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posted: 1/1/2012 6:30 AM

Lombard woman's near-death experience shapes her life

Lombard woman's book headed to big screen

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  • Julie Papievis was in a coma for a month in 1993 after a car accident.

      Julie Papievis was in a coma for a month in 1993 after a car accident.
    Courtesy GoBackandBeHappy.COM

  • Julie Papievis lives in Lombard, and the book about her life after the horrendous accident has been optioned for a movie.

       Julie Papievis lives in Lombard, and the book about her life after the horrendous accident has been optioned for a movie.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Julie Papievis, whose book about her life after the horrendous traffic accident has been optioned for a movie, will speak Thursday, Dec. 5, in Arlington Heights.

       Julie Papievis, whose book about her life after the horrendous traffic accident has been optioned for a movie, will speak Thursday, Dec. 5, in Arlington Heights.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Julie Papievis of Lombard, who suffered a severe brain injury after a car accident, co-authored a book optioned as a movie.

       Julie Papievis of Lombard, who suffered a severe brain injury after a car accident, co-authored a book optioned as a movie.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • "Go Back and Be Happy" tells the story of Julie Papievis of Lombard.

       "Go Back and Be Happy" tells the story of Julie Papievis of Lombard.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

For years Julie Papievis' twin messages have been there's hope after the worst of misfortunes and that young people need to prevent car accidents like the one that haunts her life.

The horrendous traffic accident 18 years ago left her clinically dead, in a coma with an all-but-severed brainstem, she said. She glimpsed heaven, where her two deceased grandmothers told her she had to go back to living, and she's written a book, "Go Back and Be Happy," about her experiences.

Now it's time for Hollywood.

Lani Netter, who helped her husband, Gil, produce the award-winning movie "The Blind Side" with Sandra Bullock, has optioned the movie rights to Papievis' book.

"Women need to hear that they can carry on no matter what life does to them," Netter said in a phone interview. "I love how her spirit came back."

Stories about heaven are popular right now, Netter said, and that commercial viability is important to getting the movie made as a feature.

"We'll work as partners telling her story," Netter said, who hopes to get the Lombard resident to California this winter to start the process.

Papievis will speak of her experience on behalf of her alma mater, Robert Morris University, Thursday at Arlington Heights Memorial Library, and Netter plans to attend.

The accident when she was 29 put Papievis in a coma, and her left side was paralyzed when she woke up a month later in a rehabilitation center. It ended her career as a sales executive. It also meant she could never have children and left her with many other physical issues that make full-time employment impossible.

She works two days a week for a Chicago law firm, talks at schools about 20 times a year for a group called Think First and receives Social Security disability payments.

Cellphones and texting lead to car accidents that cause severe brain injuries, Papievis said, and many students she talks to do not know the rules, such as no cellphone use at all until they are 19.

"Blue tooth, red tooth, no tooth. No cellphones while driving," she said. "And no texting. No one can spell and drive. Of course, you can't spell anyway," she teased.

Papievis, who will turn 48 the day she speaks in Arlington Heights, has lots of blond curly hair and dimples that only really show when she laughs.

She tells young people the brutal facts of the vertigo she still suffers, the left-side paralysis and the inability to swallow or talk after she awoke from the coma, not to mention the humiliation of realizing she was wearing a diaper.

"I just love the kids -- they are so honest," she said. "They think I'm funny. I don't think I have ever been funny before. Who knew?"

One thing Papievis has always been is an athlete, and completing an indoor triathlon at Advocate Good Samaritan Fitness and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, her hometown, was an important milestone years after her accident.

Her neurosurgeon, Dr. John Shea, who was on-call the night that Papievis was taken to the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, said she is "truly a miracle" in a foreword he wrote for her book.

He did not expect her to survive the night.

"Over these past fifteen years, Julie has not ceased to amaze me," Shea wrote. "She overcame depression, ran in a 5K race only six years after her accident, participated in a triathlon and became a voice for the 'silent epidemic' of traumatic brain injury."

Papievis and her co-author, Margaret McSweeney of Barrington Hills, self-published the book. In 2008, it was republished by an imprint of English Christian publisher Lion Hudson, and it is now in at least six countries. It sells for $13.99. It's available online, at bookstores and through her website gobackandbehappy.com.

Papievis has talked with and met the driver of the vehicle that sped through a red light and hit her little sports car. He was a young student at College of DuPage at the time. Papievis has invited him to join her at the library Thursday but is not sure he will come.

She tells survivors to remember their lives were not perfect before the traumatic event.

"I'm here to tell you that you too can take something overwhelming and hopeless and turn it around and be hopeful. Their job loss; their child having cancer; them having cancer; their heart attack; it's equally as bad for them, and I understand that. Each of us has something like that that comes through our lives."

Papievis and Netter met at a writers conference in St. Louis.

Netter's current projects include the story of two Holocaust survivors and a documentary she is finishing about Jeff Garner, who designs eco-friendly clothing, including the dress Netter wore to the 2010 Academy Awards when "The Blind Side" was nominated.

Netter said she believes in Papievis' story, but her production company is new, and she wasn't sure she was the best person to make the movie, but Papievis insisted.

"I met her at a Christian conference. I trusted her immediately. I didn't trust myself to do her wonderful story. I told her I have my hands full. I read the book and started getting excited. She said that was God telling me to do it."

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