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Share Your Story: Ellen Pieper

by Christy D. on Monday, January 6, 2014

Ellen Pieper Iowa

On Jan. 30, 2000, at the age 33, Ellen Pieper suffered a stroke. A day she will never forget as it changed the course of her life’s journey. It was super Bowl Sunday, the fourth day of what Ellen describes as the "worst migraine of her life".

"I had a 16-year history of migraines which meant if this one was the worst, then it was pretty bad," Pieper said. Pieper, a mother of two boys, then ages 4 and 1, had trudged through her weekend running errands, going to a movie, even stopping to give the kids some play time at Valley West Mall.

It wasn't until Sunday night when she sat down to watch the Super Bowl with her (then) husband, that things started to go horribly wrong. At one point, knowing that her migraines made her physically ill, he helped Ellen to the bathroom. A short time later, he found her on the floor, unable to move.

"He tells me that I opened my eyes and said, 'Call the paramedics,' and that's the last thing I said for three days," she said. Pieper, then just 33, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage or, as it's more commonly known, a massive stroke. Seventy-eight days at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, four surgeries (three on her brain and one on her arm) and countless therapy sessions later, Pieper moved to a local rehabilitation center where she spent the better part of two months relearning everything she might need to know just to function.

Today, 14 years after that fateful day, Pieper says she's still not back to "normal." "If I ever get there I will let you know," joked Pieper. "Anyone who has a stroke has to develop a new definition of normal. Your life will never be the same because brain cells are never replaced.

Pieper's life may never be normal but with all she's done in 14 years, it certainly is extraordinary. Pieper, now a stay-at-home mom to two teenage boys, volunteers her time with the American Heart Association speaking to church groups, businesses, schools and any other organization interested in hearing her story of recovery and life after a stroke. She also advocates for heart healthy legislation through the "You’re the Cure" network community.

Alexson Calahan, director of communications with the American Heart Association, said people love Pieper's approach to discussing such a serious topic. "It's amazing how she's able to put so much humor into her story," she said. "She's had a serious stroke, lived with some intense physical limitations, and has numerous cognitive challenges yet she talks about it in a thoughtful and humorous way. She’s ok with it, she's accepted it, and embraced it. We're lucky to have her on our team."

On May 30, 2006, after being diagnosed with depression, a common occurrence with many stroke survivors, she decided to write a book. And she did. In 2009, under the pseudonym E.E. Laine, Pieper released her first book, Praise God for Tattered Dreams. It's about the spiritual journey she's taken since that fateful day in 2000 when her world turned upside down. She's also working on a second book she hopes to have completed by the end of the year.

"I think I'm in a very good place right now," Pieper said. "The best thing any person can have is peace and the perspective to acknowledge they aren’t in control. If you know where you're going, after you die, then you're good. "