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Julie Garton-Good: A Profile Of Personal Courage

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 20 April 2005 00:00

She's the only woman to make the NAR's "25 Most Influential" list twice, and the only person to be awarded the Real Estate Educators Association's "Educator of the Year" three times. Throughout Julie Garton-Good's extraordinary career as a columnist for the Miami Herald, a writer, a speaker and the founder of the National Association of Real Estate Consultants (NAREC), it's been little known that she has also been dealing with tremendous personal challenges.

It began 10 years ago when she was speaking at the NAR convention in Atlanta. Garton-Good's daughter Crystal, then 22, came to visit from her home in Orlando. The two had a fun girls-night-out planned.

"Crystal was in college and working as a paralegal," recalls Garton-Good. "She walked into the hotel room, and I was shocked. She had lost a lot of weight and she was so pale. She complained that her knees hurt. She was worried that she might have an eating disorder."

That notion was dispelled the minute the 5' 10" Crystal coughed up blood. She was down to 100 pounds.

The two took a cab to the closest hospital where the staff suggested that they go instead, to the academic hospital at Emory University/Crawford Long. The decision saved Crystal's life.

"The ER doctor said he has been there 25 years and had only seen it one other time," says Garton-Good. "My daughter was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis anca-positive vasculitis. It's one of 69 'designer' diseases in the family of Lupus, where the good cells turn on themselves. In her chest, her lungs were filling with blood and the capillaries were bursting. She was bleeding to death. Within 12 hours she was on life support."

One out of a million people contract Wegener's. The death rate is 90 percent, and most who get the disease only live a maximum of 15 years. Causes are unknown, and there is no cure. Current treatments have not significantly improved, although care and understanding of the disease have, thanks to the interest of teaching universities like Duke University, among others.

Crystal was in intensive care on a ventilator for 21 days and in a coma. She was given chemotherapy, which teaches the cells "new memory." With little improvement, the staff prepared Garton-Good to take Crystal off life support but Garton-Good balked. Later that day, Crystal suddenly awoke, grabbed a pencil and scribbled, "What the hell happened?"

She went home a few days later, to a life of limited independence, but her legal career was gone. Over the years, she went through two million-dollar health insurance policies, which included covering the costs of receiving a donated kidney from her mother, Julie, seven years ago. Her body rejected the kidney, and she's been through a litany of gastric problems and system breakdowns since. Today, she receives dialysis with Medicaid benefits.

Crystal is 32 years old, and has been in remission for 10 years -- if the experience that she's been through can be called remission. She takes 15 medicines a day, twice a day, and is too weak to get out of bed most days. She has grand mal seizures and gastric distress, and has to be fed out of tube. She has spent as much as 200 days a year for the last 10 years in the hospital.

Doctors have occasionally suggested giving up. Once Garton-Good was told to take her daughter home and "let her go." Instead she pulled out her credit card, ordered an ambulance and moved her to another hospital where her gastric problems were diagnosed as being related to the Wegener's. That was three years ago.

People can be ignorant and cruel. On a shopping trip, with Crystal protected by latex gloves and a mask from the germs of others, a salesperson pointedly cleaned an earring Crystal had touched from the display. Garton-Good wanted to shake her. "Crystal is the one in danger here, not you," she thought.

Among the questions that people ask Garton-Good, besides the painful and stupid -- "Is she your only child?" (like that would make a difference, and yes, Crystal is an only child for those who must know) is "How do you do it?"

It’s a good question. How does Garton-Good continue her inspiring speaking engagements, write those wonderful helpful books, and take on the monarchy of the real estate world with new business model ideas?

"The work has been my relief," she says frankly. "There's nothing I love more than to speak to a group of people. I actually interweave stories about Crystal into the engagements. One thing I've realized, is everybody has their own heartbreak. There are others with severe, chronic and challenging diseases, and it lets them know that I am in the same shoes. Just because I've come from afar to speak to you doesn't mean I'm not just like you. I relate to people and they can relate back to me. They share their stories with me."

"Early on, I was not able to do it. I would sob, and that's not a good way to motivate a group," she laughs.

To cope, Garton-Good has learned to work smarter, not harder. She travels more systematically, bunching her bookings so she's not on the road as much. "I started writing more and I love the combination of speaking and writing," says Garton-Good.

A lot of good for the real estate industry has come out of Garton-Good's ordeal. "The year I gave Crystal the kidney, I started doing consumer research, and that ended up ramping up NAREC." NAREC, an organization that helps real estate agents provide fee-for-service as consultants, has helped revolutionize real estate sales, enabling agents to make money with consumers who don't intend to hire agents as full-service agents. Unlike "discounted" services, fee-for-service under Garton-Good's tutelage is full-fee, as an attorney or other professional might charge by the hour or by the service.

"What this is done has helped me diversify, and I looked at our lives changing and just as she was when she was a kid, Crystal became the top priority," says Garton-Good. "I thought if I'm going to stay in this crazy business, I want to give back. What could I do to give back and make me feel good about what we’re going through?" She joined the support group for Wedener’s, and now serves on the board.

Meanwhile, NAREC has grown to 1300 members in four countries, and is scheduled to hold its third annual conference in Memphis in June. Julie is still speaking, and travels from her home in Idaho near her 90-year-old mother, to see Crystal in Orlando as often as possible. She maintains a second home in Orlando near her fiercely independent, but rapidly failing daughter.

"Talk about your sandwich generation!" laughs Garton-Good.

Yesterday, Garton-Good got a phone call, the one she has been dreading. Crystal spit up blood and went into a coma again. She's been rushed to the hospital. When Realty Times found her, Garton-Good was packing her bags to go to her daughter's side.

"It's like going to the front lines of battle when the phone rings," says Garton-Good. "I'm trying to be positive."

Julie Garton-Good can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Please feel free to share your thoughts and prayers with her, her husband Steve, and their courageous daughter Crystal.

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