CHICAGO — After a near death experience, Julie Papievis is now sharing her story with teens to promote safe driving and raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries.
Papievis miraculously survived a crash 27 years ago in Lombard that was so serious it nearly severed her brain stem.
“That’s when it was determined I didn’t ‘have enough brain function to keep me alive’ so they had to put me on life support,’” Papievis said.
Doctors told her parents the outlook was grim. But after six weeks in a coma, the 29-year-old surprised everyone.
“I just woke up, like I just woke up this morning. Literally like I woke up this morning,” she said.
The left side of her body was paralyzed and damage to her vocal cords left her unable to speak.
Today, a remarkably recovered Papievis is using her vocal cords now more than ever.
As a volunteer with “Think First” — a foundation that works to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries — she shares her story with others.
“Dr. Shea, my neurosurgeon, said ‘I want you to get into the schools and start to talk to these kids, because I’m sick of seeing them coming through our ER and there’s nothing we can do to fix these injuries,’” she said.
For the past 12 years Papievis has spoken to teens about texting, marijuana use and the graduated driving laws.
“It’s helping them to really understand that they do take things in stages and that they have to take getting their driver’s license very seriously,” she said.
“It’s definitely now in the back of my mind to stay safe and not get distracted by random snap chats or texts so,” said Katya Kauth, a student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.
“I think they are so impacted by her story because they can see themselves in her and you know what could happen to them,” said nurse Michelle Klecka.
Papievis said she believes she died the day of the crash and recalls being surrounded by a bright light and her two deceased grandmothers told her that her body would heal.
“Then she said, ‘Go back and be happy,’” she said.
That brush with death inspired her to write her first book, “Go Back and Be Happy” in 2005.
But it’s also Papievis’ attitude that’s inspirational.
The former accountant landed her latest job with a financial firm after simply walking through the door.
“If you spend a second around Julie you’re gonna be infected with her passion and her enthusiasm for what she does and we immediately thought it would be a great idea to make her officially make her a brand ambassador for our team,” Marc Horner, Founder of Fairhaven Wealth Management said.
Papievis said she’s also benefited from the change of course her life has taken and said if she had to go through it all again — she would.
“I get to do some amazing things right now and I get to touch peoples’ lives in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to before and I really feel like god gave me this mission,” she said.
Papievis will release her second book this summer.