5,000 Miles Away . . . or From Another Planet?

globe-handsI was teasing friends, families, and colleagues over the past two weeks that I couldn’t join them for any of the post-inaugural marches organized by our courageous and determined sister leaders as I had to be in Hawaii.

While my trip certainly included some vacation, it came about because of an award my daughter received for developing Curvy Girls, a foundation that facilitates peer support, leadership, and medical advocacy by girls with scoliosis. This blog post isn’t to brag even more (honest!)…though I am happy to talk about my daughter and this great organization at any time! Rather, I want to share about the incredible experience we had with the awards program which was hosted by the Medtronics Corporation’s foundation.

Recognized along with my daughter were people of all ages and from all corners of the globe who were stricken by a range of diseases, some life-threatening and others disfiguring, only to find relief from major advances in medical technologies. As a result, each awardee has been able to devote “their extra life” to helping others with the same afflictions. Some of the inspiring stories included:

  • Natalia of the Ukraine, stricken as a child with a rare neuro-muscular dystonia disease now saved by a device that allows her to be able to move – and to become a strong advocate for treatment and rights of similarly afflicted in eastern Europe. She also, through her interpreter, gave me a real first-hand perspective on the Ukraine-Russian issues.
  • Advanced cardiac disease and cancer care devices transformed the lives of an advocate in South Africa (who is also a breast cancer survivor) to fight for the health rights of indigent Africans . . . it helped an 82-year-old who now promoted senior singing groups . . . and the former Minneapolis three-term mayor R. T. Rybak – stricken by a near-fatal heart attack just days after leaving office – now devotes his “extra life” to closing achievement gaps among children of different ethnicities.
  • Several young adults with Type 1 Diabetes saved by insulin pumps now engage and educate children and young adults similarly diagnosed in India, Brazil, China, and Sweden to lead long and healthy lives despite their disease.
  • A survivor of severe obesity in Spain uses her new life gleaned from bariatric surgery to provide patient support and education about obesity to others similarly afflicted.
  • Lucia of Italy suffered from severe bladder disease but was saved by new therapies that now allow her to promote awareness in the medical and political communities.
  • Yonkuan of China – his life saved by Deep Brain Stimulation – now works with the Chinese Red Cross to reach out to others suffering with Parkinson’s disease in that country.
  • In North Carolina, opera singer Eric’s career was cut short by a near-fatal stroke. A revascularization device now allows him to extend the community reach of the music therapy program at his local university.

And if there wasn’t already an ocean of tears sprung by these inspiring tales, there was also the story of 92-year-old Fran Heitzman who danced and sang through the weekend thanks to his new pacemaker. It has allowed him to grow the charity he started when he was a church custodian, accepting and distributing furniture through 150 Minneapolis charities to people in need. It began with one crib 30 years ago to what is now a fleet of 11 semi-trucks that move household goods to thousands of people in need.

It was clear to me that most all award recipients were of modest means who were gracious and humble for the recognition and the long weekend retreat sponsored by Medtronics. Thanks to the medical technology most often made accessible to them by policies of their national government, these inspiring people have chosen to become productive citizens and work to ensure that others can be afforded the same care they received.

If our new President really wants America to be “first,” why can’t America pledge to be first in advancing health, mental health, and drug addiction care?  We have come so far in innovation in these fields with so much promise in the pipeline – along with armies of people ready to help promote their effective use. Do we really want to achieve “America First” by building a “great wall,” by reviving coal mines or other fossil fuel industries, or by squeezing other countries for increased tariffs in trade deals?  Instead, let’s leverage the economic and social impact that advancing our health and rehabilitation industries can inspire here and around the world!

Michael Stoltz has been at the agency’s leadership helm since 1990, first as Executive Director of the predecessor organization, Clubhouse of Suffolk, and since July 2014, the CEO of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness (MHAW). MHAW is the result of the merger of Clubhouse with Suffolk County United Veterans and the Mental Health Association in Suffolk County.                                                                                                                                             Under Michael’s stewardship, the agency has grown to one with an $10 million annual operating budget, 150 employees, servicing more than 3,000 people each year through its Ronkonkoma, Riverhead, and Yaphank facilities. A social worker by training, Michael received his MSW in 1982 from Adelphi University, where he has served as an Adjunct Professor teaching Social Welfare Policy and Human Service Management. He served as a Program Supervisor, developing and implementing the Suffolk County Intensive Case Management Program, as well as positions in management and direct service at several Long Island outpatient clinics.

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Posted in Adversity, health, mental health, wellness

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