, their need for support extends beyond emotional solace; it encompasses financial and social stability. As we approach this season of giving, we invite you to join us and extend a helping hand to Autumn's family. Your contribution, no matter the size, can alleviate their burden and provide much-needed assistance during this difficult time. Your generosity will not only honor Autumn's legacy of selflessness but also offer tangible support to her loved ones as they navigate this profound loss. Together, let's rally around this family, showing them the strength of our compassion and the warmth of our collective support. Please give today to make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Autumn, fiancé D’Angelo, and daughter Khari

- Autumn, fiancé D’Angelo, and daughter Khari -

Written by: James Sims