Improving Other People’s Health Using Her Life Lessons

Julie Seals photo

Jacksonville, FL – Julie Seals had to hit rock bottom before she decided to take control and do something with her life. Due to severe neurological complications resulting from being born with Spina bifida, Julie endured 12 surgeries, developed gangrene, and had to have her left leg amputated below the knee. And she did not deal with it very well. “I masked the pain with alcohol, pills, and drugs, and became addicted for 17 long, horrific years. Finally, in 2001, I ended up in prison on a drug charge and decided I would turn my life around. It was the best thing that ever could have happened to me!”

After a move from California to Florida, Julie came to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) for help in becoming employed. VR helps people with disabilities get or keep a job. Julie had tried a couple jobs when she was younger, but they didn’t work out because of her medical issues.

Julie met with VR Counselor, Brandi Nieves, and they discussed her career choices. Julie wanted to help others clean up their lives and become healthier so that’s what they focused on. She started working toward her bachelor’s degree in health science at the University of North Florida. VR helped with tuition and books.

While she was in school, a professor introduced her to the Tobacco Program Manager at Northeast Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC). By the time they finished lunch, Julie had been offered a job as a Quit Smoking Now facilitator. Then, a year later, AHEC’s new Executive Director, Clarissa Ortiz, brought Julie on as a full time independent contractor with the tobacco program. Julie not only worked full time for AHEC, she did it while finishing up her bachelor’s degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude – with top honors!

When she graduated, her boss told her that if she could become a certified wellness coach, she could promote her to that position with the Center. VR paid for the additional training, and Julie is now the Corporate Wellness Program Manager and Rural Site Coordinator for Northeast Florida AHEC.

“I manage the corporate wellness program,” says Julie. “I design and create wellness curriculum and workshops, and I am an educational/motivational speaker and presenter specializing in helping people create their own culture of wellness and achieve their dreams. I also place medical students and doctors into rural clinic rotations to improve health in rural areas. Our mission is to improve health in underserved populations.

Julie enjoys her job and is thriving in her career. “I love working! I like that I’m able to use all the skills that I got while working toward my degree in real life. And I have the freedom to do new things.”

Brandi is excited about how well Julie is doing with her new career. “She’s got the personality that’s an asset for any company. She is the most uplifting positive person I’ve ever met. She does not accept road blocks. Over, under, or around, she’ll find a way. She’s the most motivated, honest person you’ll ever meet.”

VR’s headquarter staff learned this first hand when Julie recently made a presentation at their annual training day. Her presentation, titled “THRIVE: Creating a Culture of Wellness and Achieving Your Dreams” was inspiring as she used her life story to explain why eating and being healthy is so important. She was very well-received.

Julie is thankful for both Brandi and the help from VR. “Brandi has been wonderful and my experience with VR has made all the difference in the world. They’ve been supportive and caring, and I wouldn’t have been able to get my degree or be where I am without their assistance. I am incredibly grateful that there are organizations like VR that make a way for people like me who have a disability to get an education so they can get out in the world, become more productive and make the world a better place.”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website,, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 89 offices across Florida, and last year helped 7,214 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit