Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt completely inspired afterwards? Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Wulfestieg, who is the Executive Director of the Southern California Hospice Foundation, and she is truly an amazing woman.
Her entire life has been filled with obstacles and health challenges. At 11 years of age, Michelle suffered a stroke due to a vascular lesion on her brain. The diagnosis was Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), and her course of treatment included extremely powerful radiation that resulted in the right side of her entire body having permanent paralysis. Surgically removing the brain lesion was not an option, because the doctors felt she wouldn’t survive the procedure. At this point, when many people would feel defeated, she chose to have every moment count. Her courageous spirit and perseverance enabled Michelle to live and make the most of each day.
However, in 2008, Michelle had her mortality challenged yet again, when she had another severe stroke. Her body had fallen into a coma, and the doctors felt the only course of action was to operate and remove the lesion. After eight excruciating days, Michelle’s family witnessed a true miracle when she opened her eyes. The surgery was a success and she no longer had to worry about the brain lesion that she’d lived with for so many years.
Here are the questions that I asked Michelle Wulfestieg along with her very honest and heartfelt responses:
Kellie: If you had the opportunity to share one life message with all of our readers, what would it be?
Michelle: Even when it feels like you are in the desert, on your own, alone and suffering, you must depend upon God. You must trust that he is in control and know that God has a great plan for your life. You were created purposefully and that purpose is often revealed only in times of desperation.
Kellie: What would you say has been your biggest “Ah-Ha Moment” in life, and why?
Michelle: My biggest Ah-Hah moment occurred when I understood and accepted that my life’s purpose was to serve those who are dying. Although I began my career in hospice at the age of 21, it wasn’t until my second stroke that I knew hospice was my calling. After being discharged from the hospital, I had a hospital bed in my living room. I was on a catheter. I could not speak. I could not dial a phone number. I was completely dependent upon others to care for me. And then something happened. Someone would come and hold my hand, or pray with me, or just be present in the moment without having to fill the room with meaningless chatter that my damaged brain couldn’t comprehend anyway, and I thought, this is what my hospice patients must feel like. With every inch of my being, I knew that this is why God saved me. I had to recover so that I could return to work. Seven months later, I did just that, bringing dignity, comfort and closure to those who are nearing the end of life’s journey.
Kellie: Suppose that you were speaking with someone who’d recently survived a near death experience. What words of encouragement would you say to help them maneuver the overwhelming emotions that follow the event?
Michelle: Being with God is a deeply emotional experience. It’s been six years since I woke up from my coma, and when I recall what happened, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to share the experience without becoming emotional. And I am okay with that. Being with God should be an emotional experience. And all of us who are believers have experienced these amazing moments of being with God. The moment you gave your life to Jesus and were saved. Tell me that wasn’t emotional. The moment when the Lord spoke to you, and you heard His voice loud and clear. The moment you found your soul mate. Or the moment your beautiful child was placed into your arms. These moments are often overwhelming because these are the moments when we allow God in. Having a near death experience is no different, but instead of us having to open the door to let God in, He opens the door for us. What I didn’t realize until my near death experience was that God never closes the door. I was the one that kept pulling it shut.
Kellie: How did you maintain your strength, and trust in God, when your own mortality was being challenged?
Michelle: As a young girl, I couldn’t understand what I did to make something so awful happen. There were countless times that I prayed for a miraculous healing, I begged in fact. When no miracle occurred, I turned my back on God. The teenage years were rough. But somewhere deep inside, I knew I was created for more. When the doctors told me I wouldn’t live to be 30 years old, I knew I was faced with a choice: I could live my best life, or I could give up and wait to die. I chose to live. I chose to strive to accomplish all of my goals. To put myself out there. To travel the world. To help others. To serve. And although I had turned my back on God because he didn’t give me what I wanted, God never turned his back on me. He never left my side. I believe that’s where my strength came from.
Michelle Wulfestieg has written a book titled, All We Have Is Today, which tells the story of her life experiences. After speaking with her, I am left in awe of her strength and passion for life. Her book is due for release this summer on Amazon, and I have no doubt it will become a bestseller.