Today we’d like to introduce you to Juliet Lemar.
Juliet, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the producer, creator, and host of the multi-media show ‘Life Reflected’: Showing the limitless possibilities of human growth and kindness. Storytelling through mini-documentaries revolving around people’s lives.
The past 3.5 years of my life have molded me in ways I never imagined. I have been to the limits of my emotional, creative, physical and psychological being.
Travel with me back in time for a moment.
In 2015, I got married. While on my honeymoon in Thailand, my life was forever changed.
On our 2nd week in Thailand, while sitting by the pool basking in newlywed bliss, I get a phone call from a family member. My cousin is frantically trying to tell me that something terrible has happened. My mother had a brain aneurysm that ruptured. She was being airlifted to the hospital and she might not survive; she might already be dead.
Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases. Of those who survive, about 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit. Approximately 15% of patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage die before reaching the hospital.
Time stops. I lose all sense of reality. Colors, sounds and feeling blur and spin. I spend the next several hours cycling through emotions of shock, panic and helplessness. Our phone connection is sparse; I receive very limited updates. The only thing I can grasp onto is a song that my mother used to sing to me as a child. I sing it over and over and over. Hours pass; day turns to night.
We get on the next flight back to the United States (a whole day later). The flight is 18 hours long. For an entire 24 hours and an 18 hour plane flight, I do not know if my mother is alive or dead. I am a tiny, fragile human journeying through spaces and moving through time. I keep singing to myself. The same song over and over. It’s the only way to keep myself standing and moving forward. When I land in Taipei on a layover, I get an updated voicemail that my Mother is on life support. The message is from my father. “Nancy is on life support, she isn’t responding to anything, it doesn’t look good…” His voice trails off, the message ends. I look at the ceiling of the airport and pray for her to hold on; hold onto life. I tell the ceiling “I’m coming mama, please wait for me.” I board the next plane.
I land in Virginia. It is the middle of winter. Finally back in the U.S, I call and get ahold of my Father. He tells me my Mother is still alive, minimally responding to touch and is now breathing on her own but it is still very critical. I arrive at the hospital, as I quickly walk/run to the ICU I feel the sand still stuck to between my toes and on my feet, all the way from Thailand. Just a memory ago I was sitting on a beach basking in newlywed bliss. How quickly things change.
Tunnel vision as I find my mother’s room. She is hooked up to machines and laying very still. I go to her and I immediately start softly singing our song to her. I hold her hand; she squeezes. She is alive. I am here.
In order to stop the bleeding and repair the ruptured aneurysm, my mother Nancy must undergo and survive open brain surgery. The 8 – 10 hour surgery is agonizingly long. The doctor comes out and tells us the surgery was a success, but her future is still unknown.
Another brain surgery and 2 weeks of rehab later, Nancy is making progress towards recovery. She cannot walk on her own or speak in complete sentences. She doesn’t know who we are or where she is. Each day she makes very small progressions forward.
The neuro-rehab in Virginia has a time limit on how long a patient can stay for ‘in-patient recovery.’ After only 2 weeks of therapy, Nancy is discharged. She cannot walk, use the bathroom, or eat without assistance and is mentally very confused and unstable.
April 1st – two and a half months after her aneurysm. 2 days after her discharge from rehab.
I am back in Los Angeles (my home), my parents are still in Virginia. I call my parents everyday to check in. On April first I call, my dad answers in a panic. “Nancy fell, she fell, she hit her head, and she isn’t breathing.” I must have called him just after she fell. I was driving on the 405 on my way to work, my foot releases the gas pedal, my car comes to a stop, complete panic fills me, helplessness, anger, rage. I am sitting alone in a sea of cars on the busiest interstate in Los Angeles, angry drivers honk at me, yelling for me to move. I am frozen. For the second time in 3 months I know my mother is dead.
I fly back to Virginia. This time is different. I have no song. I have no hope. I feel separated from my reality. My life is moving in slow motion and I feel numb with panic. I come back to the familiar ICU. Slowly I enter to see her head is shaved, staples holding together the large incision from her most recent brain surgery. Her breath comes in an unnatural rhythm from a giant tube stuck down her throat. Life support. The machine fills her lungs like clockwork. I squeeze her hand, she doesn’t squeeze back. No sign of life; no sign of her.
No change. 7 days pass. No change. The hospital arranges for us to meet with palliative care: the folks that help you through the process of taking someone off life support. They walk us through how her story will end. We meet with the trauma surgeons who work at the ICU. They tell us Nancy’s recovery is extremely unlikely. She will never live a normal life, she will never leave the hospital. Crushing, the feeling of my body being crushed by the realization that I will be witnessing my mother’s last unnatural breath.
My father and I ask to speak with the neurosurgeon to get another final opinion. The Neurosurgeon who performed the surgery was the same doctor who saved her life the first time. He tells us there is no way of knowing how or if she will recover, he says “But I wouldn’t have operated if he didn’t think she had a chance.”
Hope: a small shimmer. We take a day to decide. My dad and I both agree she deserves a chance to fight. The next day, Nancy is given a tracheostomy (hole to breathe through) and stomach feeding tube.
Weeks pass. My dad and I take shifts at the hospital, never leaving her side. One day she moves her pinky. A week later she opens her eyes, a blank stare. Her movements are random but she is waking up slowly. She breathes on her own.
Months pass. She can’t talk, she can’t eat solid food, she can’t sit up, she doesn’t know who we are, but the fire in her eyes is returning. She is not herself, but she is fighting.
I arrange for her to be medically flown to Los Angeles to continue recovery at a SNF (skilled nursing facility) near our home.
A year passes. She leans to walk, talk, eat and do daily personal care again. She slowly remembers who I am. Each step forward is slow and we have MANY setbacks. Our time at the SNF is nothing short of hell. Uncaring staff, unsanitary facilities and an extreme lack of empathy. My father and I continue to rotate our vigilant caregiving, never leaving her side. Day and night. Everyday without fail.
3 years pass. Nancy has made incredible progress. She attends classes at Santa Monica community college. She volunteers at the library, sings in a choir, goes out dancing, cooks, gardens and takes the bus all around town! Her life isn’t the same as before but she has a life to live.
Recovery is never complete; it is an ever changing journey. A daily challenge. Each day brings: thankfulness, hope and pride alongside fear, frustration, and anger.
Throughout this journey many people showed us kindness. Never underestimate the impact ONE PERSON can have on an entire life.
Celebrities didn’t save Nancy’s life. TV shows and movies didn’t save her life. Instagram followers and twitter posts didn’t save her life. Everyday people saved her life. Anna and Stormy Gale, her nurses. The brain surgeons and social workers that never gave up hope. The bus driver that takes her to a free Traumatic Brain Injury recovery class run by amazingly caring and patient people. My father and my husband for their patience and persistence.
Each of us has something to teach and something to learn.
‘Life Reflected’ showcases the lives of everyday people. Our guests are not defined by circumstance. Through sharing their stories, we find that life, even in its toughest moments, is worth celebrating.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My journey has been constructed by overcoming many challenges. Obstacles are the building blocks of success. I anticipate more challenges as I grow, change and learn. Obstacles show us things in life that we never knew possible and give us the opportunity to become something greater then ourselves.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Life Reflected story. Tell us more about the business.
I am so proud to give everyday people a platform on which to share their stories, teach and inspire others. Bringing people together through the realization of commonalities brings me great joy.
‘Life Reflected’ is showing the World the limitless possibilities of human growth and kindness. Storytelling through mini-documentaries revolving around people’s lives.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
The harder I work, the more lucky I become. I truly believe that we all have a responsibility to give back. No one becomes successful without lots of hard work and support from others. Giving back creates a cycle of success for yourself and those around you.
- Website: www.reflected.life
- Instagram: @juliet.lemar
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReflectedLife3/
- Twitter: @JulietLemar