As a new mom, Andrea Engfer didn’t know her risk of stroke, until her severe brain hemorrhage just five days after giving birth.
Suffering from headaches and exhaustion, Andrea Engfer, 36, had a gut feeling something was wrong after she gave birth to her daughter Emma in 2020.
She had been diagnosed with high blood pressure during the final month of her pregnancy, ultimately having a cesarean section when it remained elevated after three weeks.
Five days later, she woke up with a headache. Suspecting it was a migraine, she took a pain killer and went about her day. But the pain worsened, so she lay down in bed, tossing and turning when she couldn’t get comfortable.
Increasingly worried, her husband, Martin, suggested they go to urgent care.
“I would never go to urgent care for a migraine, but because I had just given birth, I wanted to make sure everything was OK,” Andrea said.
As Martin drove her to the clinic, the pain grew so intense she couldn’t open her eyes. Then she let out a scream.
“My head felt like it was going to explode,” she said, describing it as a 10-plus on a 10-point scale.
It’s the last thing Andrea remembers about that day.
Twelve days later, she woke up from a medically induced coma. Because of COVID-19-related restrictions, she could only communicate with Martin and her father by video.
While she remembered giving birth, she thought she’d had a boy. Then, one of the nurses reminded her that she’d had a daughter. She struggled to recall what she had named her.
“It felt like I was dreaming,” she said.
Andrea also had trouble with vision in her right eye and couldn’t read or write. Her mobility and speech were also affected. For example, while she could recognize a picture of an apple, she didn’t know the word for it.
She spent 43 days in two rehabilitation hospitals, where she re-learned to walk, speak and read, slowly sounding out every word. When she was released, she continued outpatient physical and occupational therapy five days per week.
“My whole day consisted of therapy and then being a mom,” she said. “My competitive nature kept me going.”
After steady progress over a few months, she told her physical therapist she wanted to run a 5K — something she enjoyed doing before her stroke. When her therapist seemed dubious, she became even more determined. “I don’t like being told that I can’t do something,” she said.
Andrea started by walking up and down the street. Soon, she was walking three miles a day. Then she started running.
Feeling ready for the 5K, she looked for events and found the American Heart Association’s virtual one for World Stroke Day. The day of the event was chilly and rainy, but she completed it — Martin by her side.
“I was on a mission,” she said. “I was so proud of myself.”
Soon after Andrea tagged the AHA in a social media post celebrating her accomplishment, somebody in the organization asked if she would be open to talking about her stroke.
A week later, she became an ambassador and began sharing her story in local radio and TV segments.
“I had to step out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did,” said Andrea, who’s thrilled to be selected as one of 2022’s Real Women. “My story can potentially help other women. You can save a life.”