I grew up with Julie Johnson-Olson. From Burtsfield Elementary to today, she has always been- and is my classmate, one of those people that somehow stay in your life even when you thought they weren’t there.
This is that 8 mm film thing- a rough black-and-white memory of things that were- back when we thought the toughest part of the day was making sure we got home on time after school.
We both had an amazing start to life- based on parents and academia. And we accelerated past that with our own individual stories on what it is to make difference:
So that is the premise here: Making a difference.
“The selfie you’ve all been waiting for. I can drape a hijab, y’all. — in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.”
Some Aspects of JJ’s Life …
A world class Illustrator & Fashion Designer.
You should definitely check out her work
The Interview: To Julie Johnson-Olsen
Julie Johnson, I have known you since at least 3rd grade at Burtsfield Elementary, and we are basically childhood friends forever!
- If I died today- you would care. “YES!”
- If you died today- I would care. “I would hope so!”
So let’s go from there.
Before we get into the interview, I would like to introduce you to a person I would like to call a friend of mine, his name- Joshua Morris.
Joshua Morris is also known as LVAD 1 online, and is truly the bravest person I know. He has had a Left Ventricular Assist (LVAD) for the past 3 years or more, and is an amazing representative for conquering fear (perhaps the most enduring fear-master) I have ever witnessed or had the privilege to know. http://circuitsurfers.com/2013/01/27/lvaders-are-all-test-pilots/
I watched you drop to the ground as an undiagnosed diabetic as a kid in 5th grade. On the back 40 of the play ground. Never forget that, I was so worried.
Anyone can say they aren’t afraid…
So on to the Interview:
Q 1 :
What were the circumstances that led to you needing an operation? And how did that all go down? I knew you then, and I could see there was something going on- but didn’t know…
To Joshua: (LVAD1)
Before we get into the interview I want to say Hello to Joshua! Fellow Spirit Warrior! I honor you for your experiences and what you have been through.
And you in my opinion are as truly brave and fearless.
And on to the interview-
You remember right, Frank. I was diagnosed as a juvenile onset diabetic at age 11 – a month shy of my 12th birthday. I had been forced to go to the doctor since I had been losing weight (was at 60 pounds age 12), and was incredibly thirsty all the time. My vision was blurring at school so I couldn’t see the blackboard, and I had to pee all the time from drinking all the fluids. I was so incredibly thirsty. My body was trying to rid the sugar out of my system, overloading my kidneys and causing my body to literally eat itself in ketosis. When the call came with the results, we were, as a family sitting at the dinner table when the phone rang. My dad answered it in the other room. No one had any idea who it was that was calling, nor did it matter much. But as soon as the phone was hung up and he entered the room again, I blurted out, “I have diabetes, don’t I?” I had never actually heard about the disease except once – a friend’s cousin couldn’t have birthday cake at a party because she had “diabetes” whatever that was. Part of me feels like I “knew” this was part of the blueprint of my life and I was expecting it on a higher level as a way to grow and learn more about who I was and why I was “here.”
So, I got started on insulin and back then it was pretty archaic and useless how they treated the disease. They didn’t know much. By the time I was in my early twenties the docs were telling me I’d probably be on dialysis within ten years the way my kidneys were going. I had changes in the small blood vessels of my eyes as well, and was experience neuropathy in my hands and feet. I had over 3000 laser burns in both eyes to stop the retinopathy, the condition that brings on blindness in diabetics.
By age 34, it was even worse. I had met my husband and was living in Iowa. The University of Iowa had a star surgeon who was doing not only kidney transplants, but pancreas transplants on diabetic patients. It was very experimental at the time. Only about 2000 pancreas transplants had ever been done in the entire world at that time. I would be under anesthesia longer with both organs and could die on the operating table (I also had cardiac disease at the time and they were concerned about a heart attack.) I decided I wanted to go through with both organs, get on a waiting list with UNOS United Network of Organ Sharing – with my doctor’s help, and then basically, wait for someone to die so i could live. Very hard time.
Q 2 :
OK- So you are super young, and you realize your body isn’t doing what it needs to do to keep you alive- so what is going through your mind? Advice for all of us?
I just did what most of us do everyday of our lives… get up and keep going. I have tremendous perseverance and feel that I just can put my head down and keep going into the wind. I felt that as a child. Just keep going. I had a sister die of cancer two years before I was diagnosed with diabetes and my world axis shifted in a big way. What was the point if you can die at age 6 like she did? Who held the cards for this life? Advice? Hmmmm. Pain out here caused me to seek Truth inside, so overall, pain in life has served me well in that I have taken “a road less travelled” and can feel the adventure in life. There is a sense of beauty when things work out. I’m still alive, and I’m still here.
I know there was pain, and fear, and something you hold on to. So what was it? That got you through?
I have always felt a Presence since I was very young – something that went beyond the Sunday School God with the long white beard and sandals in a robe up on a cloud. When my six year old sister died – after suffering horribly for a year – I stopped believing what I was told in church (Presbyterian) – no one could tell me why she only had 6 years or where she actually went – “Heaven” was the standard response – but because she had been baptized she was afforded this life in heaven in the hereafter. But I thought about all the brown skinned babies and children who lived in the rainforest somewhere who had never been baptized, would God send them to hell? It ate at me. I decided i was done with church on my own when these questions couldn’t be answered for me by anyone I looked up to as an adult. This was just my path to seeking, I’ve always been a seeker and I don’t debate religion, I only follow what is true for me and honor what is true for others.
What got me through not only the double organ transplant, plus an almost death sentence of e-coli sepsis, plus a triple by pass for cardiac disease was knowing, really knowing that I am not my body. I had a near death experience with the e-coli in a hospital in New York City – and when I left my body and found myself at such peace and filled with such love and almost mirth – surrounded by a pure white light – there was no tunnel – when i did return to my body, I knew more than I ever had before. I wasn’t afraid of death, I was afraid of life, deep deep down. It took me a year to come back to some kind of agreement with being in the body – I felt like a visitor that didn’t know the customs, a round peg that wouldn’t fit in the square hole of life anymore. It was tough. But I got through.
Is your question. Ask away.
(I guess most of the time, I ask for details that are clinically relevant. But thinking of you, and knowing you, makes me shy away from those questions.)
Where do you find the love you have in you, Frank to do the work you do, be a great father and husband and take on some beautiful babies who needed a daddy?
Hey you can be clinical with me.
That out of body experience is not the first time I have heard patients close to death speak of it-
But it is clearly in the realm of the skeptical. I for one am not skeptical whatsoever regarding the continuation of our human spirit.
And regarding love
I’m not sure that love is something you find. It comes and goes, emerges as things unfold in front of you. If love is compassion, then yes, it is always there. And there are days when you see the total loss of love, and that makes you want to cry out, and perhaps reevaluate the conditions that make us all want to avoid losing that moment when we realize we are capable of it.
It is exceptional to love and be loved, it is extraordinary to be-in-it, and it is a rare find to bottle it- because it isn’t something easily found, and clings when circumstances suggest it shouldn’t, yet begs to us all to believe it is possible.
It doesn’t disappear or evaporate- it becomes an imprint on the soul- not to be ignored or wiped away. It always remains.
Yeah I am good in that sense, and as well am grateful to know you- and to be a part of your life.