How a positive attitude pulled her through a health crisis and changed her life
By Serena Howlett, Contributing Writer
Middleton – In July 1997 what began as an ordinary Thursday at the office for Julia Fox Garrison turned into the beginning of her journey to a successful career as author and inspirational speaker. The life-changing event was a hemorrhagic stroke: blood pouring into her brain.
In the emergency room, Garrison recalled saying, “I am going to die.”
In the operating room, while surgeons struggled to save her life, Garrison had this vision: “My body was on the rung of a ladder in the midst of clouds. The ladder had no beginning or end. I had a choice. I could stay near to God or return to earth as a broken body.”
Garrison chose to return to her husband, Jim, and then three-year-old son, Rory.
“There’s a reason I’m here. I have a purpose,” she said.
And although her body was paralyzed, Garrison’s zest for life most certainly was not.
During three months in the hospital, Garrison’s rule was “no sad visitors.” Her eight brothers (no sisters) coordinated their visits so each day brought another brother with a take-out meal.
For the siblings, playing pranks was a family tradition. As the middle child, Garrison was on both ends of the pranks. One night around age 10, she was lying in bed reading The Shining, when unbeknownst to her, her brother John crawled under the bed. When Garrison finally closed the book and turned out the light, John rattled the iron springs under the mattress and grabbed her arm. Now, in the hospital bed, with her head partially shaved for brain surgery, Garrison asked her brother to get someone to shave the rest of her head and place the matted hair under the bed. Then, she pressed the call button and announced, “There is something moving under my bed.”
After discharge from the hospital, Garrison’s goal was to be strong enough to take care of her young son. In the notebook in which she kept track of appointments, she recorded the names of 40 doctors, nurses and therapists. Through her faith, an “incredible” neurologist and the encouragement of her close-knit family, Garrison recovered beyond the wildest dreams of health care professionals.
About five years after the stroke, Garrison put pencil to paper and in 2005 self-published, P.S. Julia (Missing a Piece of Your Mind Can be Puzzling). This book morphed into Don’t Leave Me This Way (or when I get back on my feet you’ll be sorry), published and promoted by HarperCollins. Rave reviews and media invitations poured in. She appeared on Good Morning America and Oprah.
PEOPLE magazine featured her story and Reader’s Digest included a condensed version of Don’t Leave Me This Way in “Today’s Best Non-Fiction.”
Today, Garrison is an inspirational keynote speaker, a role model for overcoming adversity and a cheerleader for person-centered healthcare. Joyous, self-deprecating at times and always upbeat, she brings a positive energy to her audiences, letting them know that they too can overcome challenges life puts in front of them.
“Unexpected and difficult times,” Garrison said, “are out of our control. How we respond is within our control.”
That includes the pandemic which, although has changed her model of delivery, has not stopped her from her work.
“I have recently set up a professional studio to deliver my message virtually,” she said. “I had my first virtual keynote to Florida Healthcare professionals. I am also presenting to Encompass Health. The bonus of going virtual allows them to have six of their centers attend each session, with 500 expected attendees per session.”
Determined “to stay alive and never stop recovering”, Garrison quoted her motto: “Positive outlook equals positive outcome.” It is something she lives, to the fullness capacity possible, each and every day.