Two important things happened on Jan. 30, 2000, that changed the course of history -- the St. Louis Rams won their first Super Bowl title and Ellen Pieper suffered a stroke.
And while the two may not have much to do with one another, both events marked days the people involved will probably never forget.
"The Worst Headache of My Life"
It was a Thursday afternoon and Ellen Pieper of Waukee had just wrapped up her work day at Pioneer. She was headed home to nurse what she says was proving to be the worst headache 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, 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 husband, Greg, that things started to go horribly wrong. At one point, knowing that her migraines made her physically ill, Greg 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.
The diagnosis? Pieper, then just 33, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage or, as it's more commonly known, a 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 local rehabilitation center where she spent the better part of two months relearning everything she might need to know just to function.
Today, 12 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. Your brain cells never come back."
Rising Out of the Ashes
Pieper's life may never be normal but with all she's done in 12 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.
Alexson Calahan, director of communications with the American Heart Assocation, said people love Pieper's approach to 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 and lived with some intense physical limitations and 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."
Perhaps Pieper's biggest life change since her stroke has been her commitment to God and speaking to others about her faith. She calls herself a "servant," not a volunteer, and gives her time and efforts often and whenever called to do so.
Jamie Cutler, pastor at , said Pieper's dedication to the church is immeasurable.
"Ellen is delightfully open and straightforward in sharing her faith with you which a lot of Christians don’t do," he said. "Ellen walks the walk and she also talks the talk. She will share her faith in Christ with anyone who will listen."
There's something else Pieper did to tell her story. On May 30, 2006, after being diagnosed with depression, a common occurrence with many stroke survivors, she decided to write a book. That's the day, Pieper says, when everything turned around.
"I remember at first just sort of talking to the cats and then I realized I was talking to God and he had his arms around me and I knew everything was going to be all right," she said. "That day, I heard him more clearly than ever before. He said, 'I gifted you with communications skills. Why not glorify me?'"
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 you can have is peace and acknowledge that you're not in control. If you know where you're going, then you're good. "