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Archive for February, 2011

Hi Everyone!

   It’s really hard to believe I’ve been at this for a whole year! I’ve never written a journal as a young lady and never thought I would. Surprise, surprise! I, at times, haven’t been real diligent but, then again, I was higher than a kite and wouldn’t have been able to put two coherent sentences together anyway! LOL

  As promised, I’m posting the first three pages to my first book about raising Brian FOR BRIAN’S SAKE. I’m also posting the first page of my second book,   ONCE BROKEN: The Impossible Dream about my surgery, how my life, body and spirit was broken and how I have become successful at overcoming all those obsticles. It also delves into the new realm of neuroscience and how science is on the cutting edge of a new frontier for dealing with back injuries and chronic leg pain.

The book ONCE BROKEN: The Impossible Dream  is dedicated to Dr. William Smith, the one person who gave me a second chance at life.

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS FROM BOTH BOOKS ARE COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL AND MAY NOT BE DUPLICATED OR REPRINTED IN ANY MANNER WITHOUT MY PERSONAL EXPRESSED WRITTEN CONSENT.

 

FOR BRIAN’S SAKE

 PROLOGUE

 Tall grass swished as I ran just inside the field, along the rocky driveway. My footing was unstable, and I was hoping the darkness made it more difficult to see us.

“Shh, Brian, don’t cry,” I whispered holding him close to my body.

I stumbled, dropping the bag of our belongings. Having prepared myself to break the fall, I fortunately kept my footing and stayed upright. Already across the street by the time I recovered from the stumble, I left the bag, time was of the essence. With my head down, holding Brian close to me, I heard the motor turn over in Frank’s truck.

The sound startled me into looking back toward the house. Again, I lost my footing, falling into the grass. This time, I didn’t get up.

Maybe the grass is high enough to shield us from view, I thought.

The damp, musty smell of the earth filled my nostrils. I ignored how the dew, already heavy on the stalks, soaked through our clothes.

“Shh,” I whispered again. I was certain that Brian could feel my fear by how tightly I held him. “Please, don’t cry right now; Mommy loves you buddy. Everything’s gonna be okay,” I said in a barely audible tone.

The beam of headlights cut through the darkness at the end of our driveway. Hearing the crunch of gravel under the tires grow closer paralyzed me like a deer caught in headlights.

We’ll be alright if we just stay quiet and low.

Brian and I became one, nestled together in the safety of the elevated stalks.

HE’S HUNTING US DOWN! Panic flushed over me.

No one ever defied Frank and got away with it. He’d make somebody pay for this. Experiencing his anger before, I knew what he might be capable of. What will happen if he finds us? Does he have his gun with him; does he really want to kill us? Is he in that crazed frame of mind, ready to do the unthinkable?

He didn’t see us. The sound of the truck’s motor got softer as it’s headlights dimmed.

***

Earlier, on a quick pass through the kitchen, my trembling hands grabbed medicine and supplies necessary for Brian. Although his clothes were tiny, and only shoving a few things in for myself, everything still didn’t fit into the big, black garbage bag. Brian looked at me with his trusting, deep brown eyes as I put on his jacket. I managed to slip my sweatshirt on as I scanned the house. There were so many important things I wasn’t able to take.

Maybe the black of the bag will help camouflage us in the darkness, I thought as I went through a fast mental checklist of everything a special-needs child must have.

Tomorrow is our anniversary. How did things go so wrong? What did I do to deserve this? Maybe, if I’d done something different, something better, I wouldn’t be spending my anniversary this way. Or maybe, he wanted to spend the Fourth of July with someone else.

 I was determined to make this second marriage work. I married for life and understood taking the bad with the good. There just wasn’t much good for a long time. I was lonely when Frank went to the racetrack. I was lonely even when I was with him. Loving him so much, I wanted to be a good wife and show him I was worthy of his affection, but it never came. I could never please him. There were moments of passion, but I came to realize that was to satisfy his needs, not mine.

***

Just minutes before, Frank had finished yet another of his more severe tirades. He threw three, eight-inch clay flowerpots past my head into the wall just above Brian’s playpen. The plants were everywhere; the dirt was everywhere; the broken shards of the pots were everywhere. Two five-inch gaping, jagged holes exposed insulation in the wall. Minutes prior, Brian was in that very spot, playing. Once Frank’s rage ran its course, he screamed at me to clean up the mess before he got out of the shower.

 At that moment something in me snapped. I realized Brian might very easily become a casualty of Frank’s abuse, leaving him dead; or worse, a vegetable. The events of this night forced me to change my reality. I knew the decisions I made now would affect us forever. Our lives depended on me making the right ones.

Quietly, I opened the window to Brian’s bedroom, which faced the street, making sure the latches to the screens didn’t screech. After tying it hastily, I heaved the full thirty gallon garbage bag over the window sill onto the ground below.

I waited in Brian’s room until I heard the water hit the basement shower stall. There wouldn’t be much time until Frank came upstairs and saw I didn’t clean up his mess. With an adrenalin rush, I snatched Brian from his crib, and escaped through the side door just at the top of the basement steps. The front door, which was closer to Brian’s room, didn’t open because Frank had nailed it shut. I slipped out silently so Frank wouldn’t hear me and come running after us. I didn’t have much time.

Our dog, Rocky, didn’t bark since he was used to me going out at night with Brian, responding to tow calls. Up until Brian’s birth, Rocky was my surrogate child, my loving companion, my comforter who went almost everywhere with me. Rocky was Brian’s dog, now. At 111 pounds of Doberman-Shepherd mix, Rocky was still a moosh with us. For Rocky, however, there was no difference tonight, not knowing we were escaping.

***

 

ONCE BROKEN: The Impossible Dream

  “The surgery went as well as could be expected, I had to do a LOT of work on her. It’s now all up to her,” the neurosurgeon, Dr. William Smith, told my family. He went over the x-rays he took during surgery, pointing out the before and after. They had no clue what they were looking at. “She’s in recovery now, you can see her when she is awake and they’ll take her to her room.” They thanked him and in a moment he was gone.

Originally, in the surgical staging area, Dr. Smith briefly saw us all together while they were finishing attaching wires to my legs for neuromapping. He was looking at my chart and as almost an FYI, I remembered something I forgot to tell him when last we spoke in his office. “You know Doc, I forgot to mention that my right hip keeps popping out of it’s socket.”

He looked up from reading my chart, “Really?” he asked. “For how long?”

“It’s been going on for some time, like, a long while!” I shared.

With that, he grabbed the x-rays laying on top of my feet, looked over at his PA, Joe. They both viewed the x-rays holding them up to the ceiling lights, he looked back at Joe and said, “We’re doing an altogether different operation than we planned.” He said something in a low tone and Joe nodded in agreement.

Before this conversation, Dr. Smith told my family the operation would take about an hour and ten or fifteen minutes. At the two hour mark, my son, Brian said he started to get worried. By the three hour mark, both my husband and son were pacing. The operation took three hours and twenty minutes. Much longer than anyone anticipated!

I had some trouble coming out of the anesthesia which made it even longer for Brian to see me…he was soooo worried. Shortly after I was in my room, Gregg went to work and Brian laid on the padded wooden chair. It was where he stayed for the entire night, and for the next two. He brought “Teddy” his teddy bear for me to hug, but he used him as a pillow. For those first few hours I was totally incoherent.

 I was told when Gregg and Brian were talking, I  said to them, “Shh, I’m healing.” I did hear the laughter from both of them but had no clue that’s what it was about. One other time they were talking about getting the TV for me and I guess I said something like, “Turn Skittles’ ears so we’ll get better reception!” We have two bunnies at home, one named Skittles! I must have been a real hoot to listen to!

***

For all my friends from Warren and surrounding areas in Ohio, Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, my many readers around the world, Matt Smith Physical Therapy, my new friends from NuVasive, the Cheetah Ball, The Better Way Back, Legacy Health Strategies, Bill Walton, Nate “Rock” Quarry, the folks I haven’ t met yet from AIMIS, and for Dr. William Smith, this is my way of saying thank you for sticking by me, encouraging me to keep at it, and giving me hope when I thought there was none. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I love you all more than you’ll ever be able to realize. Enjoy the read, there’s more to come.

In the meantime, remember to take care of you and yours,

hugs,

Love,

Kathleen

Hi Everyone!

  I know I promised to write about Bill Walton and Nate “Rock” Quarry but I’ve been dealing with a family crisis for the last few days which has preoccupied me. They say everything happens for a reason and this in no exception. This just gives me a chance to “show” you how much these fellas mean to me.

  Before I went to San Deigo, Julia called me from The Better Way Back to ask if there was anything they could do for me. I was bold enough to ask for three signed pictures from Nate for my three nephews who are crazy about him. And I asked if I brought a ball with me could I have Bill Walton sign it. She shared they didn’t have a problem with the requests but asked if I could wait to get them until after the Cheetah Ball because they were all so busy. Sounded reasonable.

   Today, as I was sitting here reading through my book proposal when the doorbell rang. I answered it to find a Fed Ex guy with three LARGE packages addressed to me! I could hardly get them open in my excitement to see what was in them. I started to cry, tears of happiness. In one of the boxes was a poster-size picture of me and a quote from my video, “When I finally did sing, I sang my heart out. It felt so right and it was all because of the XLIF procedure.” It has The Better Way Back logo on it! The picture is the one I use for my profile picture on Facebook. WOW! The next box had a framed picture of me done in caricature from a local San Diego artist who was drawing us at our dinner the first evening we were there. Also there was a professionally framed picture of Bill, Nate and myself! And, in that box was an envelope with the signed pictures of Nate I asked for. He autographed them to each one by name! I got a personal card from him and the President of the Americas as well! AGAIN, WOW! The last box had a plexiglass square with an autographed basketball to me from Bill Walton! WOW, WOW, WOW!!!!! He, Nate and I are all part of an elite group of individuals lucky enough to have had the XLIF surgery and are now getting on with our lives.

   First let me share with you an incident that happened to a friend of mine. Her husband saw Bill walk into the bathroom at a convention they were both attending. Her husband stopped him and asked for his autograph. Bill said he’d be glad to if he could wait a few minutes. When he came out, Bill signed his autograph for my friend’s husband who said he was very personable. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, he is. He is warm and friendly and just a real nice guy. I was talking with him back stage before we went out for the discussion panel and Bill was joking with us and running through our questions with us, just a real lay-back kind of guy. They introduced him and Nate first holding the other discussion panelist back. I was the first one of the patient panelists introduced and walked on stage. I offered my hand for Bill to shake but he took my hand and raised it to kiss. I was floored! LOL I can’t imagine the look on my face! No one, I mean, NEVER has anyone ever done that to me. <blush> WOW! What a gentleman! Once the panel was over they whisked him away and I didn’t get a chance to see him the rest of the weekend, but would have liked to talk with him in a more social setting.

   Nate was next, who I gave a hug to. His strength is tempered by his gentleness, a true gentleman who even believes in opening a door for a lady and holding her seat for her and he’s not ashamed to admit it. It was a warm friendly hug, he gives GREAT hugs! I did get a chance to speak with Nate a few times during the weekend and all I can say is, he’s got a heart of gold and he loves his daughter! He has a great personality, warm and genuine. There’s such a tenderness in his voice when he talks about his daughter, it’s clearly unmistakable she is his driving force. He talked about his fighting but always adding within the context what his daughter thought. He’s almost unassuming in some aspects in that he’s not loud and braggy like I imagine a lot of those guys are.

   Nate was actually the force behind the concept of The Better Way Back. He described for us his back situation and how it affected him so profoundly. He came up with the idea of The Better Way Back to help others realize their life didn’t have to be over spent in endless, agonizing pain. He proposed to the NuVasive people to wear their logo on his trunks during his comeback fight after his surgery and rehab. They agreed, he won, in a big way, and the rest, as they say, is history. He thinks fighting was a calling, and if that’s the case then The Better Way Back is his second calling. He devotes countless hours traveling all over the country doing motivational speaking and travels the world to visit our troops overseas; always promoting The Better Way Back as well. I think that even if Nate doesn’t return to the fighting cage, his name will still be in the spotlight for promoting the XLIF procedure and others like it to advance the science of back injury recovery. Kuddos to Nate for having that vision!

  So today, all in all has been a GREAT day, one, for receiving all the wonderful gifts from my friends at The Better Way Back, and two, for the opportunity to relive all those special moments once again!

   I want to give a special thanks to all the wonderful people at The Better Way Back who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure nothing stood in the way of a perfect event! I’m not sure of each ones’ title but a very special thanks to Liz, Julia & Emily. You all did a wonderful job pulling your part of the weekend together and working alongside  the NuVasive team of Melissa and Kirsten. Hats off to all of you!

   One more special thank you goes to two men named Rolf Benirschke and Greg Anton who founded Legacy Health Strategies. “They created Legacy Health Strategies because they have a passion for helping patients in their time of need and as they looked at their own business careers, they wanted to make sure they left a positive Legacy in their communities as well.” I have to say both of these gentlemen know their stuff when it comes to putting together an outreach program for people to connect with the right health services. Rolf is also very much involved in The Better Way Back, if I’m not mistaken, I think he’s the director.

   The reason I’m a little unsure of what his function is, is because NuVasive has done an excellent job to work in conjunction with these programs so they are seamless. Kuddos to them for such a seamless affiliate program.

  Brian just came home and was blown away with the poster-size picture of his mother sitting in front of the fireplace. He said he’s gonna get me a poster frame so I can hang it. He just kept repeating, “WOW, Mom, WOW! OH, WOW Mom!” So I’m thinking he thinks it’s awesome! LOL The basketball is already on the fireplace mantel! And the pictures are already hung for all to see! Brian just kept saying, “WOW Mom, this is AWESOME!” I think he likes the stuff as much as I do!

  Well I have to get dinner ready so this is a good time to wrap it up. I’m having a hard time finding the words to express to everyone just how grateful I am for all the wonderful things happening to me. Somehow I’ll find them, and when I do, I’ll express my gratitude.

Until then, remember to take care of you and yours,

hugs,

Kathleen

PS remember to check back on Friday, my one year anniversary for my website where I’ll be posting the first three pages of my book, For Brian’s Sake and the first page of the second book, Broken. (remember, it is copyrighted material and you need my written consent to copy or do anything with my excerpt.)

Hi Everyone!

   It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I started writing on this website. I’ve learned a LOT, about websites, myself, my followers and about life. Jotting things down makes your thoughts more real somehow. It’s almost like seeing it in concrete where you can go back and visit your words over and over again. Did I say what I meant, did I convey the right emotion, will my readers even care about this or that? All those questions and a ton more I struggle with ever day. I want to become a good writer but it doesn’t happen overnight.

   I decided to post on my website the first three pages of my first book, FOR BRIAN’S SAKE. Bear in mind this is copyrighted material so you can’t copy and paste it or print it out and use it anywhere unless you get my written permission to do so. That said, I may even post the first page of my second book BROKEN, as well! I’ve been telling you all about my book for so long, I think some of you don’t believe it’s gonna happen or that it really exists! But it really does!

   On another note, I’ll be starting rehearsals today for Easter Choir at the Cathedral! I”m loving being a part of something so cool. I imagine our director Debbie, will be choosing some difficult pieces she expects us to make it sound easy and gorgeous to sing! But that’s the fun of it! I am so blessed to have been brought into their circle.

  So for all my readers around the world and to my new friends from NuVasive, my XLIF buddies, The Better Way Back Team and the AIMIS people, get ready to discover what I’ve been talking about; my books.

  I will be posting soon the last but not least of my impressions about Nate “Rock” Quarry, Bill Walton and lastly a glimpse of my doctor, Dr. William Smith, who, without him, this website nor my future would exist.

   In the meantime, remember to take care of you and yours,

hugs,

Kathleen

PS:   HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Hi Everyone!

   I hope while you are reading this you’re at peace with your world. There’s so much turmoil going on in other’s lives and it’s just sad. As a mediator, my heart hurts for all those who’ve died and are maimed and injured needlessly.

   As I think about all the good things that have happened to me recently I’m reflecting back on all the “stuff” that goes along with it… and, I’m preparing to share it with all of you in hopes you can feel like you’re not alone. I’m writing my book proposal and should have it done within the next few weeks. I’ll send it off and say a prayer that it’s content will be met with a keen eye and a heart filled with compassion enough to let it come to fruition. I’m just an ordinary person, who recognized I was living an extraordinary life. That is what I’ll share with you in my books.

  For now, I want to introduce you to the other people I met at the Cheetah Ball in San Diego. A plane-mate and his wife, Brad and Jeanette were at last year’s ball and added commentary as to what to expect. It’s uncanny how much he looks like an attorney associate I worked with in my mediation firm back in Ohio. Even more a surprise that he too is an attorney. Hmmm, maybe it’s the profession that makes them look like one another. LOL

   At any rate, he and his wife were warm, friendly people who made the weekend fun. Brad had surgery on his back two years ago after having gone through a couple which were unsuccessful, to say the least. He also was a patient of Dr. Smiths (my doctor) and was met by him in one of those scooters.

   Brad loves to tell the story about Dr. Smith seeing him post-op for the first time and having to ask one of his assistants who the patient was in the exam room because he’d never seen Brad standing! Dr. Smith didn’t recognize him! Brad had the XLIF procedure done on four levels. That was pretty extensive in those days. Most people get one, two or three levels done, but Dr. Smith is on the cutting edge of the most innovative technology which not only addresses the immediate issues but ones he feels that may arise in the near future.

Then came Claire, a gorgeous blond with a wonderful, bubbly personality, who, in the prime of her life was delivered a blow which pretty much put a hold on everything. At 23 she was diagnosed that she needed spinal surgery after picking up one of her toddlers at work. You see she works in a child care center and that is a major part of her job, picking little ones up and wiping away tears, kissing boo boos and reading stories to them on her lap. She could do none of this because of her injury. It tore her apart. Being highly competitive and also a runner, after her surgery was completed, she asked her doctor if she could enter an iron man competition. Without so much as blinking an eye he said yes. She again explained it was an IRON MAN competition, biking, swimming, running… grueling activities for a “healthy” person. She was interested in seeing just how far she could get back to her old life. Her doctor said he knew what they were and it was ok for her to compete. She completed it in like 22 hours. NOT BAD for a first timer, AND an XLIF patient. She has since gotten married to a wonderfully supportive young man, Stuart, and is in anticipation of starting a family some day. She wants people to know you can still do all the “normal” things in life AFTER  XLIF surgery that you wanted to.

  About the time I was being introduced to Claire in the lobby of the hotel along comes this really cool, big guy with a Texan drawl. “Kathleen, this is Landon, a fellow XLIF patient.” Landon was the epitome of a Southern personality, warm and genuine. He too was an attorney. As I got to hear Landon’s story it reminded me of how fragile our lives really are, no matter where we come from, what our background is, how big or small we are, how purple, white, green, yellow, brown, red or black we are…we still hurt the same way. His surgery was performed 18 months ago and he’s raring to get back to the life he had planned. Landon enjoys martial arts and I think I even saw a picture of him wearing a black belt… he’s also into wrestling… and a whole lotta other stuff! He’s young, energetic and his prior surgeries left him wanting to do the things he’d dreamed about. It wasn’t until his XLIF procedure that he even dare to dream they could all come true. He now has a very deep appreciation for his doctor, the NuVasive family we have and to the opportunity to share his story with others.

   There are two other very special people, Nate “Rock” Quarry and NBA ledgend Bill Walton, XLIF patients themselves, I want to talk about but that’s for another day. For now just know that we are ALL very grateful to the dedicated men and women from NuVasive, who, without their dreams and talents, we could not be fulfilling ours!

I’ll be writing again soon about the last two members of the discussion panel Nate and Bill but for now I need to do some housekeeping. 

Remember to take care of you and yours,

Hugs,

Kathleen

Hi Everyone,

   I’m feeling a bit better, neck pain is under control. I still have to catch up on some more sleep though. And, by the way, it had nothing to do with last weekend! LOL

   I went to the doctors’ yesterday looking for a little relief until my regular appointment with Dr. Smith. I asked for some meds to ease the pain that gets me up at like 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning. I can only lay for so long. We’re headed towards fixing that problem too.

  After I left the Dr’s office I was going to head home but for some reason, I did a U turn and went to the Cathedral. I was going to speak with my choir director if she was available. She wasn’t, but I got there at ten till twelve. Mass was at twelve ten. So I decided to stay and have a little chat with God. I needed to thank Him for putting all these new, and wonderful people in my life. I also wanted to show Him how I could stand and kneel without pain. It was uncomfortable to kneel because I haven’t done it a lot yet, but it felt good.

   As the priest started his sermon, he spoke about the day being the Feast Day of St. Blaze. He’s the patron saint of all things of the throat. Catholics go to mass on this day to have their throats blessed. As the priest prays for you with crossed candles against your throat, he says the intention for all conditions, diseases and aliments of the throat to be healed. How incredible that I should be guided to the church to have my throat blessed! God sure does work in mysterious ways! I am sure that when I have surgery on my neck everything will be fine.

  An ah ha moment occurred to me while sitting quietly in church. By me telling my story about Brian and about my back I am doing His work. The priest talked about reaching out to others to make their lives whole. One of the readings was about the disciples being told to take nothing with them, no travel gear, not extra cloak, no supplies and to speak about His healing along their travels. If I can make the burden of even just one person a little lighter by sharing our lives with others then I will have done His work. It was such an enlightening visit.

   I’m not usually THIS introspective, but since I was asked to think about how healing my back has changed my life, it’s brought me to a new level of understanding about the human condition and what I believe is possible and how I can help.

   Dr. Smith and I were talking about the weekend and the NuVasive company’s philosophy. It’s so complex, it’s simple. They are there, for and because of the patient. And it shows. I was privy to attend the weekend of all weekends for NuVasive and yet they made me feel like I was the most important person there.  I hope Claire and Landon felt the same way. (I’ll be speaking about them in a few other writings because I want to cover them as completely as I can.) I can only speak for me and my experience with my new extended family from NuVasive and it’s one of complete support. I don’t feel I’ll ever have to go through anything else alone. (meaning my neck surgery)

   All of my personal friends from Ohio and around the country who have supported me all this time, that’s the same kind of caring I get from the NuVasive people whom I’ve know for a grand total of 7 days! AMAZING!

   I will be on my website in the next few weeks a lot as I sort through everything. I want to speak about the very people I’m talking about on a more personal level. So, as I said before there’s much more to be told about the Cheetah Ball and NuVasive. I just didn’t think it was fair to give it to you all at once or to just glaze over some of the amazing people I’ve met. I want you to get to know them so they’ll feel like family to you as well.

But for now, remember to take care of you and yours,

hugs to all,

Kathleen

Hi All,

   Just a quick note to let you know I haven’t disappeared. For the last few weeks my neck has become increasingly painful. Too painful to even sleep. I sleep sporadically and short before the pain overtakes me. This morning I had enough and went to the doctor and got a script for something to help.

   I’m very tired since I’ve only had about 6 hours of sleep in the last four days. I plan on going to bed early tonight and hopefully I’ll be able to sleep. I know the bunnies will be wondering why I don’t get up and put them in bed with me, but I really need to get some rest. Once I’m rested and refreshed, I know I’ll feel more like writing and getting on with things.

   I have something really important to share with you but I haven’t got a clear enough head to do it justice. I promise I’ll share it with you as soon as I’m feeling better. I should probably post by tomorrow afternoon.

Just remember to take care of you and yours,

Hugs,

Kathleen

   Hi Everyone!

   Aaaaah, but what a memory it will be! From the plane ride to the limo ride to the Hilton on San Diego Bay it was filled with pretty powerful stuff. As luck or fate would have it, my son, Brian, was booked to fly to Phoenix to see his girlfriend, Ally. Our gates were 19 and 20 respectively, an hour apart and it hit me, Brian was going an hour east to continue on his life journey, his future with his girlfriend and future wife, and I was traveling an hour west to greet my new tomorrow. How poignant it was to be at the airport at the same time as our lives are separating. For the last twenty-two years I worked to get him and I to a place of wellness and me to have the opportunity to get on with the rest of my life. That day arrived simultaneously, almost unnoticeable.

  There were new people for me to meet, like the attorney and his wife from Vegas who were so gracious to guide me through the steps familiar to them from doing this last year. They eased a lot of fears about what was going to happen but only to an extent. What happens to patients who become Patient Ambassadors is only understandable through experience.

    San Diego is the kind of town that if you never get out of your car, the sights from your window are still recognizable from pictures you’ve seen in magazines. The trolley running along the roadway and just a few feet away from the ocean’s edge, it’s all a part of the scene that’s set as you travel to your destination.

  Once in the hotel lobby I was immediately impressed with how I was treated. Warm, genuine greetings are met with a surprise bag with my name on it. A welcome to our event gift. As I opened my room door I was greeted with a phone call from one of The Better Way Back folks, Julia. She greeted me and asked if my flight was ok and if my room was acceptable to me…. As long as I didn’t have to cook or clean for the next three days, it didn’t matter to me, but it was a bonus that it looked out onto the Pacific Ocean and the room was gorgeous.

  As I was hanging up the phone a knock on my door yielded a young lady presenting me with a “Welcome” tray of goodies! A gift card and a wonderful snack welcoming me to San Diego. It was a really nice touch.

  Soon after I was whisked away to dinner at a restaurant in the Gaslamp District with Nate “Rock” Quarry the UFC fighter and the rest of The Better Way Back team. We were ushered into an Atrium for dinner where the New Patient Ambassadors got to meet, share our stories and interact for a while. All around the room there were poster-size pictures of us with quotes from our interviews. We had dinner with Dr. Tormeh, one of the leading neurosurgeons responsible for Claire’s new-found freedom from pain. It was a time for camaraderie and communion welcoming us into the NuVasive family.

   Liz St. John, Julia Saba, Melissa Kaysen, and Rolf Benirschke, a former NFL player, rounded out the evening asking us to share our experience with the NuVasive XLIF procedure. Both heartfelt and moving, each one had their story to share. But, with an exciting day ahead it was time to go back to the  hotel for some rest before our big day and the ball.

  After meeting for breakfast in the hotel we were taken to NuVasive world headquarters in La Jolla. There, we toured the heartbeat of an inner sanctum where talented geniuses are encouraged to think outside the box, making innovation the norm and standard to beat for themselves. A quick look at one of the doctors in action performing the setup procedure on a cadaver moved us on to our purpose for being there. A teleconference took place with us as well as new Patient Ambassadors from Tennessee and from all around the country. There we discussed some of our experiences, then Rolf explained the highlights of 2010 and what The Better Way Back wants to achieve in 2011. They want to have at least 300 plus Patient Ambassadors instead of only the 46 that are now a part of the program. As things would happen, Rolf’s dear friend Mark is to have a six-level back surgery on the 7th of February but is extremely apprehensive about it. Rolf asked if I wouldn’t mind speaking with him after our conference.

   Before lunch I took the phone from Rolf and discussed in detail all the pointed questions his friend had about my experience and what he could hope to expect in the weeks and months ahead. By doing this kind of Patient Outreach program, it dispels fears and myths about all the negativity from horror stories of decades of botched back surgeries. It isn’t like that any more. Advances in technologies in neurosurgery have grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years and now with the onset of neuromapping, what was done to me eight months ago is considered obsolete as newer, safer, and more streamlined techniques are developed. It’s an exciting time to be a neurosurgeon and a patient who finally has a minimally invasive procedure at their disposal to help get the rest of their life back, pain free!

  On the return trip to our hotel we were treated to a “scenic” ride back along the coastal waters, through a section of La Jolla and Ocean Beach. Back by the hotel the aircraft carrier Midway is docked to board and enjoy a lunch or tour of the ship. I chose to be let out a couple of miles away from the hotel to take in the sights before rehearsal for the evening’s events. As I walked, I could see the naval yard across the bay to Coronado Island and the Coast Guard Station where my father’s ship would come into port during the war. There, my mother would wait for him and they took in the very sights and views of the ocean as I now was. I recalled so many of the stories my mom talked about when I was little and now, I could finally put a picture to the scenes I held dear in my mind. I arrived back at the hotel with no time to spare for rehearsal, and with a quick run-through behind me, I was poised to prepare myself for the evenings’ activities.

  Each of the New Patient Ambassadors was seated at a different table giving more people an opportunity to interact with us on a personal level. This event is held to award the NuVasive army of sales reps with the year’s best and brightest and to allow the co-mingling of thoughts on how best to represent the company as it grows bigger and brighter on the world stage.

  As I spoke with my new Ambassador friend from Las Vegas about the evenings’ events, he didn’t do the night’s affair justice when describing it to me. It’s one of those things where you just gotta be there to really understand the scope of it.

  I was seated at the table with two of the board members, and the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of NuVasive. I had no idea who I was talking to as I put my mouth in gear… you’d think that after suffering from hoof-in-mouth disease for decades, I’d learn to tread lightly. But no, I spoke right through better judgement as I explained to Jason, whom by the way only introduced himself as Jason, that I had a meeting with a producer and ghost writer last weekend about getting my memoir written and that I was in need of funding for the project! Nothing like talking about it with the right wrong guy! LOL It wasn’t until much later in the evening, when he was announced to go up on stage that I realized who I was sitting next to. Geesh! I should have been handed a booklet with all the big wigs’ pictures and names so I wouldn’t have sounded so foolish!

   As the evening progressed and dinner was served, I was tapped to head to the stage, just after I saw my surgeon get an award for being one of four doctors in the world to have performed more than 1,000 XLIF procedures since its inception. Backstage I patiently waited to be called while Nate Quarry assured me that he would escort me down the steps once we were done so I wouldn’t fall. I am still having some hip issues and I wore brand new two inch heels with my dress. I was the first one introduced and was greeted onstage by Bill Walton, ex-NBA star and now fellow XLIF patient himself. Once we were all seated, three patient advocates and two doctors, a series of questions were posed to each of us. A two minute video of each one of us was played as an introduction leading up to the queries.  The questions were a sampling of our experiences and our stories giving a face and character to the metal parts designed and sold by the members of the audience.

  Alex Lukianov, CEO and founder of the NuVasive company is an out of the box visionary with a playful streak. He himself is an XLIF patient so he well “gets” what he is doing for people everywhere. There was a performance with a troupe from Circ de Sole, and a 28 piece band with dancers and singers for our dinner entertainment. With a playful heart, Alex let down what little hair he still has along with COO Keith Valentine to do a number of small skits. There was, interspersed during the evening, videos about the company and how it came to be. Hats off to Nadia Scott and Jerry Hana for their professionalism to pull those videos off making us look so good and to add to the variety of media to convey the overall picture of the company as a whole.

   It was really cool when I was escorted off stage by Nate Quarry to be warmly greeted by Dr. Smith who conveyed he was totally shocked to see me there. His friends at NuVasive had not shared that tidbit with him. He was also a little surprised because I’ve changed so much physically since he’s seen me in his office. He didn’t recognize me that morning when I spoke to him as he politely breezed swiftly passed me. A little slighted at first, I came to realize my appearance had changed so much he didn’t know who I was. LOL  See what he did to me!

   I felt like Cinderella and told others as much, not wanting to know when it was midnight! After our discussion panel on stage, people were coming up to me thanking me for sharing my story with them and motivating them to be the best they can be because they have a name and a face to the reason why they do what they do all year long. I was the one who was so overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and camaraderie. I’ve mostly felt like I was the one on the outside looking in and for one of the first times in my life I felt a part of something truly unique and that I belonged.   

   This past weekend has filled an empty place in my heart that hasn’t known the kind of love and compassion it has long been looking for. It was comfortable. And I liked it. A lot. I achieved something so personal and got to share it with people who understood what it took to get here. That kind of validation isn’t often rewarded to others but I’ve now had the unique opportunity to know what that feels like. All of their love and support are motivation enough for me to continue on my healing journey, and to share with as many people in the world as I can to help them lighten their hearts too.

  As I was leaving the ball I was met with a young man from Germany. Standing in the hallway with my shoes in hand, he and I had a lively discussion about the company and the world view from our personal perspectives. It is a conversation I will not soon forget. Once we said our goodbyes, some forty minutes later, I had to pass the Odysea Bar to get to the elevators. It dawned on me I was standing for that long without thinking about looking for a chair!

    Of course I was hailed over to speak with others and for the next two hours had yet another lively discussion with a young man named Pete and his wife. Pete was absolutely convinced by the end of our talk he was in the right profession doing the right thing, as his contribution to the bigger picture so people like me and hopefully millions more will have life changing stories to tell as well.

    By that time I’d been up for 23 1/2 hours and it was time for me to rest. But before I went to sleep, I sent a message to my ghost writer and told him to brace himself… I had an earful for him and his producer friend, and he better be ready to jump on board for a full steam ahead ride!

  This is the capsulated version of a very wonderful evening and weekend that will be forever etched in my mind. It won’t be the last you hear about this weekend because I still have to put my impressions and feeling down in print as well. Since I’m using this website to chronicle my healing journey, there is still much more to come. I’ll keep you posted but for now, I have thank yous to design and get made to send.

  I can’t even begin to know how to thank all the people who made this weekend happen and to allow me this opportunity to be a small part of their big picture. I hope I can be of service and am grateful for the trust they’ve placed in me to represent them on a personal level to the world stage. I’ll forever keep that in mind as I go about the task I have before me to get the word out.

   I’ve been asked to do a second memoir after I’m done with FOR BRAIN’S SAKE, my journey to my son’s healing, to share MY personal journey about the experience of getting my body back to wellness. It’s an exciting time to be me!

For now I’ll pause to reflect on the past few days to get it into perspective enough to convey my inner thoughts and feelings about what just happened to me. It truly has changed my world forever.

Remember in the meantime to take care of you and yours,

HUGS & Love,

Kathleen