Sugar & Strength Blog-“When Were You Faced With a Challenge & Came Out Stronger Because of It?”

Hello friends, family, and followers,

My blog posts have been far and few between over these last couple of years, but today I would like to share a featured piece in the “Sugar & Strength” blog which highlights overcoming my liver transplant and brain surgeries back in 2012.  Thank you to Annie Lake for this blog, and please check out her blog “Sugar & Strength!”

Click here to read the blog: http://www.sugarandstrength.com/?p=423

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LPGA Class A Baby! #Passed

Last night I received some very exciting news: After submitting all observations, passing my practical & written exams, and submitting & passing on my 43-page paper, I have officially passed Level III of LPGA Teaching & Club Pro certification and have obtained my Class A status! 

 This is so much more than an email or a piece of paper to me; less than 5 years ago I was fighting hard for my life, and then the odds are nearly 99.9% against you, it would have just been easier to give up. After successfully surviving a last-minute liver transplant followed by two life-saving brain surgeries, the road to recovery was the highest mountain I have ever had to climb, but at least the opportunity to have a second chance at life was available thanks to my Uncle’s wife, Cindy who got me connected to Dr. Manuel Rodriguez Davalos at Yale-New Haven Transplant Center. The tranplant would have not been possible without the amazing help from Dr. R, Dr. Schilsky, the Yale Transplant staff, and my supportive family. 

My transplant followed with two years of of a variety of much needed therapies that included physical, occupational, speech, visual & psychotherapy, multiple times per week and transplant and infectious disease check-ups every few months until I finally had the health, strength, and doctor’s approval to get back to working. 

The next obstacle would be, well how do you get to and from work every day when your half-blind out of each of your eyes resulting in no peripheral vision to the right and not permitted to drive? You seek out a highly recommended behavioral ophthalmologist named Randy Schulman (thanks Kristine Loo for the referral). You attend weekly visual therapy sessions from one of the best, April Banores Barna, do all of your visually therapy exercises every night, and say a lot of prayers that some of your vision comes back. When you get word that some of your vision has improved, you feel another miracle has happened! Has enough perioheral vision returned? Is it possibly enough to see a driver rehab specialist? You reach out to your Uncle’s wife Cindy who recommended Howard J. Knepler and Knepler driving school and see if your eligible for driver rehabilitation. When you are, and you pass driver rehab, and driving again is no longer an impossibility, rather driving again becomes another accomplished goal despite the improbable odds against success, you become the happiest person alive! 

With the rate I was going, NOTHING seemed too out of reach for me, rather everything just required vision (no pun intended ;), determination,persistence, and patience. This is when I decided I was going to take this opportunity to pursue a career that I regretfully never pursued post-college. I gave up on it before I ever began it, and here was my perfect chance to have a go at it. Since the age of 11 I always wanted and thought I was going to become a Golf Pro, but now the decision was made, my mind my committed, just tell me how to get there. 

Some four-and-a-half years post transplant and brain surgeries, two years post driving, and two years working towards my LPGA certification, here I am, a Class A Member! I may have reached the top of this mountain, but there are many more mountains which I am determined to climb, the next being a PGA Class A member.  Thank you for any and all who have helped me get to where I am today, I couldn’t have done anything alone. Your encouragement and support has been the vital fuel when my tank seemed empty. I am so grateful for all life has blessed me with, my family and friends, my health, and now my Class A LPGA! When life blesses me with a chance to play golf with  my favorite celebrity of all-time, Justin Timberlake via the Ellen Show, that will just be the cherry on top! (Just throwing that out that since I’ve had a pretty success rate with the Gods so far!; ) Until the next mountain to climb…

The First Tee: Girls Day Out

I had a great time volunteering this past weekend with The First Tee of North Florida for a Girls Day Out day! It’s so great to see so many young girls taking an interest in the game! The First Tee and Girls Golf are doing such a great job of growing the game! 🏌💪

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Girls to the Tee

Girls to the Tee Draws Record Number of Participants Girls to the Tee Draws Record Number of Participants
 I had the privilege to volunteer at “Girls to the Tee,” an event which drew over 110 young female participants to Westchester Country Club. I was in awe of the number of girls present from all different ages ranging from the early elementary level to late high school. It was such an honor and pleasure to be actively assisting so many willing and eager youngsters.  I greatly enjoyed being a part of this great event and look forward to any future opportunities that I can help grow the game, especially if it gets more girls to the tee! 😃

To read the article posted in The Journal News, click here.  

“Just Say Mo” MET Golfer Extra (December 2014)

Here’s a short article that was published on page 12 of the December 2014 issue of the MET Golfer EXTRA.

http://www.metgolferdigital.com/i/436490

Just Say Mo--MET Golfer Extra December 2014

Just Say Mo–MET Golfer Extra December 2014

A special thanks to Chris Powers at the MET Golfer and Ted Schechter for getting me in touch with the MET PGA.

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“Danbury’s Monique Gesualdi Meets PGA Pro Golfer & Fellow Transplant Recipient Erik Compton”

Dearest family, friends, and supporters,
Here is the full four-minute story that aired on the 7 o’clock news on WFSB Channel 3 this evening. Thank you to John Holt for putting together an amazing story! I also want to say thank you to all of my family, friends, and supporters who have been there for me through every up-and-down over the years, as well as a very special thank you to my anonymous organ donor who has given me a second go at life. This new life has given a whole new appreciation for what life really is about and reinvigorated my drive to live a life of purpose and ultimate meaning. I had long been searching for a “passion” that would bring a sense of fulfillment to my life, and it wasn’t until my organ donation until I truly knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Now I am certain that no matter what I am doing, where I am doing it, or who I am with, that I will be raising awareness about the life-saving benefits about organ/tissue donation with a piece of my donor guiding me every step of the way. Thank you all again, and I hope you enjoy the video! 

P.S. Maybe we get this hands of The Ellen DeGeneres Show so I can accomplish my next mission of spreading awareness about organ/tissue donation on her show!  Thank you for all of your help and support in helping me reach this goal that I am determined to accomplish!

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Transplant Games of America, Here I Come!

The 2014 Transplant Games of America will be held in Houston, TX July 11-15!

The 2014 Transplant Games of America will be held in Houston, TX July 11-15!

Dearest friends, family, and supporters,

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement to announce that I will be participating in the Transplant Games of America in Houston, TX, July 11-15!  I will be representing the Transplant Team of Connecticut in the Golf, 5K and two other sporting events of my choice!  This life-saving organ donation has given me an opportunity to lead a life with meaning and purpose, honor those affected by transplants, and inspire others to save lives through the generosity of organ donation.

Participating in the Transplant Games just two years after my miraculous transplant and brain surgeries is a dream come true!  I am so excited at this amazing opportunity to travel, meet fellow transplant recipients and donors, and get back to my athletic roots!  In order to make this dream become a reality, I need some serious help fundraising.  This year it will cost an estimated $50,000 to send the Transplant Team of Connecticut to the games.  In order to afford this, I will be setting up a personal donation page to raise a goal of $2,500 for my participation.

If you are interested in donating so I can compete at the Transplant Games of America, please visit my GOFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/JustSayMo

The Transplant Team of Connecticut, Inc. is a tax-deductible, 501c(3) non-profit organization.  Personal checks can be mailed to: PO Box 1073 SMS, Fairfield, CT 06825 with the memo: “In support of Monique Gesualdi.”  (Tax ID#08-0778187).

Thank you so much for your continued support and I CAN NOT wait to make you proud at the Transplant Games in July!

Sincerely,

Before and After, March 2012-April 2013.
Mo Gesualdi
Danbury, CT
www.justsaymo.org 
http://www.transplantteamofconnecticut.org/ and “Like” us on Facebook to get updates! 

Determined to Make a Difference with Ellen DeGeneres

“It’s our challenges and obstacles that give us layers of depth and make us interesting.  Are they fun they happen?  No. But they are what makes us unique. And that’s what I know for sure….I think.”~ Ellen DeGeneres

Yesterday at our COPE (Community Outreach for Purpose & Empowerment) meeting, we had a wonderful guest speaker, Ellen Boyle.  Ellen has endured some hardships throughout her life, but you would never know it as she radiates strength, determination, and happiness. One of the things that stuck in my head from her speech was when she our group members, What makes your heart sing?”

As she called upon me, I fumbled my words, not knowing the true answer to that question.  I mean…I enjoy many things:  golf, working out, writing, Justin Timberlake, but I didn’t think any of those things were the answer to her question, she was looking for something much deeper, as was I.

Ellen went around the room repeatedly kept saying, “Don’t die with the music in you.  Don’t die with the music in you.”  This quote from Wayne Dyer immediately opened my eyes as to what Ellen was hoping we would tap-into ourselves.

Maybe you, like myself, in your mid-20’s had that moment when you thought, “What am I doing with my life? What is my purpose? Is this it for the rest of my life?”  If you’re like me, you realize you are fortunate to have food and shelter everyday, as there are many people who do not share your same privileges: Yet, something is missing.  There is a void and you want more.  But what, what is it that I’m searching for?

Ellen nailed it.  Don’t die with the music in you, but rather, share your music, and make a difference in someone else’s life.  Whether you accept to recognize it or not, we are all talented human-beings in one-way or another.  Go out and make a difference in someone else’s life every, single, day.  It doesn’t have to be a big favor or gesture, it can be simple, like: saying “hi” to a stranger, making dinner for your busy roommate/spouse, or giving a nice big-fat hug to that person who hasn’t smiled in days.  Do SOMETHING to make a difference in someone else’s life and you will begin to notice that “void” you were once trying to fill, is now overflowing with love and gratitude.  Then, not only have you filled your own empty void, but more importantly, you will also make someone else’s day a little bit brighter; and that my friends, is what will make your heart sing.

Speaking of “Ellen”, and making someone else’s day a little brighter, Ellen DeGeneres is notorious for putting a smile on people’s faces across the world!  For that reason, she is one of my idols, and like both Ellens, I want to make a difference in the world.

It is my ultimate goal to get on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, to not only meet my idol, but to raise awareness about an organization I genuinely support: Donate Life.  

After receiving a miraculous liver transplant and surviving two risky brain surgeries that have an almost non-existent survival rate, I know what it truly means to be given a second chance.  My body wasn’t the only one that got a second chance; my soul was completely rejuvenated, as well.  I am so grateful for this opportunity to have a fresh start and to make a difference, not only in my life, but in the lives of many others. As a recipient of a life-saving transplant, it is my responsibility to raise awareness about the importance of becoming a registered organ/tissue donor.  

April is National Donate Life Awareness Month, and I think there is no better time to get on The Ellen Show than in April, but I need all of the help that I can get, so dearest friends, family, and acquaintances, I ask you to share this with your fellow peers in hopes to somehow get my story in the hands of Ellen DeGeneres.

Here is my Facebook post to Ellen which has almost 60 shares and 150 likes so far.  Let's keep this going!

Here is my Facebook post to Ellen which has almost 60 shares and 150 likes so far. Let’s keep this going!

 

As we talked about earlier, what makes the heart sing is making a difference in someone’s life.  Ellen DeGeneres’ sincere acts of kindness have made a difference in my life, as well as millions of lives across the globe. I’d like to have a chance to be on the Ellen show and share my story to raise awareness about organ/tissue donation, so that one day I can help save the lives of others, just like mine was saved by a heroic organ donor.  The greatest gift you can give, is the gift of life.  Give someone life, and register to be a future organ donor today.

Thanks Ellen for being an inspiration to me and millions of others, and I hope to meet you soon!

“Sometimes you can’t see yourself clearly, until you see yourself through the eyes of others.”  ~Ellen DeGeneres

The Resolution

Resolution (n.) The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.  A resolving to do something.  A course of action determined or decided on.

2013 was a great year for me.  I can easily say it was better than 2012, but my 2012 wasn’t too hard for anyone to top.  The end result of 2012 was definitely favorable, but the process to get there was one that was hardly envious.  Having a successful liver transplant by the skin of my teeth, with not even a full 48 hours to spare was a life-changing event in itself.  Then throw on-top of that an extremely rare and fatal fungal infection in my brain and you don’t have to say much else to already know that 2012 was a hell-of-a-year for me.  When I look back, I am often puzzled as to why or how I am alive today.  You might be thinking, “That was 2012?  We’re about to be in 2014!?”  True, but most of my 2012-2013 was spent either ill or recovering from illness, so for the purpose of this blog, I am grouping 2012 and 2013 together as one-big healing time period.

May 2012, Yale-New Haven ICU awaiting a liver transplant.

May 2012, Yale-New Haven ICU awaiting a liver transplant.

While those questions of how or why I am still alive will never be answered, the matter of the fact is that I managed to persevere and triumph over the impeccable odds against me.  It is crazy to think that almost 100% of people who inquire invasive aspergillosis in their brain while being immunosuppressed, die.  I am one of very, very few people to somehow escape the burden of those devastating odds.  Somehow, I, Monique Gesualdi, am still alive.  To experience what I have experienced and to overcome what I have overcome, is a huge deal for me, and it has forever changed my outlook on life and how I treat myself. Not like you can easily put yourself in my shoes, nor would I want you to, but it is hard for me to genuinely convey to you how greatly this has affected my life in so many different ways. monov2013

For someone in my shoes, “Grateful” doesn’t even begin to describe your appreciation for life and the little things we take for granted each and every day.  Things like walking without assistance, showering in a shower by yourself, breathing on your own, wiping your own ass, things like this we do every single day and we don’t think twice about.  If asked prior to my 2012 what if those “little things” were taken away from me, could I do it?  Could I live for two months of my life in the hospital, in-and-out of consciousness, having back-to-back-back surgeries that resulted in life-or-death?  If I was asked that, I would have probably looked at whoever asked me very confidently answered, “Well that’s never going to happen, and even if it did, I can’t imagine spending one night in the hospital let alone two months.”  When you are a kid, some of you have visions of yourself growing up, getting married, buying a house, having kids, grand kids, and so on.  Never does anyone say, “I’m going to get fatally ill at age 26 and go from there.”  But it was happening to me, and I had no choice but to face my illnesses head on.

I was up against the two most feared opponents of all: I was up against time and I was up against death.  I have no way of changing time, and once you are “dead,” that’s it, you can’t go back in time and make yourself “undead.”  When you are in the hospital and ICU and the doctor’s are doing everything in their power to save their life, you basically have no physical control of the outcome.  All you can do is hope and pray and  whatever happens, happens right?  To one degree yes.  To another, I’d say no.  You have control of your attitude.  For me, attitude was EVERYTHING.  My attitude partially attributed to me being alive, able to write this blog (my medical team at Yale and my family and friends’ love and support were also the reason).

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Aunt Caryn is my medical proxy, my Aunt, my friend, my “roommate,” and above all, my hero.

I would be lying if I said I had a positive attitude the entire time I was in the hospital.  Luckily for me though, I had one of the best medical proxies you could imagine.  My medical proxy also happened to be my motivator, my positive encouragement, my strength, and one of my reason for surviving; my Aunt Caryn.  Some days were tough, really tough.  My recovery once I got out of the hospital was especially rough on me just trying to get back to “myself” and nothing more.  Physically, mentally, and emotionally I was being challenged to the extreme.  Every single thing in my life had changed, where I lived, who I lived with, what I could do, what I couldn’t do. Just about everything.  It was far from easy, but I knew what I wanted.  I knew I didn’t want to die.  I wasn’t ready, I was only 26 and I had so much left to accomplish.  Deep down I didn’t want to just “make it out alive,” I wanted come out swinging.  I felt like the previous two or three years of my life were wasted, lost searching for a purpose, MY purpose in life.

In my opinion, “happy” people wake up each morning because they have a purpose and they are on a mission to completing the next step of their purpose, whether they realize it or not.  It could be something small, it could be something of greater magnitude, but it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as they have something inside that gives them drive.  I call these people “happy” people, because they are at one with themselves, they know who they are, what they want in life, and they are continually moving forward with their lives in one way or another.

Next you have what I call the “complacent” people, they wake up each morning coasting through life.  They don’t really have goals or anything that they are truly passionate about, challenging them to enhance their life in one way or another.  They are complacent, and that is fine for them because they don’t want to actually put in the time or effort to get the results they “wish” for.

Then there are the “unhappy” people.  These people don’t necessarily walk around with a frown on their face kicking the dirt, but what I mean is that their soul is not happy.  I’ve seen these people and they don’t truly know who they are as a person, and they are not at one with themselves.  Who they are and what they want to be are not the same person and this dissimilarity causes an internal tug-of-war with oneself.  Eventually these “unhappy” people become frustrated with life, are typically not accountable for themselves, blame anything they can, and bring down anyone in arm’s reach of them.  We have all heard the expression that, “misery loves company.”  These people become toxic to themselves, and toxic to others.  I’m sure we’ve all met a few of these people along the way or have even had a period of time where we ourselves were guilty of a time of self-pity.  As my Aunt would say, these people “can’t get out of their own way,” and that couldn’t be any more well said.

I have floated between my three levels of “happiness,” “complacency” and “unhappiness” throughout my life, but post college, I was a resident in “Cluelessville” which is a suburb of “Complacent City.” I was clueless as to what to do with my life and how to get there, and this often times made me a frequent visitor of “Unhappy Ave.”  I knew I was becoming complacent and it scared the living shit out of me (excuse my french).  Since I was ten years old, golf was my entire life.  Golf was my sport, it was my childhood, it was my heart, and I was certain it was going to be my future.  I loved the challenge, the honor, and the prestige associated with golf.  Later, golf wasn’t just a game, it was my “in” to greater things in life, particularly my education.

I attended Furman University in Greenville, SC and my sophomore year I won the 2004 Lady Paladin Invitational  with rounds of 69-70-74= 223 (-3) as an individual and also as a team.

I attended Furman University in Greenville, SC.  My sophomore year I won the 2004 Lady Paladin Invitational with rounds of 69-70-74=223 (-3) claiming the individual title and helped my team capture the team title as well.

I attended Nease High School in St. Augustine, FL, and Furman University in Greenville, SC solely because of golf.  My world was golf, and no matter whether I made it as a touring or teaching pro, all that mattered was golf was my past, it is my present, and it would certainly be my future.  My second half of college, my love and passion for the game of golf, something since age 10, I planned on being my career, my future, was now something I “hated” doing due to a very bad two-year coaching experience.  So I decided I “hated” golf for a while, quit, threw in the towel and let my clubs get dusty sitting in the garage.  What I didn’t realize until recently was that I had let the game of golf define who I was.  When you heard the name, “Mo Gesualdi” you automatically associated something with golf, and now, at this time in my life, all I kept hearing from family and friends was, “You’re not playing at all?” or if they asked me to play I always had an excuse as to why I couldn’t play, some legit, others just so I wouldn’t have to play.  While it never felt right in my heart to “give up” golf, it had this guilt attached to it for some reason, I did it anyway, against my own instinct.  One of many terrible decisions I’ve made in my life, but it was the decision I made, and one I can’t go back and change.  I always knew I would get back to playing golf, but it would be on my own terms, when I was ready.

Along with throwing in the “golf towel,” I basically threw in the towel altogether.  I had a horrible attitude about myself, about people, and about life for a long while.  I was rather depressed my final two years of college and had to go to therapy, for the second time since I started college, one of four times total in my life.  I kept it pretty quiet, mostly because I was embarrassed to go to therapy, and I was embarrassed about how I was feeling.  I got it together so I wasn’t completely unglued, but the way I was put back together it was like using a cheap glue stick, barely enough to get me through as I was on the verge of “ungluing” at any point in time.

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This is how I had envisioned my life continuing to progress as a successful golfer, but I hit a road-block and took a detour somewhere along the way, but I am finally back on my track to achieving personal success.

What was my problem?  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now realize I feared responsibility, I feared success, and above all, I feared failure.  As a kid I was determined I was going to be a professional golfer of some magnitude when I grew up.  Fast-forward to 2012 and I wasn’t on that path at all and it terrified me.  Each year I was getting older and not any closer to the person I wanted to be.  I was happy and smiling on the outside, taking pictures, having fun, partying, but deep down I was miserable.  I was so disappointed in myself.  I had no purpose, and the haphazard style life I was leading was proof of that.

Does that make me a bad person?  I think not, because I was still kind and friendly and always have the best intentions for others.  What it did make me was off-my-beaten path.  I made a wrong-turn somewhere in my life and instead of slamming the breaks and turning around, I just kept driving not knowing where the road would take me.

Somehow I failed to accept that traveling 90 mph toward the ledge of a cliff wouldn’t have any repercussions. Well I know now, that certainly isn’t the case.  Depression led to drinking.  It was the only “solution” to not having to deal with my lack of purpose in life and for a while it felt fine because it opened up my social horizons and I became much less introverted and more easily extroverted.  I also met a lot of people, and I was having a great time being constantly social.  Every event or birthday party, I was there.  If I made to one person’s invitation, I had to go to every invitation I encountered.  I had a very hard time saying “no.”  Then months passed, and then a year, and then several years, and I wasn’t making any progress in my goals or myself, and it began to eat away heavily at me.  Not just emotionally, but physically too.  I wasn’t taking care of myself the way I should have been, and just like a plant that isn’t properly watered and fed, I began to internally wilt until I was practically dried up and dead.

Thankfully I had always been an athlete and exercised, because I think that greatly contributed to my strength and ability to endure those three, major, life-saving surgeries in a few weeks time.  Was my need for a liver transplant due entirely to eating and drinking lots of glutinous foods and beer over a few years?  No, but it certainly didn’t help and surely it expedited my illness to the severity that it was.  Is what I put into my body something I can control?  Yes.  Do I have much better control of my self in terms of how I nourish my body?  Yes.  Does it feel better?  The answer is absolutely.

I feel people who binge themselves in booze, drugs, or food (or whatever superficial and temporary form of fulfillment that is their own personal weakness), is because they are trying mask the feelings that come with having no purpose in life.  I not only observed this in myself, but some other people I was surrounding myself with.  Not my true friends that I love with all of my heart, (you know who you are), but I encountered many other people over the years.  I was “stuck” for a long time, but I finally had the strength and the courage to step away from this toxic environment and this undignified person that I was becoming.

I decided it was best for me to pack it up and move. But by the time I had decided that, it was too late.  It was too late.  I started feeling sick, and then I fell ill, and then I fell even more ill.   It is a horrible feeling to feel hopeless, like you don’t mean anything, like you are a waste of a human being.  I sadly had to hit my “rock bottom” before I realized that I was worthy of life, my life.  But by then, it was just about too late.

“Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.  I have learned that life is like hour-glass sand.  Sooner or later, everything hits rock bottom, but all you have to do is be patient and wait for something to turn back around.” ~Unknown

I am so lucky, so grateful, so extremely blessed to have not let my rock bottom be the ultimate end-all.   Why wasn’t it?  Like I said, I will never know why I am still alive and how almost all of the other transplant patients who had a fungal infection in their brain don’t survive, but whatever the medical reasoning is, I know it is because I had a lot of unfinished business to attend to.

I was beyond the point of repair, but the one and only thing I could control was my attitude, and for some unknown reason to me, I managed to have a very positive, a very patient, and very determined attitude when I was diagnosed with stage-4 liver failure.  I think that is because I knew it was my chance to make my life better, a chance to “start fresh” and lead a much more fulfilling life.  With the love of my friends, family, and top-notch medical attention in my corner, I was determined to live.  My MOtivation had been restored.  The vision in my head of previously living scared with no destination was now replaced by a vision of living, a vision of overcoming this illness, and not only coming out with a new liver, but with a new mind-set, a new respect for myself, and a new “life.”

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Driving range, July 2013.

The new, transplanted self that I wanted to be is something I am trying and working at each and every day. It is a life-long commitment of hard work, dedication, and self-respect, that will always be a work-in-progress.  So far, I am quite proud of myself and how far I have come mentally, physically, and emotionally in the past year-and-a-half.  I have found my purpose in life, and that is comforting to my soul.  All I will say is that my purpose has been revived and it is taken me back to where I started; back to to golf.  I will get into that in another blog, but for now I want to leave you with this.

We are approaching the New Year, a time when people reflect on the past year, and make resolutions for the upcoming one.  According to the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2012, 45% of you will make New Years Resolutions for next year, but only 8% of you will be successful in achieving that resolution.  Those resolution odds are against you, just like the odds were against me, but with the right attitude, combined with determination, I believe you are capable of defying the odds and doing just about anything your little resolution-setting heart desires.  My resolution, or my firm determination you could say, is to lead a happy, healthy, and inspirational life.

“The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”  Leo Tolstoy

Photo from October 12, 2013 ING Hartford Marathon (5K)

Photo of me from the ING Hartford Marathon (5K) running for team “Donate Life Connecticut” on October 12, 2013.

 

18 Months Down, So Many More To Go…..

“Don’t give up before the miracle happens.” ~Fannie Flag 
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It is hard to believe that eighteen months ago I was bed-ridden in the ICU on life-support.  Tubes in-and-out of my throat, surgery after surgery, no one knowing whether each day if it would be my last.  Living in uncertainty unwilling to even produce a thought for yourself while your body instinctively telling you that your only job for the day is “to survive,” leaves a lasting impression in your head.  What I endured and have overcome in all 71 total days in the hospital last year was not only a game-changer, it has forever impacted my life.  For the better.

Since my transplant, multiple brain surgeries, extensive physical, occupational, speech, psycho, and now visual therapy–I have since made great strides from the depths of ground zero, essentially.  In all honesty, I feel the healthiest I have ever been in my entire life.  My strength and endurance are coming around quite nicely as well.  I have been working on myself, and making the best “me” that I could possibly be.  I have a feeling, almost a knowingness, that I am on the right track and great things are just around the corner for me.

As I mentioned before, recovering from three very major surgeries in a five-week time span, takes quite an enormous toll; not on just my body, but my emotions as well.  I can proudly say I have been seeing a psychotherapist for the past four months.  My therapist, Susan, has helped me with dealing with the emotional aspect of having a transplant as well as dealing with some of the permanent life changes I have had to make. I have come a long way in the past four months.  I used to cry for hours upon hours, locked away in my room.  I had no idea why I was crying or how to stop.  I was told it was okay to cry.  It was okay to let it out.  I had so much emotional grief built up from what happened to me, that it all just eventually started coming out in the form of uncontrollable tears down my face.  Still, to this moment, tears well up in my eyes just writing and reflecting on my experience.

The tears are not always exactly sadness though.  They are all sorts of emotions wrapped into one colossal meltdown.  Happiness. Frustration.  Triumph.  Anger.  Anticipation. Discouragement.  Wonder. Hope. Appreciation.  Dissatisfaction.  Confusion. Gratitude.  While I am still working to overcome all of these emotions, I am in a much better place than I was several months ago.

Since my transplant, I have often felt guilty.  Guilty because I now have life, while my donor doesn’t.  My donor is another human being, someone’s daughter, son, brother, sister, cousin, and they are dead.  The only reason I am alive is because they are not. I know they are not dead because of me, I am alive because of them. It has been very tough on me, and I imagine this feeling of guilt is going to stay with me forever.  I will never be able to repay my donor for their ultimate act of gratitude, but what I can do is give back in the form of being involved in organizations that raise awareness about organ donation, liver disease, and/or other topics that I desire to be a part of.

Since my transplant I have involved myself in several groups, as well as volunteer for several organizations.  Donate Life Connecticut and the American Liver Foundation are just two of them, but one of the first groups I became involved with was COPE (Community Outreach for Purpose and Empowerment).  COPE, formed by my aunt, aims to empower girls and young women.  Members of COPE learn and improve their goal-setting techniques, engage in active plan to achieve their goals, and learn to overcome obstacles and interference that may be holding them back.  Overall, the members of COPE learn how to live their life with a purpose.  I created the website for COPE and update it regularly. I have really enjoyed doing this, because it allows me to get my creative juices flowing and keeps my mind sharp.

Another way I keep sharp, is through attending and participating in Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is a well-recognized, international organization, that is focused on enhancing people’s public speaking, communication, and leadership skills.  My aunt Caryn had a feeling I would be speaking publicly about my story one day and

In May (2013) I won the Kalley Award for "Best Speech" for my Icebreaker speech at Toastmasters

In May (2013) I won the Kalley Award for “Best Speech” for my Icebreaker speech at Toastmasters

encouraged me to join.  If you aren’t a member yet, I strongly encourage you to find one in your area and get involved.  I went from being completely incapable of speaking in front of a small crowd, to confidently giving a speech in front of hundreds in a short few months.  I began attending the meetings last winter and have since given two prepared speeches.  I won “best speech” for both of my speeches, and even won the club’s “Kalley Award” (most impact on the meeting) after my “Icebreaker” speech!  My aunt was certainly right when she told me Toastmasters was going to be helpful in my future. I never anticipated how quickly though.

This year I was selected as one of the American Liver Foundation‘s LIVEr Life Champions.  As the LIVEr Champion, I served as “the face” for the Liver Life Walk this past September in Stamford, CT.  Leading up the event, I filmed a :30 sec PSA for the ALF, was featured on The Liver Life Walk’s regional brochure.  Not only that, but I had to be one of the faces at the walk, and give a speech about my survival in front of several hundred people.

I continue to utilize my communication skills while serving as a volunteer ambassador for Donate Life Connecticut.  In the past year I have been a part of the Danbury AAA donor program, attended several Donate Life events.  I have also shared my survival story to the medical and ER staff at Danbury hospital, raising awareness about organ/tissue donation (through the New England Organ Bank and Donate Life CT).  Just last week I was in Greenville, SC and had the privilege to shared my story with the Furman Women’s golf team.  That was amazing experience, because I could see that I really touched those girl’s lives.  The more speeches I do, the more confident and easier it is to speak in front of people.  Hopefully it only gets better from here on out.

Trying to get my game back!

Trying to get my golf game back!

I have also occupied my time by returning to the game I hate to love the most, golf.  Last January, my grandfather, Emilio, took me to the driving range to see if I could hit; I couldn’t even make one complete swing. I had so much pain in my elbows from being so weak and suffered from severe joint pain, a side-effect of several of my medications.  I continued trying to workout and get stronger.  By April I was hitting at the driving range with elbow braces trying to minimize the pain.  About a month after that I played 18 holes.  Shortly after, I was able to walk 18 holes with a pull-cart.  I spent a lot of my time practicing and even played in a couple of captain’s choice tournaments in the area.  In one of the tournaments, I won $100 for lowest gross score (-11) with my team.  At another tournament I also won $100 for longest drive (from the red tees, don’t get too excited!).  By the end of the summer I was able to shoot in the the low 80s from the white tees.  As of now, I have only broken 80 once since my illnesses; a 73 at Candlewood CC (fairly easy par 71 course).  This summer you better believe I am going to get my scoring average down in the 70s!

Now I am currently in St. Augustine, Florida visiting my mom and stepfather.  Just a few days ago I was in Greenville, SC for a wonderful nine days catching up with my bestest of friends.  I will be spending the next three weeks here in Florida soaking up the sun (while of course wearing my SPF 50), playing lots of golf, attending my 10-year high school reunion (Nease High School, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL), and doing other fun activities with my mom and step dad.  Once this trip is over it is back to the grind per-say of my routine of visual therapy, other various doctor appointments, follow-ups, blood work, and daily exercise.

My transplant doctor at Yale informed me that by my next infectious disease appointment in February, there was a good possibility I would be taken off Voriconazole, my anti-fungal medication, Voriconazole. Fingers crossed, I would love to be off this medication; not only because it would be 12 less pills/day to take, but also because the medication is $4,400 a month (no that is not a typo, it is $4,440/month).  Even though the price is covered by my insurance, my insurance is such a pain my ass.  Each and every month I have to battle with them to get me my medication on-time, simply because my insurance does not want pay for it.  Oh well, it could be worse right?  Eighteen months ago I was on life-support. Battling insurance inconveniences and other minor hassles are insignificant in comparison to battling to be healthy, battling to breath, battling to to be alive.

In the last eighteen months I have learned so much about myself, about life, about death, and about the inbetween.  I will never be able to fully express, in detail, the emotion or meaning of what I have been through.  I would never wish it upon my worst enemy to experience what I experienced last spring, but at the same time, I prefer it happen to me rather than someone else.  As crazy as it sounds, I would do it again if it meant someone else wouldn’t have to go through it because I know I can handle it.  Knowing you knocked “death” on it’s ass after looking it square in the eyes, is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.  I was meant to survive.  Before you survive you must endure struggle.  That is what gives it meaning.  So many people go along just cruising through life.  When they coast, they forget about what is really important. I was one of those people.

I have a purpose and I am just now finding out what my purpose is.  It begins by being able to share my personal medical journey with you so you can learn from me.  What do I hope you learn?  I hope you learn that giving back is one of the greatest things you can do.  I hope you learn that a positive attitude is the most powerful and infectious attributes that you can have.  Lastly, I hope you learn to believe in yourself, and have faith that everything is going to fall in place one day.

ING Hartford Marathon with my sister!  Desiree ran her first full marathon, and I ran the 5K (well, partially.  I ran partially on the half marathon by accident, oops).

ING Hartford Marathon with my sister! Desiree ran her first full marathon, and I ran the 5K (well, partially. I ran partially on the half marathon by accident, oops).hope you learn to believe in yourself and everything you do.  If you believe it, you can achieve it, no matter what it is you are up against, and that includes your own worst enemy sometimes, yourself!

Eighteen months down, so many more to go….

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”  ~C, JoyBell C.