Miracle woman still not ready to give up
Published: May 4, 2007 | 6128th good news item since 2003
Those who meet her are inspired. Those who hear her story are in awe. I would even bet that to hear her tell her amazing journey could make just about anyone into a believer.
Julie Rydlund has been through it all and lived to tell about it. She’s a modest woman, who more than anything loves her family and God.
Julie is “the miracle woman.” She has survived one potentially lethal health complication after another. The odds always seem to be against her, yet she prevails. Her faith has been tested over and over — and God has provided strength for Julie to keep plugging on.
After all, she’s got things to do yet.
“I’m still fighting (to hang onto my life) for my family,” Julie said on Wednesday. “My job here isn’t done.”
Julie wants to spread God’s love. She wants to watch her son Andrew graduate from high school like she did her daughter Katie in 2006. More happy moments are in store for Julie and her husband Jim.
I wrote about Julie in May of 2004, when she returned home for the first time since experiencing anaphylactic shock. Doctors gave her an anti-rejection drug to keep her body from rejecting a pancreas transplanted in 2003. (Julie’s diabetes would have otherwise been fatal.)
The anaphylactic shock burned her from the inside out. Her nerves, skin, eyes, nose, ears, kidneys, liver, even the new pancreas — everything was affected. Doctors gave her a 6 percent chance for survival. She was put on a ventilator.
Her family, glued to her side, never gave up, though they were told no more could be done.
Her husband Jim was hopeful in the face of slim odds.
“I had an inner feeling — I felt like God was going to intervene,” he said.
Incredibly, though badly weakened and charred, her body slowly began to heal. Both her legs had to be amputated to save her life. Amazingly, Julie escaped brain damage.
Ask her doctors, ask the nurses, ask her family and friends. They’ll all tell you that truly, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Julie has lived to tell about her trials and tribulations.
“God’s hand was in it, all the way,” Julie told me in 2004. “God kept me here for a reason. I want to glorify God and give hope to other people.”
Julie finally came home to Jim Falls with her family — husband Jim, son Andrew, and daughter Katie, in May of 2004.
But Julie’s saga isn’t over yet. The road since she came home from the hospital has been anything but smooth.
She’s heading back to Rochester on Tuesday, where doctors will find out if her body is strong enough to receive a new kidney from her sister Pat.
Nowadays, with the advancement of technology, kidney transplants can be routine. But not for Julie. None of Julie’s health complications can be described as routine.
When she came home in May of 2004, it still took another 16 months for all her burns to heal. She had multiple infections. By the summer, she was in the hospital again.
Then finally, things seemed to be sailing along quite well until June of 2006. That’s when Julie dealt with a blood clot that went from her groin to her lungs.
“Doctors said, ‘We’ve done everything we can. If the clot moves it will be fatal,’” Julie remembers. “All we were doing was praying.”
Her husband Jim was diagnosed with Stage 7 cancer during the same time Julie was hospitalized for a blood clot.
“The day my clot broke was the day he had his bone scan,” Julie said. “It really broke my heart that I couldn’t be with him, because he’s been there for me.”
Since then, Jim had surgery in August during which doctors believe they removed all the cancer. He didn’t take any chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Since then, he has lab work done on a monthly basis to keep watch for any changes.
Within that same month, her daughter Katie had some health complications that doctors are still keeping close watch on today.
Since the blood-clot incident, Julie has been taking blood-thinning medication. She’s currently taking 37 different medicines.
Julie went in for another surgery, this time to correct an abdominal problem. In recovery, she went into respiratory arrest. It was shortly thereafter discovered that when Julie was unconscious, her brain didn’t know to tell her body to breathe.
“Everyone was wondering how I ever made it this far,” she said. “I was literally being smothered in my sleep.”
Doctors theorized that during anaphylactic shock in 2004, some of the nerve pathways in Julie’s brain may have been damaged.
Another miracle, it seems. How did Julie survive general anesthesia so many times?
Now, she’s on a special machine to help her breathe while sleeping.
But her saga doesn’t end there.
One Sunday in January, she woke up with excruciating pain — an internal bleed in her left thigh.
“Had that bleed been anywhere but my thigh, I would have died almost instantly,” she said.
But she wasn’t out of the woods yet.
She was admitted to the hospital, where the bleed was looked after. The next morning, she woke up with a headache and feeling nauseous.
“I knew I was going into kidney failure,” she said. “I’d had that before in the hospital.”
The physician on call didn’t think there was reason to believe Julie’s kidneys were in trouble.
So Julie and her friend Diane Horn prayed. Within 10 minutes, her regular doctor called from Florida to check in on her.
“This was God at work, it has to be,” Julie said of his phone call.
Her regular doctor ordered her blood levels to be taken, and her potassium count was near-lethal, indicative of kidney malfunction. When she finally was moved to Mayo clinic, a doctor came in to talk to her.
When Julie heard his words, her faith began to falter for the first time.
“He said, ‘Julie you need a kidney transplant,’” she recalls. “I became hopeless. I was tired at that given moment. I said to him, ‘Get out of my room, now.’”
Feeling alone, Julie looked over at the very same picture of Christ that had hung in her hospital room back in 2004. When Jim was reluctant to leave her bedside, she would remind him by motioning to the picture, “He is with me.”
Things were different this time. Now as she looked at the picture, she cried to God, “What do you want from me? I don’t understand — why this, why now? What do you want me to do?”
“For a full month straight I cried,” Julie said. She had lost hope in God’s miracles. What was in store for her now?
Dialysis wasn’t an option for Julie because of the likelihood that she would throw a clot, and exhibit more potentially fatal allergies to filter and chemicals used in dialysis.
Finding the right kidney to give Julie the best chances of survival was also going to be a big hurdle. Doctors told her it was less than one in a million chance that a suitable donor could be found for her.
Most kidney transplants don’t require exact matches and need only to share a blood type, or a couple of genetic markers. Because of Julie’s potentially lethal reactions to anti-rejection drugs and her body’s overall fragility, it was important she receive a kidney that matched in other ways, too.
In addition to having the same blood type as Julie, the donor couldn’t have antibodies in his or her system that Julie didn’t have in hers. He or she needed to share at least three genetic markers with Julie.
Without meeting these additional requirements, Julie’s chance of surviving the ordeal would be less than 50 percent. If a match was found, however, her chances increased to 65 percent.
Three of her siblings went into have testing done to determine if they could give her a kidney. From December to January, Julie’s kidney function dropped from 41 percent to 26 percent.
The clock was ticking.
Then, on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — her sister Pat called from Florida with some amazing news.
Pat was an exact match to donate a kidney to Julie, in all possible ways, and she shared six out of six genetic markers with Julie.
Julie calls it her Valentine from God himself.
“He pulled through for me when I didn’t ask — I didn’t even know WHAT to ask for,” Julie said.
Julie has overcome some of the most traumatic physical events a person can imagine — a pancreas transplant, bladder infections, a tumor underneath her uterus, internal and external burns covering her body. Now she’s facing yet another big physical hurdle.
But luckily, what really counts is still as strong as can be. Her faith.
On Sunday a benefit will be held for Julie and her family, to help cope with the monetary cost associated with Julie’s upcoming kidney transplant. But the benefit will also help the family meet the spiritual costs of the procedure.
On Tuesday Julie will find out if her body is strong enough to accept the new kidney, and go from there.
“I was not up for this challenge, but I truly believe He carried me and I will come through this surgery with flying colors,” Julie said. “After all, when God gives miracles, he doesn’t take them away.”
I know she’s right. After all, Julie needs to write the sequel to her recently completed book, “Walk On.” Her book title is most meaningful.
Today, now more than ever, Julie is committed to walking steadfast with the Lord. And though Julie is confined to a wheelchair, she walks with Him and manages to stand taller than anyone I know.