When Hope is Your Only Option: One Man's Brave Journey through Life's Adversity - Triple Organ Transplant

When Hope is Your Only Option: One Man's Brave Journey through Life's Adversity - Triple Organ Transplant

by Jim Stavis


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Diagnosed with juvenile type 1 diabetes at age 17, Jim Stavis was told to expect a shortened lifespan filled with medical difficulties along the way. While some would choose to spend their time asking, “Why me?” and focusing on the very real possibility that their life would end before it even began, Stavis chose to tackle his medical issues head on— using positivity and hope as warriors in his fight against adversity.

As Jim’s life unfolded, he realized the adversity that had occurred early on had actually been a blessing, as it taught him how to overcome life’s greatest challenges. It served as a motivator to get his life on a successful path, both personally and in business.As events would occur, such as a devastating business fire, more health challenges and ultimately a rare triple organ transplant, it was the mindset Jim employed that he would not only survive, but flourish that got him through. He ultimately realized in his journey that we are all tested eventually. Through his real-life challenges that he overcame and the wisdom gained, he hopes to be able to help others as they encounter their own adversity in life.

This book is about overcoming all the odds. It is achievement paired with loss, and accomplishment paired with adversity. It is having faith that in all things, even the most challenging and heartbreaking, you can learn and gain something important. It begins with the hope and belief that you can get through anything, even if it’s your only option.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781457563492
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Publication date: 04/11/2018
Pages: 194
Sales rank: 826,149
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


Bruin Woods

The splintered wood of the telephone pole was hot and rough between my hands. I clung desperately to the pole, buckled into an obstacle course harness, wondering if it would hold me. I held tight, my body tingling with fear and anxiety. Sweat slid like wet sheets, not droplets, down the sides of my cheeks.

What was I doing? How did I get here? What would happen to me now?

The day started with challenge and excitement. My wife Renee, daughters Jessica and Ashley, and son Brian and I were enjoying a retreat in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead, California, at a camp called Bruin Woods. It's a camp for alumni of UCLA (I'm a proud graduate, class of 1977). John Heil (my childhood best friend), his wife, and their children joined us for good times as well. The camp had all the typical activities, like hikes, campfires, talent shows, and a ropes course for some thrills and adventure, too.

Our turn at the ropes course seemed uneventful at first. I felt tired, more tired than usual, but in my usual way of doing things I kept moving forward. The type I diabetes diagnosis I'd received decades before was a constant annoyance to my active and busy life, and always loomed large in the background as a source of foreboding and ill health. But, I persevered no matter what — I ran, I ate, I worked, I parented, type I diabetes be damned.

That is, until I was introduced to that telephone pole near the top of a mountain. Deep in the woods, high in the mountains at a high altitude, I found it harder and harder to breathe. The thermometer outside was ticking up as the summer day warmed. The sun beat down on our heads and backs as we watched the ropes course instructor. He and his assistant, a young woman and a UCLA college student, got harnesses, then buckled and secured each of us in place. "Man," I thought, "August in southern California is hot."

We took turns, our families chatting and watching us as, one after another, we scaled this obstacle — this 20-foot telephone pole climb towards an ever-hotter sky.

My turn finally came. I mustered up my courage as I gathered the rope (tightly) around my waist. I would climb that pole like everyone else — heat, fear, and diabetes be damned. Inch by inch, I crept up the pole.

Hotter, hotter. Sweating and swearing a bit under my breath, going higher and higher.

As I neared the top of the pole, I gazed out atop the tree line. It was beautiful. We were so high, our mountain peak was above the clouds. Breathtaking! And I only had a few breaths to spare.

In the distance, I could see the calm deep-blue mountain lake. The colors of the trees were a beautiful array of early autumnal green, orange, and golden tones. I was content for the moment to just enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of where I was. I forgot the task at hand, forgot the heat, forgot my fear, and forgot the diabetes that made the climb so demanding.

I must have paused a little longer than expected. My family called out from the base below, "You okay, Jim?" I yelled down to them how beautiful everything was up there. "The most beautiful thing I have ever seen!" I exclaimed in awe.

But then ... then it changed. The beautiful colors slipped to black and white, like an old television screen that moves from clarity to snowy fuzz. The chirping of birds and the constant summer breeze slowly died down, as if everything was growing more distant, then remote, then completely silent.

What was I doing? How did I get here? What would happen next?

My brain fought valiantly for those last few moments of consciousness. Black and white, silence, sweat, shaking, fear, no — wait — hold on — Renee — the kids ... then I was out.

Friends told me later they thought I was simply horsing around until my body tumbled loose from the telephone pole twenty feet up in the air. I appeared lifeless, limp, dangling, and at the mercy of a few loops of rope and bandoliers. The people in our group below screamed. My family watched the unfolding scene in horror. Everyone ran to help quickly lower me down to the ground.

The rest of the story was conveyed to me later by my best friend, John Heil. As I mentioned, we were close, and our families were even closer. John's friendship was always a good steady one, as we both married, built successful careers, and raised our families. Yet, that day it would be different. That day our friendship became a lifesaving one.

John and I had been the best of friends ever since junior high. Here we were, thirty years later, and I was unconscious, laying on the ground. He rushed into action. The others in the group gratefully let him take the lead. He stripped me of the harness and forcefully began CPR. An older man in the group, a radiologist, started chest compressions.

They worked in tandem, determined to bring me back. Pumping my chest, my best friend working to fill my lungs with air, my family watching and waiting, terrified at the scene. I still think of Renee and my children, seeing me laying helpless on the ground, hoping against hope that John could breathe life back into my body. The instructor's assistant, Michelle, who I was talking with before climbing the pole, dissolved into tears. She'd lost her father only the year before to a tragic heart attack, and my circumstances brought all her grief back up again.

The paramedics were called and on their way. However, being up this high in the mountains and this far away from town, they could be minutes or an hour away.

Everyone standing there knew I did not have many minutes, and I certainly did not have an entire hour. It was all up to John. He pushed air into my lungs.

I did not push back.

He thrust another big breath into my chest.

My body did not respond, still appearing lifeless. While most people never experience a moment like this in their lifetime, as you get to know me, you will discover I have had a handful of hanging-on-by-a-thread moments over the years.

Twenty long minutes John breathed tirelessly for me, and nothing seemed to work. My chest did not rise. I was not breathing on my own. He kept going.

Eventually, he shook his head in despair. His wife Nancy tried to comfort my wife Renee, who was inconsolable. She said, "If anyone can save Jim, John can do it."

Hope slowly waned, and despair loomed ominous and heavy. John told me later he could not believe this was how my life would end. Nono, not now. Please God! No!


Miracle in the Mountains

It was a desperate moment. Nothing was working as my best friend and a doctor performed CPR, trying heroically to save my life.

John stopped doing CPR for a moment.

He was losing hope, fearing the worst. It was okay that he stopped for a moment, because that was the moment everything changed.

He gazed up to the sky, as if asking for divine intervention. It was then his prayers were instantly answered. As he gazed upward, he heard his mother's familiar soft voice. She had died just a few years before. He heard her say, "Do not stop, John. You can save him. Do not stop, John. You can save him."

John shot back to me with one more forced breath of borrowed air, and I suddenly gasped and sputtered back to life. John sat on the ground in amazement, stunned by what had just happened. He is not a religious man, but as he told us later, it was akin to a religious experience. Finally, I was alive again, when just moments before it seemed as if I would not return to the living.

In a complete reversal of what happened high up in the air on the telephone pole when the ambient sounds grew softer as I faded out of consciousness, the volume in my ears clicked back on. First, I could hear again. Then, I could see.

What was I doing? How did I get here? What just happened to me?

I was lying on the ground with everyone huddled around me, afraid tragedy had struck on the mountain-top at Bruin Woods. The past thirty minutes were completely blank to me. People told me, "You stopped breathing."

John's face was ruddy from exertion. He told me he performed CPR for over twenty minutes after they lowered me from the ropes and got me out of the harness.

Renee was in shock. My wife was still stunned that I almost left her.

The paramedics finally arrived and whisked me off to a small mountaintop clinic. A doctor confirmed I indeed had a cardiac event, but was uncertain what caused it. Then an ambulance came and took me down the mountain to a hospital in San Bernardino, California, and it was there I learned that one coronary artery was 95 percent blocked. The condition of my heart would have typically led to "sudden death." There usually is no warning when such events occur. How lucky was I?

I had passed out while strapped into a harness twenty feet in the air. Friends on the ground watched my brush with death, then had seen my life saved. I could, however, have easily lost my life in the solitude the day before as I ran the trails up the mountain alone. There, I would have also seen the colors of nature deepen, the sky darken, and fuzz. There would have been a fade to silence without a hero and CPR. I would have been without breath or my life, period.

The doctors had more to tell me at the hospital. It was not just that I had a bad heart — I was also experiencing the complications of my long ongoing battle with type 1 diabetes.

At age 42, on that hot summer day, I was lucky that I did not die strapped in a harness at the top of a hot splintery telephone pole.

When I was diagnosed in 1971, diabetics could not afford to be romantics. We were told our lives would likely be filled with kidney and heart disease, blindness, and possibly limb amputations. It was a bleak future that greeted me, and anyone else who received a similar diagnosis back then.

I decided as a young man that each day would be a good day if I woke up in the morning. Everything else would come, and life was best lived in the moment and not in anticipation of a gory unknown future. As an adult, I used my diabetes as a motivator to keep me healthy, eager, and moving. Between running up mountains, getting married, having kids, starting a steel business, and even doing high ropes courses on the hottest summer day, I vowed that type 1 diabetes would not stop me until it did. That day in Bruin Woods, diabetes finally stopped me — or at least slowed me down.

Now what did I do? I could write pages about the natural beauty of that view from the top of that pole. Instead, let me share another perspective I gained. It's not about trees or clouds, but about enlightenment. It was the event that finally forced me to come to grips with my health and mortality. I began understanding the specific changes and shifts I needed to make for my survival. Sometimes, out of darkness comes light. Sometimes, out of a fall comes a rise. That's how I chose to remember what happened at Bruin Woods that day.

Despite facts to the contrary (such as a chronic or terminal diagnosis), we often ignore warning signs and convince ourselves of an alternate reality. I realized I operated this way for a very long time.

I thought if I could pretend to be "normal," as if I wasn't sick or afflicted by this disease called type 1 diabetes, I could literally will the effects to not manifest, to not be. You might call this behavior living in denial, and perhaps that is true. However, my coping behavior was always critical to my ability to persevere, to live life resisting doom and gloom, and to wake up each day with a positive sense of hope in my heart. I now understood that the bleak forecast given to me in 1971 was based on the statistics of other diabetics. It was not necessarily a true death sentence.

Going forward, I intended to control my destiny and make choices as best as I could — this time around without denial. I was going to learn to endure. The cards I was dealt were indeed lousy ones, but I decided to make the best of them. What happened up at Bruin Woods that day was a microcosm of my entire life. There were challenges to overcome. Sometimes we must learn to accept weaknesses and limitations. It was abundantly clear I must learn to live more forthrightly with mine. More of them came my way as I grappled with new heart challenges. However, I also had a strong support system of wonderful family and friends. Like the very breath of life that saved me, their support would see me through, and they continue to remain by my side today.


Stumbling onto a Mission

In the days and weeks that followed my experience in Bruin Woods, I began to wonder why I had been spared — exactly why did I not die up on that pole. Post-crisis survival can be a very lonely place.

When I consider all the life-and-death drama that occurred in the mountains with my best friend and my entire family at my side, the brush with death itself was not a lonely episode in my life. If anything, it was very public. Weirdly, I felt like I almost had a cheering section bringing me back to life. It was Rocky meets Lake Arrowhead! I was in a fight for life, although I wasn't in a ring but laid out on bare mountain soil, clinging to life. Unlike Rocky's many bouts, there would be no sequel to this round — that I wanted to ensure.

Living and nearly dying in a crowd was a very different feeling from the aftermath — the emotional processing of my life being saved.

What I gained was an awareness, an awareness of how incredible lucky I had been. As I said, this event could have happened the day before, when there wasn't anyone around to save me. It could have happened at any time or any place. But it happened when it did, and that is the part that made me wonder. Why?

I thought of all the whimsical events that occur in our life for reasons unknown to us. I thought about all the people that randomly die, struck by lightning, slipping and falling — anything. We worry often about the things we have no control over. In reflecting about what occurred up on the mountain that August day, I now realize that it must have been for a reason. Simply put, I was not supposed to die at that time. I believe there was a purpose for me in this lifetime.

I needed, however, to learn an invaluable lesson from that moment. I had to take better care of myself and quickly. I had been flirting with danger ever since my diabetes diagnosis as a teen, and yet here I was fighting for my life. I also needed to learn to appreciate all that I had in this life. Particularly my family, who circled around me during and after my brush with death, who rallied behind me in recovery. In this sense, this was a moment of recognition for our entire family.

The fact that my best friend was the one to ultimately save me was also a blessing. He has jokingly told me that the CPR he performed on me was the most unforgettable moment in his life, and ironically, it's a moment that I likely will never remember. In the end, what happened after this day that made it all worthwhile.

The second major lesson I gained that day was the realization that my diabetes and related health issues had to be integrated into my life and not just locked off in a closet. I'd encountered my day of reckoning. Until Bruin Woods, I never exposed my condition because I didn't want to be treated any differently than anyone else. I viewed my health as personal, and I was quite private about it. Yet, when you are 20 feet up in the air in front of family, friends, and strangers and your heart stops, well the so-called cat is out of the proverbial bag. I couldn't be diabetic Jim in private anymore. My health was a part of every facet of my life, my work, and my family.

In the summer of 1988, I started a steel company called Paragon Steel. I formed the company with a partner named Doug Carpenter in Long Beach, California. Paragon Steel was a sales and marketing company that sold a variety of steel products to manufacturers and for construction. Soon after, I began writing a newsletter that communicated directly with our customers and prospects. My fundamental belief at the time was that the steel industry lacked a heartbeat. Our marketing was not very creative, and steel itself was not very exciting. To many, it was just a commodity. We promoted our company as being different — we were customer-focused. The newsletter I wrote was an extension of this philosophy. I tried to make it informative, entertaining, and personal. As many steel distribution companies were second- and third-generation companies, there wasn't much creativity in terms of how they operated. In fact, some steel companies were selling out to foreign companies who saw the U.S. market as a new frontier. Unfortunately, they were not as customer-focused as we were at Paragon Steel. Our newsletter became a representation of this idea.


Excerpted from "When Hope is Your Only Option"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jim Stavis.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Bruin Woods,
Chapter 2: Miracle in the Mountains,
Chapter 3: Stumbling onto a Mission,
Chapter 4: Ready for Change?,
Chapter 5: The Diabetes Diagnosis,
Chapter 6: My New Normal,
Chapter 7: Living on the Edge,
Chapter 8: Once Upon a Sign,
Chapter 9: Dirty Harry,
Chapter 10: Spinnin' Wheel,
Chapter 11: The Simple Life,
Chapter 12: Marooned in Madison,
Chapter 13: Staying Hopefull — Not Hopeless,
Chapter 14: The Green Mile,
Chapter 15: Source of Hope,
Chapter 16: The Waiting Game,
Chapter 17: The Space between Life and Death,
Chapter 18: The Awakening,
Chapter 19: Meeting My Hero's Family,
Chapter 20: The Heart of the Matter,
Chapter 21: Messages from the Universe,
Chapter 22: Gambling on a Pancreas,
Chapter 23: Success and Failure — Knowing the Difference,
Chapter 24: Rusty Pipes,
Chapter 25: When the Going Gets Tough,
Chapter 26: Overcoming Addiction,
Chapter 27: Paragon Steel and the Loss of a Partner,
Chapter 28: Is the Coast Ever Clear?,
Chapter 29: Counting Your Blessings,
Chapter 30: How Do You Deal with Adversity?,
Epilogue: One Lucky Guy,

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