Author Michelle (Talyor) Wulfestieg visited the From the Heart ladies monthly luncheon at Shepard of the Valley Lutheran church in Anza recently reminiscing about her high school days in Anza.
The visit “was like coming home,” she said. She was invited to come and share her life’s story that led her to write her award winning book “All We Have is Today.” The invitation was extended by FTH member Allison Jordan.
Wulfestieg grew up in the Anza area and attended Hamilton K-12 School with Jordan’s daughters who were there to witness Wulfestieg’s health trials and triumphs. Jordan is still good friends with Wulfestieg’s mother who lives in the area.
During the group visit, Wulfestieg recalled that her first day of junior high school was anything but normal. She said she found herself paralyzed on her right side; she walked with a limp, could not move her right arm and was swollen and puffy on her face from the steroids that were prescribed by doctors. Her hair was falling out from radiation treatments. It was not long before that when she was a happy, healthy preteen. Now she was handicapped, teased by kids who once called her friend. But, she said she was soon defended by new friends, including someone she once bullied.
A mass of tangled veins and arteries called an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), sometimes referred to as a lesion, was the cause. It was something she was born with and at age 11, gave her trouble. It caused a severe stroke as the tangled blood vessels and arteries began to burst. Most of these lesions are the size of a dime, but Wulfestieg’s was much larger than most.
“It was the size of a sausage in the left side of my brain,” she said.
Six months later, after her first gamma knife radiation treatment, she was on a summer camping trip when her right foot then her right leg quit working eventually causing a permanent paralysis to her right side and arm. Not only did Wulfestieg find herself permanently handicapped at a young age but her life was in jeopardy as well.
This was the beginning of a journey of discovery. Her outlook on life was about to change. She faced certain mortality. Doctors said she would not live to see her thirtieth birthday. Faced with this fact, she eventually came to the conclusion to live life to its fullest each and every day. Through her continuing journey she is realizing what really matters, who she is, and what her worth is to her Heavenly Father.
Growing in faith and understanding, she found a future and a life purpose. She found herself going to Cal Lutheran University after high school. There she joined an Out to Sea class which had her traveling abroad for college credits. Wulfestieg said her world opened up even more with this experience. Travel was something she loved and had experienced with her Uncle John in the past. Seeing the place Ann Frank had lived and reading from her journal changed her. Eventually she learned she wanted to reach out and help others who were suffering, dying and afraid, so she studied hospice care.
When she took a Death and Dying class she meet a young man who was different, and they fell in love. In her words, “I could not believe he would want to marry me knowing my short life expectancy,” but marry they did. On Jan. 4, 2008, the Wulfestieg’s had been married two and a half years, had a house, good jobs and Michelle had just finished her PhD thesis when her AVM began to act out again. She was only 25. This event left doctors no choice but to try and remove the AVM mass, if not it would kill her anyway. The earlier medical options for such a surgery was too risky. Doctors seeing the recurrence saw a different prognosis. They now believed that to remove the AVM or to radiate it again was out of the question because chances were she would be left more severely impaired or worse, a vegetable, but she might not die. Doctors said they still could do the surgery if she chose, with a slim chance of some limited recovery. Wulfestieg had to make a decision and her courageous choice, at that time was to live her life with the time she had left to the fullest. She consented to the surgery.
Now in an ambulance having given her consent and struggling for conscience, Wulfestieg tried to hold on but she knew she had to let go of her fears, and she did.
What happened next was life changing. In chapter 15 of her book, titled “The Place of Prayers,” she describes her experience. Here are some excerpts from that chapter:
“I was caught somewhere between life and death, I was no longer of my flesh. I didn’t go toward the light, I was the light, and it was all around me as I experienced complete tranquility, an overwhelming and all inspiring sense of peace that was unmatched to anything I have ever felt. I was completely enveloped by the presence of God, surrounded by pure love. Like a newborn who is swaddled in its mother’s blanket, I was shrouded in a warm cup of serenity and adoration … .”
“I began to hear voices all around me speaking in every language. Somehow I knew they were prayers of people around the world rising up to God. I could literally feel the prayer spoken from the lips of my loved ones, and they covered me,” Wulfestieg wrote.
“Every prayer, every request, every hope, and every wish for healing, for a miracle – the prayers surrounded me like the afternoon glow of the setting sun or warm cotton sheets fresh from the dryer, giving comfort I had never known. The prayers became louder and more passionate, penetrating every piece of who I was. In the name of Jesus, let her be healed…
“Like a laser, the prayers became so concentrated that they shot through me, infusing more light and more peace, lifting me higher and higher. Wrapped and everything that is beautiful, everything that is good, I understood God’s perfect love. There was no doubt I was with God and God was with me, and together we were one,” another excerpt said.
She said she did not want to leave that Place of Prayers and go back, but she understood it was not her time to stay. She returned to life on the surgery table and said she could hear those around her talking even though she was still unable to communicate and was still in a coma. When she awoke she would had a story to tell and a life to live. She said through the grace of God she is still walking, talking, a living miracle of God’s grace and love.
Today Wulfestieg, 33, is free of the AVM that threatened her life. She is a gifted award winning author, motivational speaker, a patient advocate and devoted hospice worker. She has brought to light the need for such care drawing the attentions of the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Harrison Ford.
At the From the Heart luncheon, Wulfestieg openly shared her story. The ladies were surprised to hear her story, one that she had never gone into such detail before at a speaking engagement nor been so moved with so much emotion while speaking. She described her usual motivational speech as vanilla in comparison to what she just shared. Afterwards, the ladies gathered around and spoke of how they realized that reliving such a life changing story could not be easy for her and yet they were impressed by the depth of it and that she had done so with dignity and grace. They were honored that she had shared that part of her life with them.
Wulfestieg brought a few books that sold quickly. She signed each of them for the ladies.
“You could hardly put it down. It was honest, open, and thought provoking. It draws you in and leads you on a journey. It hits right to the heart,” said one member who read her book.
To learn more about Michelle Wulfestieg and to purchase her book go to www.allwehaveistoday.com and www.facebook.com/AllWeHaveIsToday. Check out her active blog page on her website for inspiration and good advice for daily living with life’s challenges.