Growing up and still living in South Boston, Massachusetts, I don’t find myself to be a truly open person. I tend to hold things a little close. That was until a ruptured brain aneurysm almost ended my life on April 30, 2017. Laying in the ICU for two weeks, and not being out of the preverbal “woods” for 30 days, I decided that my life needed some changes. I gave up my high stress, high profile government job and decided I wanted to enter into private practice and spend more time with my family. I also decided that I wanted to take my experience and ongoing recovery and share it with all who would listen to try and educate people on the startling facts that 1 in 50 people have an undiagnosed brain aneurysm and an aneurysm ruptures every 18 minutes. I wanted to educate people as to the warning signs and I found the perfect partner to do it……the Brain Aneurysm Foundation (BAF). The BAF is the national leader in education, awareness and the largest private funder for research. The support they gave me, my family and friends made it apparent that they know their stuff.
So, I became highly involved as a volunteer with the BAF and I focused on bringing the voice of the survivor into the conversation. Then, when the BAF Executive Director asked me to come to Marina del Rey for three days (yes, a long way to travel for such a quick turnaround) to sit with a panel and see what we could do to strengthen our organization, I said yes immediately. Leading up to our departure, I began to ask questions: who are we meeting with? what is the format? what will we be discussing? The answers where vague. It was to be conveyed by the BAF Chairman of the Board John Rogers. The panel will be made of “Hollywood types” “writers, producers, nonprofit startups, and chaired by a retired Brigadier General. Oh my god, I thought. This sounds like a major league s*&t show!!
I could not have been more wrong. The ice breaker, which I normally dread when you go around the room and say who you are and why you are there, was great. I soon realized that although the only common bond was to think creatively and differently on how we could make the BAF better and ultimately save more lives, I was surrounded with purely genuine people. When it was my turn I shared the story of my rupture, the pain and uncertainty of possible death. You could have heard a pin drop but I felt so comfortable that I shared more that day in a room full of mostly strangers then I had in any other environment.
When the work began, I could tell people wanted to do right but ME, not just the foundation. The disease had a face and a story and they wanted to be part of it and give it that Hollywood happy ending. We brainstormed, we came up with ideas, we shot some ideas down. Everyone participated. There were no egos, not defensiveness. Everyone was pulling together. By the end of day one, I felt a real connection to these people and knew we would produce something great……and we did.
By the end of the second day we had identified several opportunities to make the BAF better, stronger and more successful. Everything from reconstituting the Board of Directors, creating both a capital and marketing campaign, to a healthy look at staffing. It was truly one of the most mentally exhausting yet emotionally fulfilling exercises of my life, and for this survivor, who no one can figure out why I am still alive…..I realized, that, I am NOT alone.
I would recommend this experience to any business, organization or non-profit who is interested in doing better by getting a healthy perspective in a non-threatening healthy environment. It will only make you stronger…….if you implement it, that is.