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A professor’s stunning journey back to life


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Sacramento State Nursing Professor Joyce Mikal-Flynn nearly drowned 22 years ago and was brought back to life. She doesn’t recall the specifics of her ordeal, which included being on a respirator. But she’s grateful to be alive and has written a book, Turning Tragedy Into Triumph, about her incredible recovery. 


Joyce Mikal-Flynn was 36 when her heart stopped beating while she was swimming a relay race.

Mikal-Flynn’s goal is to inform people that there’s a system of care and rehabilitation that can help them cope with and overcome catastrophic experiences. The nurse practitioner, who received her master of science degree at Sac State in 1994, was a clinician at the time of her near-death experience.

“As an avid athlete who has been in several marathons and triathlons, I was very competitive,” she says. “So I recruited my husband and a couple of friends to enter a 100-yard relay race at the Jesuit High School pool.” She suddenly passed out and plunged to the bottom of the pool, and remained there until her alarmed husband dove into the water and brought her topside. Her heart had stopped, and a couple of doctors gave her 22 minutes of CPR before she finally revived. She was 36 at the time.

Mikal-Flynn suffered major brain trauma and began the long journey back to cope with her tragedy. She was so inspired by the care and physical rehabilitation that she wrote her doctoral dissertation on her experience. Her research led to the discovery of others who had undergone terrible tragedies, yet were able to prevail.

“I wanted to share their and my stories with others who need to know what they are able to do rather than their limitations,” she says.

She was hired at Sacramento State seven years ago, having earned tenure last year, and also works in Sutter Medical Group’s urgent care. “I love teaching,” she says. “Being able to share my and others’ experiences informs my work as a clinician.”

As a family nurse practitioner for more than 20 years, she eagerly promotes a new model and system of rehabilitation she named: MetaHabilitation. This restorative regimen has worked for her, and she’s convinced it can help others.

Turning Tragedy Into Triumph is available in the Hornet Bookstore at a discounted $15.

For more information about the professor and her system, visit For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

– Alan Miller