How an ISM Member Cheated Death

Author: Paul Larudee

Date: October 17, 2016


Julie Rufo’s last Facebook post (on the war in Syria) was probably minutes before she almost died on September 2, 2016.

I first met Julie at a talk I gave on the successful boat trips to Gaza, in late 2008. She told me that she would like to help, and that, as a retired person, she couldn’t offer much financially, but could make a gift of her talent as a professional bookkeeper. 

That was the beginning of a friendship, as well as an invaluable resource for the small but ambitious nonprofit corporation that sponsors the International Solidarity Movement and a number of other human rights projects concerned with the Middle East and Cuba. With as many as fourteen separate bank accounts, it’s quite a job, but Julie is definitely up to it.  She has kept the books for major entertainers, and makes it look easy.

Weeks later, Julie described what happened that September 2nd.


photo credit: Joseph Woodard Multimedia

Friday afternoon, 9/2/16, returned from grocery shopping, ate lunch, reading newspaper.
My face began to feel numb and funny, so I got up to look in the bathroom mirror to see if anything was drooping (was I having a stroke?). No droops, but center of my vision was clouded and outlines were white/silver/black edged jagged lightning spokes.
Not good, I thought, so went and got the medic alert necklace from bedroom and put it on. Then, still not feeling right, went to blood pressure machine on kitchen counter and took it twice: 70/40; 74: 44. That’s really bad.

Now I am feeling much worse. My wrists are curling inward, as happens with lack of oxygen to the brain. Tried to press the button on my medic alert and could not make my fingers exert any pressure. Fingers felt dead. Went into bedroom where medic alert machine is with large button. I could not press that either, so I put my elbow on the button and pressed down with all my body weight until it connected and the voice said “are you all right?”. To which, of course I answered no and described how I was feeling…very badly. They promised to send help.

Went back to living room counter, tried to call [son] Mike on cell, could not press buttons. Finally must have gotten something through because I heard Mike saying “I’m coming, I’m coming Mom”, “We’re coming”. I could hear the sirens around him which I figured were my sirens.

I tried to pick up the phone, but could not. Finally got it with my forearms, put it into a pocket of my backpack, and managed to zip the pocket. I slid my arm through a strap and opened the front door and waited.

Next thing, I was swarmed by 3 EMTs, the building manager, and Michael.
The EMTs began asking me current awareness questions, then asked me to tell them what had happened. When I told them how I had taken my blood pressure and what it was, they were very grateful. One said, “thank you for doing that, it’s very helpful”.
Then off in the chair to the ambulance to Kaiser Oakland with Maggie on her way from Novato and Michael following in his car.

Thankfully, Julie survived after a seven-hour operation and is already driving herself again, with her doctor’s approval.  Back in 2008, she had warned me that her heart could go at any time, and that I should be prepared.  As it turns out, she was much more prepared than I.

It wasn’t even a heart attack, but an aneurism in the aorta.  She is making a good recovery, and is back to needling me for the monthly financial activity information.  Our accountant confirms that she’s a bookkeeper extraordinaire.  We knew we were lucky to have her, just not how lucky.

If it was scary for Julie, it was also for us.  So yes, Julie, we’ve finally created the Plan B that you said we should have, so that another valued member of our community, fifty years younger, can be trained by you to take over, whenever you’re ready.  For now, we would like to salute you for your major contribution to our organization, as well as your comradeship, keen intellect and moral compass in the cause of justice.