Portland woman seemed perfectly healthy — until she had an unexplained stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke survivor, Eileen HaasEileen Haas was folding laundry when she felt something “break” in her head. There was the sensation that something warm was cascading down her back, as if a blood vessel had burst.

“Don’t ask me how, but I knew it was a stroke,” she said. “The entire world around me felt unstable.”

Although overcome with dizziness and blind in one eye, Haas, then 60, finally found her phone and called a friend. It was the only phone number she could remember. Recognizing that Haas was in distress, her friend called 911.

Lying on the floor in her second-floor bedroom, unable to move, Haas heard ambulance sirens growing closer and then the sound of paramedics running up the stairs. They took her vitals and wrapped her in a sling that enabled them to carry her down the narrow, curving staircase.

When she woke up, she was in the ICU, her brothers standing by her bed.

“The fact that they both flew in to be at my bedside was stunning — and scary,” she said. “I knew from this that my stroke must have been bad.”

Doctors told her that she had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, or bleed in her brain but weren’t able to determine what caused it.

A long recovery

Before the stroke, Haas had a successful career as a copywriter and described herself as a go-getter. She enjoyed biking and flying small airplanes in her downtime. After her stroke, she couldn’t even walk by herself without falling down. Unable to care for her dog, Scout, she allowed friends to adopt him.

“It tore my heart out,” she said.

Increasingly depressed, Haas lost her appetite, and the chocolates that well-wishers brought her piled up on the bedside table. Ultimately, she lost 20 pounds and described herself as “skeletal.”

She even contemplated taking her own life. Instead, she asked her doctor to prescribe antidepressants. After taking the medication for a few weeks, she slowly began to feel more like herself.

Her physical recovery was rapid — at least in the beginning. Learning to walk again was a huge milestone. Swapping her walker for a cane was an even bigger one. She even learned to climb a stepladder again.

“I made a lot of progress during the first three years, but then I hit a brick wall,” she said.

She continues to have speech apraxia, or difficulty speaking, and weakness on her right side. Ultimately, she accepted that she wouldn’t be able to resume her career as a copywriter.

That doesn’t mean she stopped writing. Unable to use her right hand, she learned to type with her left, eventually crafting a memoir about her stroke journey. She also writes a blog and belongs to a writing group for people who have had strokes.

And when Haas felt ready, she adopted Millie, a rescue dog who looks a bit like a labradoodle.

“It has done me a lot of good to care for her, because the focus is not on me and my disabilities,” she said.

While gains don’t come as easily these days, Haas is determined to keep improving. One of her biggest goals is to ride her bike again. More modestly, she hopes to one day be able to walk a straight line while carrying on a conversation, looking left and right for traffic as she would have naturally before her stroke.

She’s in no rush. Going through this experience has been an awakening for Haas, who said she doesn’t try to control things the way she once did.

“I live a quieter life and enjoy myself more, but I’m still motivated by all the things I still can’t do,” she said. “Having a stroke is one of the worst things that ever happened to me, but through my recovery, I discovered that I was even stronger that I knew.”