Hello SOTGC community,
This interview of the inspiring Julia Lee recounts her experience with facing death, being granted a second chance at life, and how that experience shaped her goals and outlook on life. It talks about the honest and raw emotions, work that it took to get her back on track, the determination that she faces every day with, and how she uses her experience in a positive way to help her patients and their families.
I met Julia through her father, who is the Global Senior Vice President of Medtronic’s Surgical Technologies and who inspired the post “The Importance Of A Mission Statement.” The story he told our division was about Julia and the experience that changed her life.
Julia and her step Grandmother
Julia went to Saint Mary’s College, and for years, had planned to be a cardiologist. Where did that goal originate from? She had shadowed her step- grandmother when she was 14 and decided the Cardiac Cath Lab was where she could help patients and put her desire to heal to good use. Her sophomore year of college she left for a year to study abroad in Dublin. During her stay there, Julia came down with mono and was sick for months. After becoming very ill very quickly, her Director, Peggy, found her in bed with spots on her arms and legs…and promptly called 911. The diagnosis was bacterial meningitis which is the inflammation of the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and the strain she was diagnosed with usually gives you a 1% chance of survival.
Her parents were called and according to her father’s story to us he picked up the phone to hear: “Is this Mr. Fletcher? Are you alone? Are you sitting down?” He was told his daughter was extremely ill, might not make it, and could he come to Dublin immediately? The good news is, Julia made it…but her road to physical recovery was long, arduous, and took awhile before she could face her experience and decide to put it to good use helping others
It took Julia 2-3 weeks to learn how to walk again, it took her six months to get her voice back from having been intubated, she still carries the proof on her legs that she survived this sickness, and for years after her physical health returned…she suffered from PTSD and anxiety. During this time she decided to change directions from becoming a doctor to becoming a nurse. When I asked her why this was she said “during the 2-3 weeks recovering in the ICU I had little interactions with any doctors. But there was a nurse, Mary Ann, who brightened my day and helped make the experience bearable.”
This was a dark time for Julia when she didn’t understand WHY she had to have gone through that. It wasn’t fair! She had done NOTHING to deserve having to deal with the setbacks in her life and dreams…and she was embittered.
Then…a year later she was forced to deal with the realities when a student at the neighboring college passed away from the same disease and she was asked to give a talk about it. Julia says that talk helped to get her onto the path of realizing that her experience could be used to help educate others of how to avoid meningitis, and how she dealt with the recovery process. Her voice also made a full recovery and Thanksgiving week that year, she sang at Carnegie Hall with her college choir.
Julia had turned the corner from “why me!?” into “how can I use this to help?” She is now a nurse in the Cardiac Cath Lab and believes her experience helps her empathize with her patients and families of patients who are in critical care. Her understanding of what it’s like on both ends (the sick and the helping to cure) gives her the ability to soothe and relax people in moments of great anxiety and fear. Every day she remembers how thankful she is for having survived the experience, and she does everything in her power to help others have the same outcome that she was blessed with.
When I asked Julia what piece of advice she would give to a person of any age or gender who has overcome obstacles she said this: “I live by the belief that everything happens for a reason. I feel God put me in that situation and gave me the tools to get through it…it was a lesson and hardship I needed to undergo, and overcome. Once you get past the “why me?!” feeling, then realize that your experience can be used to inspire and help others. You have to have confidence in yourself that if you got through that experience…you’ll achieve all the goals and dreams you set for yourself. You won’t have all the answers…you’ll continue to make mistakes…but you’ll learn along the way. I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it was easy. I won’t lie and say my growth was immediate. You’re going to struggle…you’re going to fail…but hopefully what you learn when you fail will help you succeed the next time.”
When I asked what her mantra was she replied with: “Fake it until it’s real. Confidence in yourself makes the situation real to yourself and others.”
Well Julia, I will admit that several times during our call I was so moved and inspired that I teared up a bit, and as I wrote it out in full, I teared up again. You are an inspiration! I love how real you are about the recovery process. And I hope you find the words to write a book one day. I feel your story should be heard by millions…and hopefully this interview will start the process
At her favorite place in Sligo, Ireland days before she got sick