When Ellen Rome was a 22 year old college student, she began falling down for no clear reason. Doctors thought it was dizzy spells but a few weeks later, a small hole in her heart caused a stroke that left her unable to talk or move and kept her in hospitals for nearly four months.
“They didn’t know what it was at first,” she said about the stroke. “I was paralyzed. I could only move my eyes.”
After a month in an acute care hospital, Ellen worked very hard with therapists for three months in an inpatient setting to regain her ability to swallow, talk, dress herself and walk. She continued working on her recovery during a year as an outpatient at Heinz Rehab.
“I was really confused at first. In my mind, I knew I could do these things,” she said about relearning to dress herself and walk. “Looking back, it was kind of amazing I recovered so fast.”
Ellen sets goals for herself and keeps achieving one after the other. She was a bridesmaid in her sister’s wedding, proudly walking down the aisle in a pair of heels with the assistance of a cane. She also was able to finish her degree at Shippensburg and is now earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Scranton. She wants a career helping others get through challenges similar to those she faced.
Now a very confident and independent young woman, Ellen speaks clearly and needs only a brace on her right leg to walk. She is able to drive with an assistive device for her car. Because she is so positive and so determined to make the most out of her experiences, last year Ellen was awarded the Patsy Foy Memorial Award for Courage at a That All May Worship Conference on Disability. The conference is held each year at Heinz Rehab Hospital, the very place where Ellen spent so much time displaying that courage and determination to recover.
Ellen is hoping her success will inspire others, not only through her career, but also through a support group she cofounded with another young stroke survivor, Lou Marino of Plains. The support group is called SAY, an acronym for Stroke Affects the Young. Both Ellen and Lou had tried other support groups for stroke survivors but said many of the topics discussed there had little relevance to their own ongoing struggles. At SAY, the focus is on things like returning to school or work, caring for children, social activities, etc., unlike many support groups where most survivors are older and retired.
Ellen has a bright future ahead and will surely remain an inspiration to fellow students, colleagues, support group members, and those she will counsel in the years to come.