"You saved my life." From near-fatal alcoholic seizures to getting her life back, Julie is a testament to recovery and grace.

Julie's Story

Julie Hegdahl (formally Julie Sondgeroth) was a patient from 2016 to 2020.

"I received care at Broadlawns over 50 times, or so I am told. I was an alcoholic. I spent the darkest years of my life in Des Moines. Some of that time period, I cannot even recall where I lived, if I was homeless, or in various treatment facilities. As I know now, I have always been an alcoholic. I was born this way. It wasn't until after I had weight loss surgery that my alcoholism was exacerbated by drinking day and night, regardless of physical or any other kind of consequences."

In addition to all of the other hospitals in Des Moines, Julie was seen many times at Broadlawns Medical Center for care. "When I woke up in a hospital, I never knew where I was until I asked a nurse. It was a morbidly familiar experience; waking up and realizing I was attached to cords, intubated, or restrained. If I was lucky, there would be a nurse call button close enough that I could call someone in to fill in the gaps of my memory and help me discover where I was, for how long, and with what injuries."

In 2017, Julie suffered a seizure in her apartment. She awoke on the floor, having no idea what had happened. "I felt paralyzed with pain, and there was blood everywhere. I realized that I couldn't move and discovered my left foot to be the size of a football and rapidly turning black. I called my dad in a panic to ask him to bring me to the hospital, he urged me to call 911, but I didn't even know my address." Julie's dad took her to the Emergency Department, where she found out she had broken her foot in five places. Over the course of the next 11 months, Julie would have two foot surgeries. Shortly after, Julie awoke on the floor in that same apartment, this time covered in blood. "I had a seizure, fell on my face, split my lip, and knocked out my two front teeth." Again, Julie had another seizure. This time, biting through her tongue which needed stiches to repair. "There are many more similar incidents, broken bones, and war stories. Medical staff have estimated that I have had hundreds of alcoholic seizures, sometimes multiple a day."

Julie didn’t want to hear what the medical staff told her - that the solution for her involved not drinking. She wanted to believe that she could control her drinking and associated behavior, despite all the evidence that she couldn’t. She found herself attempting suicide while under the influence of alcohol. "For three years, I spent as much time as I could drinking, even though I could see that I had lost everything: jobs, apartments, family members, etc. I had resigned myself to alcoholism and to having an alcoholic death. I wasn't even scared anymore. I had surrendered to the disease."

Julie's Recovery Journey from Alcohol Addiction

Julie came to the realization that there must be a reason that she was still alive.

"My attempts to kill myself drinking did not work, and I would inevitably wake up in a hospital. I felt relief when I woke up at Broadlawns. I knew that since I had not been successful in killing myself, I would be nursed back to some level of health to give sobriety another try. The cycle would continue. Eventually, I lost everything. Then one morning in April 2020, I woke for the last time in a hospital. I was so beaten down. I just laid there and eventually ended up in the psych ward where I had a different kind of surrender. My spiritual awakening happened at Broadlawns." Being admitted into an inpatient behavioral health unit affected Julie's life in more ways than one.

"I realized how bad I had been at trying to die. I began to think that maybe there was a bigger reason for my survival. Surrender washed over me like a warm blanket in a cold dark room and said to me 'one more time'. One more try to live. One more try to exist. One more try to find out what could happen. It felt like relief. I had been a lifeguard for seven years prior to all of this. I learned in training that the most dangerous thing about saving a drowning victim is that they struggle and flail around-making rescue dangerous and even deadly. I had been like that drowning victim-splashing around while others tried to save me. I never stopped fighting even though resistance was terminal. But there, on that morning in Broadlawns, God said to me 'stop struggling to be saved'. So, I ceased fighting; everyone and everything. I followed the rules, took the treatment, and cleared my mind of all the bad I had done in order to believe that I was worth saving."

Julie spent months in our inpatient unit. "I stayed in the psych ward for awhile, I'm not sure exactly how long. From there, I went to a 28-day treatment facility in Iowa City. It was maybe my 14th attempt at treatment. There, I continued to surrender to a power greater than myself and started the process of recovering. It is a miracle to say that I have not drank since that morning I woke up at Broadlawns for the final time. 

And, what followed has been truly miraculous as well: I got a great job in Northern Iowa, lived on my own without relapsing, met my future husband, moved to Decorah where I got another amazing job, was married this summer, I have a savings account, and gas in my car. The greatest gift of all has been to rediscover my love for family—namely my son, James, who has been through all of this with me. He is an adult now, and he is so smart and kind and funny and generous. He is everything I wanted to be for so long. He is that! And, he speaks to me now. We see each other, and he stood with me as my best man when I got married. My husband and his family have never seen me drunk. I have a sponsor and work a true program in Alcoholics Anonymous. I even sponsor another woman—and have learned more from her strength than I can put into words. I do the potlucks, the events, and all of the fun stuff. I also do the sad stuff. Currently, I work as a recovery coach in Mason City. I have also been invited to be a board member at Sunrise Recovery in Spring Grove, MN, which is an enormous honor for me. I have worked with families who have DHS involvement, cried with mothers losing their children, and testified in court to protect families." 

Julie says the fact that she survived is all due to the level of care she received at Broadlawns Medical Center.

"Broadlawns was the birthplace of my spiritual experience. The birthplace of my awakening, the safe spot to rest and recover. The nurses were so kind to me. They didn't treat me like a problem, but rather as a person. I've wanted to thank you for some time, but my overwhelming gratitude is hard to wrangle, and even harder to communicate. I wish you could feel what I feel. So, thank you! You saved my life. And now my life is currently helping others, and that's a testament to recovery and grace. Please tell the nurses who helped me thank you. Please continue to treat all of your patients with respect, compassion, and humanity. It can be so easy to discard an individual we believe to be beyond repair. However, in every human person, there is a soul that seeks freedom from the bondage of self. In every addict, there is a warrior who is fighting to survive. And, in all alcoholics, a child learning that surrender will save their life."

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