Life can fall apart in the blink of an eye.

No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re just a heartbeat away from some awful event that changes everything and forces you to find your way through a maze of unfamiliar and scary circumstances.

Ellen knows.

Her family came to America from Germany when she was just five years old. Suddenly, Ellen was a kid living in the Bronx, and loving it. To this day she thanks New York for her positive outlook on life and being able to accept whatever’s thrown her way with a fearless and open heart.

She’s a Survivor

“When I look back, there are times when I should have been afraid. Common sense said walk away.  But I was curious and I stood up for myself. I knew to say ‘no’ and I could tell when trouble was hiding around the corner. Most kids who leave home at sixteen are running away. Not me. I was just in a hurry to see what was out there. I was ready for anything.”

It was the seventies. Ellen left the East Coast and headed for places that had “enter at your own risk” written all over them.


he declined the offer of a ride at the airport in Istanbul, with a man who said “his mother would love her.” She accepted the gift of a flight to London and a ride in a limo to a mansion with servants and a man who turned out to be not exactly as he had described himself. There was the train trip to Kiev in a compartment she shared with a stranger; a big Russian who quickly learned to respect her territory and taught her a little Russian. She had a hands-on encounter with tigers when she was invited into the compound by a Mexican zoo-keeper who was breaking all the rules to impress her. She worked on a trawler as crew member and had to fight off a drunken captain. All of this back in a time when the best advice for a pretty, blue-eyed blonde female was to stay close to home.

Back in the States Ellen left a party in the back seat of a friend’s car with a bullet in her lung. “He didn’t know it was loaded.”

Deciding that it was time for another adventure Ellen was off to Hawaii, and an undergraduate degree with focusing on Russia and the language. Then a Master’s degree.

Ellen’s life experiences made her stronger and smarter and increasingly fearless.

But nothing could have prepared her for a morning in December ten years ago.

“I woke up on the floor of my apartment in San Clemente in California. My left side was paralyzed. After two days alone I called the office to ask if I could take a sick day. They called the ambulance. I learned that two days had slipped quietly away and I was lucky to wake up at all. The bleed in my brain had caused a massive stroke and I knew that this was going to be a whole new and totally different experience.”

She’d always been able to cope with threats from the world around her. But now Ellen was under attack by enemies inside her.

“I was a cripple in a wheelchair with my face melting and my so-called friends turning away from me. It was a situation I refused to accept.”

Eventually she was released in the care of a friend. Instead, she went back to her own apartment alone.

“My boss had cleaned up my place. I figured I was back on the road to normal.”

Ellen still had to learn how to tie her shoes, dress herself and work on getting her driver’s licence back. After a week at home, she went back to her demanding job with a company providing back-up power systems for hospitals and other institutions.

“I got laid off the next week for making too many mistakes. It was a wake-up call. I wouldn’t be ready to go back to work for a long time. I had no job and no money. I started filling out the papers to get disability. I advertised for a roommate. None of it worked out very well. I was stressed out and wound up back in Emergency. I phoned my parents and asked if I could stay with them in Scottsdale, Arizona. I took some time to heal. I was determined to get my old job back and I did. I moved back to California and a small apartment in Dana Point.”

Ellen outlived her boss and his company. But she couldn’t shake the fallout from that day long ago on the floor of her apartment.  There’s a name for it … Central Pain Syndrome. It made debilitating pain an almost constant companion.

“I was unemployed again and headed back to Scottsdale to keep working my own issues and found myself helping out with my family’s issues. My Mom in a home under constant care. My brother recovering from major injuries in a pedestrian-car accident. It took the edge off my own problems. So here I am today with my dog and my determination to get better and start going places again. I’d like to visit South Africa. I’m grateful for a lot things. For one, a life full of experiences that have made me strong without making me bitter. My curiosity that involves me in what is happening to me and turned me onto my best therapist. I’m grateful for the community my injury has brought to my door … or at least my computer. I like sharing my experiences with others and gain a lot of useful tips from strangers who care.”

We asked Ellen to point to one thing or person that has gotten her through all this, and continues to do so. She couldn’t point to any one person or thing.

She has her faith and love of country. But there’s more to it than that.

It’s that Ellen puts others ahead of herself. She makes herself needed. To her rescue dog, her mother, her brother, her father and strangers she meets. She simply doesn’t have time to wallow in the pain but she does pray for a better tomorrow. She makes people better just by being in her company. She brings out the best in others.