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The Curve Ball I Didn’t See

photo_15490_20091117Today marks the one-year anniversary of my brush with death and real life lesson that, no matter how hard we try to we control things, life often throws an unexpected curve ball.

I use the baseball analogy because it was in the beginning of the last year’s Little League baseball season (where I’m another kind of coach) when the Intraversato family got the pitch they did not expect.

Life was going well. Both Sophia and Anthony were excelling in school and their spring sports, tennis and baseball. Sandy’s new position at an innovation firm was keeping her challenged and Iron Coaching was growing at a comfortable pace. I’m not sure if things could have been going better actually.

April 30th began as a typical day. Sandy and I enjoyed our coffee and quiet time, with a brief break to check in with Sophia and also say a prayer for Sandy’s Aunt Ruth, who was in frail health.

As we went our separate ways, something happened that would ultimately alter the course of our lives. I first experienced a dull headache. This was somewhat unusual, as I don’t get headaches often. When, at 7:05, Anthony was not downstairs, Sandy came to investigate. She asked if everything was ok and I replied, “ my head really hurts.” I opted to rest.

Five minutes later my head pain increased dramatically. Thankfully Sandy came back upstairs to check on me. She took one look at my face, now contorted with pain and turning a combination of blue, red and flesh tone, and said, “I think I should call 911.” I nodded in agreement… this is the last thing I remember.

“If you don’t think every day is a good day, try missing one.” Robert Cavetto

The clock read 7:11 AM when Sandy placed the 911 call. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later and by 7:22 I was shuttled via gurney down our stairs and into the ambulance. Our neighbors, summoned by the siren, reported that I was incoherent and the paramedics administered oxygen to help me breathe before racing to my destination, Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU).

Upon my arrival I was quickly diagnosed with an acute subdural hematoma, medical terminology for a massive bleed on my brain. Sandy was on her way to the hospital when she received the news. She immediately authorized the doctors to remove a section of my skull to save my life. Upon her arrival at OHSU I was already intubated and the sense of urgency to get me in the OR was obvious.

Miraculously, time was on my side and with the care of an excellent team of doctors and nurses, the surgery was a success (in that it saved my life). Next came another diagnosis, as the doctors were able to see, via cerebral angiogram, an arteriovenous fistula (AVF), which is an improper connection between an artery and a vein. The overworked vein had burst, thus causing the massive bleed and build up of pressure. Two days later, the swelling on my brain decreased enough for the surgeons to perform a second brain surgery to correct the AVF and reinsert the piece of my skull removed during my emergency craniotomy.

My good friend, who is also a physician, told me during my recovery that he saw my original CAT scan when I arrived at OHSU and that, had I arrived 30 minutes later, he would have been transplanting my kidneys. Translation, I had 30 minutes left to live when they opened up my head. Statistically, the mortality rate for my initial diagnosis is near 80%.

Needless to say, nothing’s minor when you’ve had two brain surgeries and countless procedures. Sixty staples in one’s head is quite a sight and not something many people, thank God, have the opportunity to experience. It has been a yearlong process to heal, regain my strength and full cognitive capacity. Our family was also truly blessed by an outpouring of help, prayer and support from a host of incredible people that represented various circles of our collective lives.

In addition, my nine-day unexpected OHSU vacation seriously changed our family plans. Many things got put on hold, rescheduled or cancelled as we traveled an unexplored territory. As I recovered, we not only reflected on the bullet we heard flying past, but also the miracle that I’m here to tell the story. It also made us look hard at our choices and whether we were aligning them with what matters to us most. A side benefit to me (and testimony to my ability to “marry up” as we boys like to say) is that Sandy decided to join me as a partner here at Iron Coaching.

I’m still trying to figure out the moral of my story – there are so many threads. As an executive coach, I help clients be more intentional about their choices and how they set priorities via what I call a “game plan for life”. This is coaching tool that helps one explore, identify and then put into action strategies to experience a richer and more personally satisfying life. But after what I’ve been through – it’s become more than a tool, it’s a passion.

Bottom line, don’t just talk about your game plan, make it a priority and infuse it with the bigger things… family, friends, and gratitude for each day. These are the things that will sustain you when an unexpected curve ball is thrown.

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