When COVID-19 fell upon us, and many of my speaking engagements were postponed, I knew that I would need to change the way I had been conducting my speaking business. In-person meetings were no longer being held and the speaking opportunities that I had been hired for, were abruptly canceled.

Soon after COVID-19 made itself known to us, the opportunity to work for the New York State Contact Tracing Initiative magically appeared for me. This new Initiative was looking for people who could fill a supervisory role, who had leadership experience, preferably in the health fields, and were comfortable speaking on health-related issues. It was a perfect fit for me. I knew the position would provide me the chance to share what I had learned about daring to change with both the contact tracers and all the people who had been affected by the coronavirus. After all, you might imagine that living on batteries for the past two years required some life adjustments. The chance was here in the Initiative to share what I learned about what was really important, already understanding that my life could end at any time.

I remember noticing the look on the faces of young mothers in the supermarket parking lot while they were buying groceries with their children, and that same look on the faces of the older people in my co-op building. I knew that they were all coming to grips with a reality that they never dreamed they would have to face at this time in their lives. Their own mortality, their own impermanence in the face of COVID-19 was suddenly a reality. We were now all facing this new reality. The reason that I recognized that “look”, was that I had learned to accept my mortality three years prior to the arrival of COVID-19. So I guess I need to briefly tell you what led me to this point!

In late 2016, my heart condition, called congestive heart failure, took a sudden turn for the worse, and in 2017 I was told that I would need a heart transplant. When you realize that you don’t have much time left, you might decide to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do. I took a California golf trip with my family and a beautiful trip to Portugal with my wife. And, there would be loose ends to tie up as they say.

My hope is that my story will help to make you realize that sooner or later, we all need to adapt to change in our lives. For many of us, that time is now.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is when the heart is unable to pump sufficiently to maintain enough blood flow to meet the body’s needs. If you only knew what it feels like to be catapulted up from sleep — gasping for breath — and for me, knowing with certainty that my heart was not working as intended. This had occurred several times but this time, when I arrived at my cardiologist‘s office, he uttered the words that I had been dreading:

“You will need a heart transplant.”

There was no longer a place for denial of my condition. I remain to this day, waiting and hoping for a new heart. Because of my incredible doctors and the marvels of medical science, I have been kept alive by a Left Ventricular Assist Device, this incredible pump that attaches to my heart and helps deliver the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of my body which is essential for my survival. A cable runs from the pump in my heart, out through my abdomen to a system controller which is outside of my body and is powered by two five-pound lithium batteries, all of which I wear in a vest during the day. At night I disconnect the batteries and attach myself to a long cable for wall power, so that I can reach the bathroom but not the kitchen (that’s a good thing). I have learned to walk and travel, and even play golf with the equipment on at all times. I have a life and it’s a good life. But, it is not the same life as before and will never again be that former life. And you, like me, have the ability to adapt to change.

Right now, life as it once was, seems nearly unrecognizable for many of us. You have to recognize that this change has already happened.* Denying your reaction to this change in your life can be even more stressful than making the actual changes. Steven Sellars, a licensed professional counselor, confirms several steps which you can begin to take in the face of life changes.

The first is to be kind to yourself. While I am certainly responsible for some of what has happened to me, many of the things that have caused me to adapt to change were totally out of my control. So, for me to blame myself too much simply doesn’t make sense — and for many of you, the same is probably true. Second, if you share your experiences with others you will find that you are indeed not alone. You will also find, as I have, that you wouldn’t trade your life for the life of another even if you could. So many people have had to endure tough times this past year. Third, these changes may, in fact, result in even a better life than before! The most important action is to prepare and take the initiative so that you will be ready to make the changes that have or will become necessary in the coming days and months, whether they be job-related, family-related, or health-related like they have been for me.

Try to laugh a bit each day, share your feelings with those around you, and know that you are not alone. I have made changes both physically and emotionally to prepare for the days ahead, and I know that you can do the same. You’ve got this.


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