SOUTH PASADENA — For seven weeks, Juli Goldych floated in a bubble between life and death. Her family had stocked her room at Tampa General Hospital with reminders of home. A black teddy bear. A scrapbook put together by her daughter Rory, 11. An eclectic range of her favorite music , from Pitbull to Michael Bublé.
These talismanic tokens both honored the woman in the bed and tugged at the universe to bring her back. Perhaps they even reached what was left of her mind, but there was no way of knowing.
Mrs. Goldych had volunteered at the Sunflower Private School for the six years her daughter attended. She made snacks each Thursday for the kids, who called her Miss Juli, and helped sew their costumes for school plays.
Brian Goldych called his wife "sort of a velvet hammer."
"If you needed her to just be with you, she would just be with you," he said. "But if you needed to get something done, she would roll up her sleeves. She could be a listener or a consoler, a boss or a second in command. She just instinctively knew where to slide in and be the most effective."
The two met in 1998 at the Wine Cellar in North Redington Beach, where she served cocktails and he waited tables. It didn't go well at first.
"I was checking out the cute redhead in the short skirt and the 3-inch heels," said Goldych, 40, a lawyer. "Apparently one of her friends said, 'Hey, who's the blond guy? He's kinda cute.' She responded in a denigrating manner to my personality."
In a Wine Cellar hallway during a busy shift, he tossed off a flirtatious comment. She hit back with an unprintable name.
Later they wondered what would have happened if Match.com had been around. "She said, 'They would never have put us together,' " Goldych said.
Mrs. Goldych was born Juli Ann Sullivan in 1967 in Portland, Maine, but grew up in Redington Shores. She married Brian in 2001, her second marriage. She loved being a stay-at-home mom, taking her daughter to Big Cat Rescue or doing projects around the house. She loved teal, like the lighter blue-green patches of water you see in the Keys — "Juli blue," her friends called it. She preferred chick flicks to futuristic sci-fi movies in which people have somehow let the world go to hell.
The last weekend of July, Mrs. Goldych complained of a dull backache. She entered Palms of Pasadena Hospital July 30, a Tuesday, with severe abdominal pain. In exploratory surgery, doctors found a clot in her superior mesenteric artery, which supplies blood to the small intestine.
They performed two surgeries, removing 18 feet of intestine. The morning of Aug. 4, before a scheduled third surgery, Mrs. Goldych went into bradycardia, an abnormally slow heartbeat.
According to her husband, she was without oxygen for about nine minutes.
On Aug. 9, a neurologist told him his wife was in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors showed him an MRI of a healthy brain next to that of his wife. "It looked like someone had traced the outline of her brain with a white grease pencil," he said. The MRI showed massive brain damage.
Mrs. Goldych was transferred Aug. 15 to Tampa General, where she failed basic tests that might confirm brain activity. Ten days later, her husband was ready to end life support.
He talked to Andrea Sullivan, his sister-in-law, who thought he ought to give it more time.
He changed his mind. "I was ready to say goodbye, but I wasn't ready to make the call," he said. "At first I thought those were the same things, but then I realized they weren't the same thing."
And so an extended family hung in limbo, a bit like the situation facing the family of Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in what doctors called a persistent vegetative state before dying in 2005. By late September, Brian Goldych was looking for a suitable nursing home for his wife.
On Sept. 30, the hospital called. Mrs. Goldych had died. She was 46.
"She made sure nobody else made that decision for her," her husband said. "She made that decision herself."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.