How Dying for 37 Seconds Changed Her Life and Will Inspire You in Yours: With Stephanie Arnold

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“We are all born with intuition. I just didn’t know mine would not only save my life, it would change the course of my career, exponentially.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Arnold, the author of 37 Seconds. Stephanie was a TV producer who spent 27 years creating and directing TV shows, music videos, and documentaries. She left the business in 2008 after meeting the love of her life. It was during the birth of her second child that Stephanie suffered a rare—and often fatal—condition called an amniotic fluid embolism (or AFE) and died on the operating table for 37 seconds. Everything she does now is a direct result of her survival.

Thank you for doing this with us. What is your backstory?

I produced television for more than 27 years. From the Puerto Rican Day Parade and the New York Magazine Awards Show to show-running syndicated shows and network shows like Deal or No Deal in spanish for Telemundo. I worked in development for a company who created Surreal Life and Flavor of Love, directed and produced music videos for a few well-known artists, and pitched and sold my own programming. I was even nominated for a couple of New York Emmys. My intuition led me to great career decisions and to work with some of the best people in the industry. 
I moved to Chicago in 2008 when I married my husband Jonathan. As a result, my career stalled. I was ok with it because it forced me to shift gears and focus on what became a priority for me. Creating a family. We already had one daughter, Valentina, who my husband brought with him into our
marriage (not a step-daughter to me at all, more like my own flesh and blood), and we gave birth to our first daughter, Adina, two years after we got married.

Pregnant with our second child, I started having premonitions that I would die giving birth. My intuition was at an all-time high. This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. This pregnancy was different. Somehow, I knew I was going to need a hysterectomy. I felt that I was going to bleed out, that the baby would
be fine, that my organs were going to attach to each other, and many more detailed visions into the not so distant future. I told everyone. My husband, (a science-minded, PhD Economist from University of Chicago and former Air Force pilot), along with everyone else to whom I voiced my fears, told me the data didn’t support what I was seeing and told me to relax. Everyone, including all the doctors, nurses, friends, strangers, and people on Facebook simply thought I was a hormonal and a histrionic pregnant woman.

That is, until the day I gave birth to our son Jacob and moments later, I died.

I had an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare and often fatal condition (1 in 40,000) where amniotic cells get into the mother’s bloodstream, and if you happen to be allergic to it, your body goes into a type of anaphylaxis and in most cases, you don’t survive. The only reason I did survive, is because I spoke up and ONE DOCTOR listened to her own intuition, flagged my file incorporating extra blood and a crash cart in the OR. And that is 100 percent what saved my life. Or as one MD said to me recently, “I want to correct you, YOU saved your own life.” Technically, we were both right. 
Since the experience, my life and my world in television have never been the same.

Who is someone you greatly admire?

Sara Blakely of SPANX. She is brilliant, found a need, and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar company. However, her drive to create so she can give is what inspires me most about her. Pledging half of her wealth to charity and focusing on building up women, (instead of tearing them down) is awe-inspiring.

How do you bring goodness to the world?

People tell me it took courage to survive, but the real courage for me (outside of speaking up when no one was listening), was reliving every painful detail in my book, 37 Seconds.

My way of dealing with pain is to express it, write it, film it, and share it, but my husband’s way is much different. Suppress and repress is his M.O. and he is comfortable with it. Asking Jonathan to relive his most vulnerable side took a lot of courage from him and I will admit, the process of writing took a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears to get through it.

If it never got published, this would likely be the end of our story, I would continue being a wife and mom, maybe dabble some more in TV, and Jonathan would be annoyed I cracked him open for an exercise in “sharing our emotions.” Not bad at all, just not what was in the cards for me. And even though I saw what would happen to me before I flat-lined, I could never have predicted what would happen in my not so distant future.

When HarperCollins bought the rights, they were certain it would compete with Heaven is for Real and Proof of Heaven. It did not. I’m not saying people didn’t embrace the book, but they wanted more. The overall reaction was “I wanted to know more about what she saw in heaven,” and I only address everything that was verifiable. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt, some other energy force is working beyond what we can see.

I could have gone into more detail, but I stuck to my intuition and felt there was a stronger message here to validate other’s visions, foresight, and the ability to feel things around us which many consider illogical. And we were pleasantly surprised by who was being affected by our story—the medical community, the agnostics, the skeptics, and complete strangers from all over the world.

Both clinicians and scientists started reaching out telling their own “sixth
sense” and intuitive stories. Every day people would explain how they had nagging feelings about a moment in their lives which they ignored, resulting in horrific outcomes and wishing they had the courage to speak up. They told how my story is now helping others speak up and saving lives.

I respect what happened to me immensely, for without it, I would never have been able to connect to these individuals on such a vulnerable and profound level. It made me realize how important this topic is, how it needs to be shared, and how science and intuitive medicine are both important for patients and doctors alike. And it showed me how it needs to be taken more seriously.

I have become a patient advocate and speaker for many medical institutions, legislative conferences, blood donation services, and universities. Educating doctors and patients alike on using their own intuition when listening or speaking to each other is one of my missions, and finding strength within yourself and your own spirit to overcome even the most catastrophic of situations is another.
I have told many stories in my career, I just never thought the biggest story I
would tell, would be the most personal one.

What are your “5 things you wish you’d known before your experience,” and why?

  1. Listen to your gut. I know we hear this, almost as a cliché, but REALLY—
    listen to your gut. My story takes it to extremes, in the fact that it can save your life, but a career, a job, a relationship, anything you decide which goes against your gut, will ultimately make you unhappy and cause you to wish that you hadn’t chose that path. How many times have we told ourselves, “I should have listened to my gut!” Take it seriously. It could result in the best decision of your life, or it can save someone’s life—maybe even your own.
  2. When an obstacle is put in front of you, go around it and don’t take it personally. Just plow through it. However, if many obstacles are preventing you from reaching that specific goal, it might not be your time to reach that goal. The universe has something else in mind for you at this time. You know the saying “go with the flow”? That flow is energy. The obstacles are blockages of that flow. Sometimes you go around it and sometimes there is another path which gets highlighted. Taking the other path leads to a flow where you feel “Hey, I am in a zone.” Ultimately, you will end up at your goal. It just might not be the one with which you started.
  3. It can be done. “It cannot be done,” is something almost everyone in my career has told me. “It isn’t done this way,” “You cannot do that.” Well, if I listened to each and every person who told me that, not only would I have never succeeded in my career, but I would not be alive. Trust yourself. Have faith in yourself. Worst case scenario: you fail, you dust yourself off, and you learn from the experience. Best case: you proved it could be done against their “so-called” odds, but most importantly, it got done because you stuck to your instincts and did it!
  4. If you sense something, say something. This is something which spoke
    loud and clear to me during my pregnancy. But I realize now, I had been sensing discomfort in many parts of my career and relationships along the way. Had I just spoken up, dealt with my frustration or misunderstandings, things would not have escalated, because it would have been handled early on. Miscommunications happen all the time. Speaking up would have helped me navigate things better and be more efficient with my time, even if I got fired. Why? Because I would have learned valuable lessons on what not to settle for in the next job and my interview process would have been clearer, leading me to a better start the next go-round.
  5. Embrace change. People, places, goals, businesses, and you, change. Change is a great thing. When I didn’t get a job or lost a job to someone else, I used to ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” I wish I would have learned back then what I know now. Many people stay in a job they dislike, complacent and living each day out like it’s Groundhog’s day. The benefit of hindsight and having a near death experience is that I understand how fleeting life can be. And when you come so close to death, you start evaluating what you want in your life. 
    My decision to shift gears was thrust upon me, because I had no choice. I tried to go back to producing. I had created a new show I was out pitching, yet everyone wanted to hear our story. I couldn’t get away from it. They kept saying “you should write a book.” I didn’t want to and I continued to pitch and I continued to get rejected. When I finally embraced what everyone else saw for me, the energy stopped working against me and this beautiful path lit up showing me exactly where I needed to be. At many points in one’s life, there are paths to take a chance and make a change. One of those decisions could change the trajectory of your life for the better. Embrace the change.

What are some things you’re working on or excited about?

The book, 37 Seconds is selling in different languages, in 12 countries and growing. I continue to speak, and I went back to TV, but in a different capacity. I signed my life rights to a production company to create a scripted series based on what happened and what continues to happen. Yes, I still have premonitions and yes, I see much more. The journey continues into the next book.
I am also currently writing a movie with a well-known scribe which you will hear about in the upcoming year.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Sheryl Sandberg. I love my husband the way she loves (present tense is on purpose) hers. I had such a visceral reaction when I learned of her husband’s passing that I reached out to her immediately. I had zero expectations I would hear from her, I just wanted to give her support energetically. I never got a response, but I felt compelled to talk to her about that soulful connection and how he will again show up for her. I was moved by her open letter on Facebook and her incredible book, Option B. The resilience and strength it takes to try as best you can to compartmentalize the pain, keep going for the sake of others—especially your children—and move forward. She is
someone I would love to break bread with and just give her and her children a hug.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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