A Heart Story for Busy Moms

Julia Lou and family

Julia Lou and family

Like many moms, Julia Lou spent most of her time taking care of others, until she learned taking care of herself literally saved her life.  She was on vacation with her husband and three young children in Hawaii when she felt a tightness in her chest and numbness on her left side.  She had felt it before, but it had always gone away.  This time, her husband insisted she see a doctor.  She ended up in an emergency room and was told part of her heart wall was no longer moving. 

The Lou family returned home to Austin, Texas where Julia was ultimately diagnosed with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD.  The American Heart Association describes SCAD on it’s website.

“The artery wall has three layers and when a tear occurs, blood is able to pass through the innermost layer and become trapped and bulge inward. This narrows or blocks the artery and can cause a heart attack because blood flow cannot reach the heart muscle.”   

Doctors say SCAD patients are often women who are otherwise healthy, and about a third of them have recently had a child. Dr. Suzanne Wetherold at the Heart Hospital of Austin told Julia she had likely lived through several heart attacks and not even known it.  Julia remembers the feeling she would experience that she always thought was heartburn or just an upset stomach.  Tears well up in her eyes as she describes the severe tightness in her chest after she had her third child that made it too painful to nurse her newborn son.

Julia started cardiovascular rehabilitation immediately to strengthen her heart.  The cardio rehab is a doctor monitored program in which the heart muscle grows stronger through exercises.  She says went to rehab several times a week for about one month at St. David’s HealthCare.  

The Part of Julia’s Story She Wants Us All To Hear

Julia still has a busy life, but wants others to know the importance of self care and getting regular heart check ups.

“We must make sure we are healthy so we can have good health and the ability to love others,” said Lou.

She takes time to appreciate what may seem like small life moments:  singing to her children at bedtime, hearing her daughter sing “Tomorrow” in the musical Annie, and listening to her son’s hopes of being an NBA star or maybe a radiologist.

“My heart needed to be healthy so I could enjoy and cherish each one of those moments,” said Lou.

In all of our need and desire to be busy, we may miss life saving warning signs, and we’re sure to miss a small moment with a loved one that may life changing.

 

  • Heart attack warning signs:  chest pain or pressure, pain in the arms, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, nausea and dizziness.

 

(I heard Julia Lou tell her story February 26, 2016 at the Go Red For Women Luncheon in Austin, Texas.)

Small Batteries Teach Big Life Lessons

The Buaas Family

The Buaas Family

As a journalist, sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find a story you just have to tell.  Other times, the story moves in next door to you.  Literally.  I met Jennifer Buaas when her family rented the house next door to me.  I took over some cookies on Christmas Eve day to welcome her family to the neighborhood and soon learned she had a story she wants to tell everyone.  It’s about household batteries, importance of family and learning to adapt.

The story happened in Hays County, Texas on Halloween morning, October 31, 2015.  At least that’s where it started.  It was 4:30 a.m..  Jennifer, her husband Travis and her 3 young sons were all sleeping, when she woke up to hear her SUV’s horn blaring.

“My husband grabbed the keys, went to the garage, opened the garage door and the suburban was completely on fire,” said Jennifer Buaas.

By the time she woke up her boys and rushed them outside to safety, the fire had spread from the SUV that was parked outside to the garage.  Jennifer’s husband, Travis, quickly called 9-1-1.

“All kind of stuff was popping,” said Travis Buaas.  “It sounded like fireworks were going off.  It was pretty loud.  Scary.”

Buaas' SUV:  Where the Fire Started

The Buaas’ SUV: Where the Fire Started

When the North Hays County Fire and Rescue teams arrived, the flames had spread through the garage and up into the attic of their home.  Crews worked to control the fire as gusty winds pushed smoke throughout the house. 

“It was definitely one of those surreal experiences as you’re running out, and you’re looking back and you’re thinking – we might be watching our house burn to the ground,” said Jennifer Buaas.

It took several days before fire investigators determined the cause of the fire.  The Buaas family assumed it was something that went wrong in the engine of the SUV, but the investigator discovered the fire actually started inside the console of the vehicle.  He told them it all likely started with a hand full of small AA batteries and some DVDs. 

“He said the batteries could have gotten jostled so they were touching,” said Jennifer Buaas.  “The terminals were touching, and you have a DVD with the metallic coating of the DVD.  He said it’s a good combination for fire.”

Fire Damage in the Buaas House

Fire Damage in the Buaas House

The private investigator’s report from Rimkus Consulting Group, Incorporated said, “The fire was the result of light weight combustible materials being ignited by heat produced from loose batteries short circuiting against loose metallic objects stored within the console.”

In other words, the small AA-batteries got into just the right position, came into contact with the DVDs and generated enough heat to set scraps of paper in the console on fire.  Jennifer kept the spare batteries in her car for her sons’ wireless headsets used when watching the vehicle’s built in DVD player.

Mom On a Mission

It took a while for Jennifer to come to grips with the fact that small batteries she left in her SUV nearly damaged all of what her family owned.  She just doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else.  Her mission:  tell others about the possible dangers from improper storage of small household batteries.  She even shared her story in every Christmas card they sent out this past holiday.

The National Fire Protection Association warns people about battery fire hazards, but focuses safety tips on the 9-volt batteries.  The group suggests these storage tips:

*Keep 9-volt batteries in their original packaging

*Keep them someplace where they will not be tossed around

*Store them standing up

*Never store them loose

*Never store them in containers with other batteries.

The N. F. P. A. focuses its warnings on 9 volt batteries, because they have been known to cause fires more easily.  The positive and negative posts on a 9 volt battery are right next to each other which makes it easier for a piece of metal to complete the electrical circuit and create heat.

Most battery manufacturers remind consumers on the back of the battery packaging to store them in their original case.  Jennifer took it a step further and purchased a plastic battery storage container (similar to this) that keeps batteries in the proper position without touching any other object.  She makes sure not to store loose batteries in junk drawers or in bags with other items.  Jennifer and Lt. Jacob Wade of the North Hays County Fire Rescue recommend putting electrical tape over both posts of batteries before you throw them away.   

“Your likelihood of it happening probably is not high, but there is something you can do about it,” said Buaas.  “You can store your batteries in simple containers or the original packaging.  Just simple organization can help you from possibly burning your house down.”

Jennifer’s story has had some dark moments.  She told me her boys still have some anxiety every time they smell smoke.  The family no longer builds fires to roast marshmallows on, because it’s still brings back too many tough memories.  Getting past those memories has taken a little longer for her 9 year old son who was sleeping in his bedroom right next to the garage – closest to the fire.

“He was a pretty traumatized and scared little boy,” said Jennifer Buaas.  “It took a while to comfort him and assure him that these kinds of things don’t happen every day, and that he was going to be okay.”

Jennifer has spent a lot of time going through things damaged by the fire, smoke or water in her house and is readjusting in her new rental home.  Through it all, she says she has learned a great lesson in adaptability. 

“My husband and I were going through some items, and I just started crying.  You know it’s just stuff, but it’s stuff that holds a lot of memories,” said Jennifer Buaas.

Even though cleaning out those things that hold a lot of memories has been difficult at times, she wants others to remember that “stuff” is simply that.  Just “stuff.”

“Really the material things just don’t matter anymore,” said Buaas.  “Once you grab your kids and rush them out and watch from the road as firemen do amazing work, the material things don’t matter anymore.  You realize you can live with a lot less.”

By the way, the Buaas family rescued their elderly dog from the fire as well.  Jennifer includes him in her story when she says her life is now focused on “everything that has a heartbeat basically.”

Watch the story on Jennifer Buaas and her family that aired on KXAN TV in Austin, Texas.

Writing Your Own Happy Endings

Brenda and Glenn

Brenda’s Happy Ending

Not every story has a happy ending, but it sure is wonderful when it does.  It’s even better when it has multiple happy endings that don’t seem to stop.  This is one of those stories.  Better yet, it’s a love story.  Glorious!  But wait – don’t expect a Disney style fairy tale.  Each happy ending along the way took much more courage, trust and determination than any Disney princess has ever displayed.

Brenda told me part of her story several years ago in a television broadcast news story I wrote for KXAN-TV.  I remember being amazed how she talked so freely about it with such grace.  Brenda described living a secret life full of manipulation, control and abuse.  Her husband first shoved her down to the ground when she was 8 months pregnant with their first child.  Then the shoving and hitting and yelling started happening more frequently.  At one point, she told me he even put a gun to her head.

 “One night he had come home, and I didn’t cook dinner the correct way.  He got upset at me and threw the dinner in pots and pans all across the house,” said Brenda.

He called and texted constantly when she simply went to the grocery store, wanting to know where she was.  Somehow through all of the months and months of mental and physical abuse, she couldn’t see the truth.  She only saw the dream she had envisioned — a life with her children who have both a mom and dad living in the home.  For more than three years she endured the pain, thinking she just wasn’t working hard enough.   

“When someone tells you that every day of your life, you begin to believe that is what life is supposed to be like for you,” said Brenda.   

Her story took a dramatic turn when she witnessed her husband abusing their young son.  Her motherly instincts immediately made her realize she had to get out of the relationship, and she had to get her children out too.  She found the Texas Advocacy Project, a nonprofit providing free legal help to domestic violence survivors and their families.  The legal team at TAP helped get her a protective order through the courts to keep her husband away, fought to put her husband in jail and ultimately sealed her divorce. 

Education Creates Opportunity

You might expect someone in Brenda’s shoes who had just closed the page on an extremely painful chapter of her life to go into hiding for a while.  Not Brenda.  She was anxious to start rebuilding those dreams and ambitions she had buried for years.  She took over her mother’s day care facility, relocated it to another location and then turned her attention to getting the education she needed to make the day care center an even better place for children to grow and learn.

She got involved with the Texas Rising Star Program through the Texas Workforce Commission.  The program offered support to send her to classes at Austin Community College.  It was her first educational experience past high school.  The course work has given her the groundwork to keep dreaming big about offering quality child care.  Her facility is now licensed to care for forty-four children, and all of her teachers have received more training as well.  In just a few months, Brenda will take a test to get her Child Development Associate credential, a nationally recognized recognition in early childhood education. The Council for Professional Recognition calls the CDA credential “a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in early childhood education.” Don’t miss this point.  Brenda tells me her CDA credential is only the beginning of her education.  There will likely be more happy education endings to come.

Not Giving Up On Love, Friendship and Family

The Wedding Day

The Wedding Day

Brenda took another chance on love and married her husband Glenn in 2009.  The couple is raising their two children and Brenda’s two children from her previous marriage.  Four children – two boys and two girls.  It’s the home life she had dreamed of for decades.  She could not think of a better plan, until Glenn did.  The couple had talked about the possibility of Glenn adopting Brenda’s two children for some time, but recently she came home from work to hear him discussing what adoption meant with the children.

She posted her reaction on Facebook:

“In the middle of the conversation my daughter had tears streaming down her face.  When Glenn asked her what she was feeling, her response was, ‘I’m just happy.’,” said Brenda.  “I was blessed to have the Texas Advocacy Project get the termination of rights and divorce.  Now they are kindly guiding us with the adoption as well.  It’s been a long road for these two kids.  They deserve the moon and the stars, and that’s what they will get!  I’m so blessed to be married to such an amazing person.  Someone who truly wants to be there forever not because he has to!”

Four Happy Endings

Four Happy Endings

The adoption should be final any day now.  Brenda will celebrate another happy ending with all four of her children and husband.

Write Your Own Story

Brenda is a big believer that life is all about choices, and we could all learn from her story.  She admits not all of her choices have been good ones, but she refuses to throw herself a pity party.

“A lot of people use their past as an excuse,” said Brenda.  “You can sit back and play the poor poor pitiful me card, or you can get up the do something about it.”  Being brave enough to stand back up after being knocked down (literally) and then ask total strangers for help gave Brenda the hope she needed to redirect her life. 

“You write your own story,” said Brenda. 

She has written hers with great purpose and determination.  My guess is she’ll be writing many more happy endings in the years to come.

 

Christmas after San Bernardino

San Bernardino ChristmasAs I put the final few ornaments on my Christmas tree, it seems terribly wrong that the room is full of sound from law enforcement officials giving yet another update on the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.  The investigators, the journalists and all of us watching have plenty of questions.  However it was my daughter’s question for me this morning that I cannot stop replaying in my head.

We were watching the local news to hear about the weather forecast before school as we usually do.  I knew I would need to monitor the news about the massacre in San Bernardino because of the way it could affect my 10 year old girl.  She was deeply upset after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December of 2012.  She came to me with many questions after the June shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Then in November I tried to answer her questions about the horrid details of the Paris shootings as honestly as I could.  As a parent, it is heart breaking to watch your child’s view of this world change – from a place full of love and safety to a place that seems to enjoy breeding fear.

When the news segment began, and we saw more scenes of shooting victims being carried out of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and officers with guns drawn, my daughter immediately asked, “Mom, what happened?”  I told her there was a shooting in California, and more than a dozen people were killed.  To my surprise she shrugged her shoulders and said. “Oh, another one.”  Yes. Another one. 

As a journalist I knew I was numb to many of these type of stories.  It was almost a necessity.  I always tried to keep a delicate balance of focusing on the facts and getting information out to the public – while at the same time not forgetting I was human.  But now I am afraid my daughter is numb to the tragedies.  Maybe we all are.  We may talk about it for a while with anger and sadness, but then we get back to our routines, schedules and lists.  This scares me.  Being numb to the evil around us cannot bring about the necessary change in this world.     

So the stirring question to me – how do I as a busy parent raising two children in an Austin, Texas suburb take action to stop this type of terror?  How can I react so that my family does not stay numb to tragedy?  

The news coverage itself offers several causes I could join.  There are interviews with lawmakers about the need for stricter gun control.  There are people pushing for more funding for mental health.  Presidential candidates tell us the most important thing we can do right now is fight terrorist groups and not let people who fit the stereotype of potential terrorists into this country.  These are all issues that demand more discussion.  They are all important.  But maybe there is something more important.  Something all of us can do in our communities.  Something we can teach our children to do.  Something that might ultimately bring about the biggest change of all.  Love.  Reject fear.  Love God and love our neighbors, and teach our children to do the same.  It’s a simple yet extremely complex action all of us can take.

It doesn’t take legislation or haggling over funding issues.  It doesn’t take running for political office or spending months on the campaign trail.  It doesn’t even take being on television.

Let’s be honest.  I can go months without saying hello to some of the people who live on my street.  Being a neighbor can take effort.  Being a neighbor takes courage.  I know it sounds fluffy and cliché, but think about it.  When we start finding time to connect with neighbors, we may find ways God can use us in those relationships to bring about change.    

So on this day as I decorate my Christmas tree while watching another tragedy unfold on television, I am making plans to be a better neighbor.  They are not plans for a huge block party or things that take a great deal of time.  Maybe I’ll start by asking a neighbor over for coffee, talking to my children about what being a good neighbor means and looking for new ways to give to neighbors in need I have never met this Christmas.  I’m not saying those actions could have stopped what happened in San Bernardino, but maybe changes we make in our small communities could lead to big changes in this world.  I figure it has to start somewhere.  We cannot become numb to evil.  As we approach Christmas, we must remember LOVE is much more powerful.

A Medical Journey Leads to the Pantry

The Landau Family

The Landau Family and Leslie Rhode

You might not think there’s anything to the gluten-free or dairy-free trend until you meet the Landau family in north Austin.   They take the old saying “they’ll do anything for their kids” to a whole new level.  They are also a perfect example of what many patients fear happens frequently in today’s world of healthcare.  They go from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist in search of an answer to a health problem.  The Landaus long medical journey ended in their own kitchen pantry.  They say changing what they eat took away the pain their youngest son, Seth, had endured for years and changed the quality of life for the entire family.

I met the Landaus while researching a story about food elimination diets.  They invited me and KXAN photojournalist Ed Zavala into their home for lunch one day to show us how they eat.  There was no bread, pasta or cow’s milk on the menu.  We watched them make fresh green juice from local farm vegetables, scramble farm fresh local eggs and prepare a huge salad full of a variety of vegetables.  Every family member was a part of the preparation, because they all drastically changed what they eat to support Seth.  From the time he was 15 months old, his little body was covered in eczema, an irritating skin condition that made life difficult.

Seth Landau

Seth Landau

“It was really itchy,” Seth Landau said.  “I could hardly sleep through the night.”

“It was extremely frustrating,” Seth’s mother Amy Landau said.  “We just wanted the child to have relief.  We wanted our son to have relief.  He couldn’t play, because he was too itchy.  He couldn’t sleep, because he was too itchy.”

Over a five year period, the Landaus took Seth to several conventional doctors and other health providers and tried medications that offered no lasting relief.  They were referred to an allergist who found no food allergies. Amy and Josh even took Seth to a chiropractor and a naturopathic doctor hoping something they offered might make their son more comfortable.  The only option they had was to apply a steroid cream to his body over and over again which worked for a little while and then stopped.

Seth's hand swollen with eczema

Seth’s hand swollen with eczema

“I wasn’t certain that any of the things we tried would work, but we had to,” Seth’s father Josh Landau said.  “What we were doing with medicine was not working, so we tried different types of therapies.  I didn’t rule anything out.”

“I have no other hope,” Amy Landau said.  “I don’t have anything else to try, because I won’t quit on my child.”

After trying what seemed like every medical option, they came across the term “functional medicine” online. The Institute for Functional Medicine defines it as the practice of addressing “the underlying causes of disease” using “a patient-centered approach” rather than the “traditional disease-centered focus”.  The Landaus’ search for what seemed like the last possible answer to Seth’s condition led them to Dr. Amy Myers, a functional medicine physician in Austin, who says she focuses on getting to the source of the illness.  More often than not, it includes changing what her patients eat.

“Patients are demanding that they have more time with their doctor, that they listen to them, that they have more natural ways to treat what they have and really get to the root cause,” Dr. Amy Myers said.  “As more and more people hear about it, it’s just exploding across the country.”

Dr. Myers says there is a big connection between the food we put into our gut or intestines and our immune system.  According to Myers, a person can develop “leaky gut” and destroy good bacteria in the intestines as the result of years of processed foods, medications like antibiotics, toxins from the environment, infection and stress.  The small intestine, which absorbs nutrients into the body, then becomes less permeable.  Dr. Myers believes leaky gut keeps people from getting the full nutritional benefit of their food.  She also says it causes the walls of the intestine to leak partially digested food and other toxins into the body that the immune system attacks and causes an inflammatory state.

Functional medicine doctors identify certain foods that can cause inflammation in the body as the result of a leaky gut.  Dr. Myers often has patients stop eating all of them at first in what’s called an elimination diet.  The inflammatory foods are gluten (a protein in some grains), dairy, corn, soy, eggs, sugar and yeast.  Functional medicine providers may take these and more foods out of a patient’s diet and then add them back in one at a time to determine if a so-called food sensitivity exists. 

The waiting game for Seth’s results

Seth cut out more than 7 foods under the guidance of a nutritionist in Dr. Myers’ office and took dozens of supplements for a while.  For about one year, he took around fifty supplements a day.  Dr. Myers’ test for food sensitivities revealed Seth was sensitive to gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts.  The Landaus knew to not expect an overnight change in his skin.  They knew it would take time and money.  And it did. 

The foods in the kitchen pantry vastly changed.  There are no more cereal boxes and pizza crusts.  The family does not eat bread of any kind.  Instead, the pantry holds things like fresh vegetables, nut butters, oils and coconut milk.  They also have fresh locally produced eggs and meats delivered to their home.

Amy Landau admits the grocery bill has gone up, the food adjustments took time, and there were social implications.  The family does not go out to eat much at all, and the boys have gotten used to saying no to the birthday cupcakes.   However, making such a complex change was really a simple decision for the mother of three. 

“To follow the diet protocol and follow the supplements and keep up with that wasn’t nearly as difficult as seeing my child suffer,” Amy Landau said.

It took a few months of being on the new diet and taking the supplements before Seth’s skin began clearing up.

“It was about the 5 month mark when I noticed a critical change, because Seth no longer needed to apply his steroid creams,” Amy Landau said.  “He’s living life again.”

Amy also told me Seth went through steroid cream withdrawal, and she got help and support for the condition from the International Topical Steroid Network.

Seth’s hands that were once swollen with eczema now fill his house with music.  He loves playing the piano!  The Landaus claim changing what they eat has changed everyone in the family for the better, especially Seth.

“There’s no question that what he went through has shaped him,” Josh Landau said.  “He seems to always find the positive in things.  He emits a positive energy that the whole family is lifted by.”

“I don’t need science to back it up, because I have in plain sight how he was before and how he is now,” Amy Landau said.  ”I can see from the outside he’s healthy, but I know from the inside he’s healthy too.”

Watch the story that aired on KXAN TV here.

The Power of Telling Your Own Story

From the Connecther Website

Lila Igram/Connecther

Lila Igram

From a very young age, Lila Igram was well aware of the power of telling your own story.  She was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Her mother immigrated to the United States from Lebanon.  Lila was a young female Muslim growing up in the Midwest and felt as if other people were telling her story.  Now raising her own family in Austin, Texas, she devotes her time to making sure women all over the globe are empowered to tell their own stories through the nonprofit she founded, Connecther.

I was intrigued when Lila sent me an invitation to a Connecther event titled, “The Power of Women and Girls Telling Their Own Story.”  It may seem like such a simple concept, telling your own story.  However in the case of women and girls touched by Connecther, it can be life changing and life saving.  Through its website, the organization provides a crowdfunding platform for projects around the world that advance issues related to women and girls.  Projects focus on issues like violence against women, gender inequality and education for girls.  Connecther is raising money for the Edna Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland to train one-thousand midwives and send them back to their communities ready to reduce the high rate of maternal and infant mortality.  Another project in Kabul, Afghanistan is sending Afghan girls to a computer education program to help them graduate from the public schools with more marketable job skills. 

Each project Connecther supports started with someone’s story… one woman or girl telling her story and someone listening.  The hope is when people hear it, they are compelled to act in hopes of making a change, making something go away or making someone else simply notice.  That’s the power of telling your own story.  You know it better than anyone.  You own it.  You’ve been in every chapter.  You know every character.  You live in each scene and often come across things that need to be edited or fixed.  If you are strong enough – brave enough – courageous enough to share it, your story and that of many others may be changed for the better.

Using Film to Tell the Stories

Connecther gets young filmmakers involved in storytelling with its annual Girls Impact the World Film Festival.  It features short films by high school and undergraduate students focusing on global women’s issues and offering solutions.  One past film shed light on the sex trafficking problem in Oakland, California.  Another revealed the health struggles of Pakistani women who picked cotton sprayed with pesticides.  Igram says these films and others have already created social change. 

The film festival is a red carpet event on the campus of Harvard (Connecther partners with the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative).  Past judges include Nobel laureates, actresses and CEOs.  Winners are awarded more than $20,000 in prizes.  However the real success happens when the winners are asked to show their films in other places, to other people — and the stories spread.

The Connecther Vision

The ultimate goal of Connecther is just what the name suggests – to “connect” women to each other and to opportunity.  The group partners with people on the ground in areas around the globe – so often in remote places where women do not have much of a voice.  Girls and women are empowered right in their own communities right where the change needs to happen.  Then as it does, the girls and women impacted by it start telling the story – a story that “connects” them and may push their cause forward in a way they may have never believed.  Simply telling your own story can be powerful.  

From Competition To Collaboration

Judy Maggio

Judy Maggio

Leslie Rhode

Leslie Rhode

For about half of my television news career Judy Maggio was my competition.  We sat on anchor desks in Austin, Texas during the same time slots in the evening on two sides of town.  We would see each other out when covering stories or speaking at events, say polite hellos and promise to “do lunch sometime.”  Then we would go back to our newsrooms and hope to beat each other again that night at 5 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm.  That lunch never happened… until we left those anchor desks.

Judy and I ran into each other at a networking event and once again talked about that lunch, but this time we put it on our calendars.  Long story short – we had a two hour lunch followed by another two hour lunch followed by coffee and more coffee and phone calls galore.  We both have our hands in several projects, but our new found friendship has led us to discover how much more fun collaboration is than competition.  We now use a team approach in media training and are excited to share some of our experience and ideas at the Texas Conference for Women in Austin on October 15.  Our session is designed for entrepreneurs, big business or non-profit leaders — anyone trying to get the media’s attention in a world in which journalists are often overworked and overwhelmed.    

TX conf women logoI still am a freelance journalist (because of my love for storytelling), but I also love teaching others how to tell their stories and get people to listen. Judy and I hope you will consider joining our session at the Texas Conference for Women  from 3 pm to 4 pm and also hear stories of inspiration from keynote speakers like Patricia Arquette and Robin Roberts. You may even run into women to collaborate with, and who knows where it could lead you.

Chandini Portteus:  Writing LIVESTRONG’S Next Chapter

When she read the words “unflappable under crisis” in the job description for the CEO of the Livestrong Foundation, Chandini Portteus had no fear.  The 36-year old had navigated through a brand crisis before at another Texas based cancer fighting organization, Susan G. Komen.  Portteus was well prepared for another battle.

Chandini Portteus, CEO of Livestrong

Chandini Portteus, CEO of Livestrong Foundation

In her first six months on the job at Livestrong, Portteus has recruited new team members and finalized a $50 million partnership to build a cancer institute at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin. Now she’s hard at work on what she says is her biggest challenge:  writing Livestrong’s next chapter. “We have to get the story to stick, get people to hear it and act,” said Portteus.

Livestrong’s story had an unexpected edit when its founder, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and left the organization in 2012.  Since then, it has suffered double digit percentage drops in revenue.  Portteus also believes the Livestrong message has become too confusing to the general public when it really should be simple.  “Livestrong is here for people who have cancer — one on one and in communities.”  The organization does that by helping cancer patients get any help they need and by working for change in the system through research and policy. 

Navigating a Change of Plans

Portteus grew up knowing she would be in a leadership role in healthcare, but she had planned to be a medical doctor.  However when the Austin College pre-med graduate did not get into medical school, she ended up at the University of Houston School of Public Health where she got her master’s degree while working with researchers in psychiatry.   That’s where she met her husband, psychiatrist Andrew Portteus.  Sometimes a change of plans leads you right where you need to be. 

She almost tried medical school again, but this time Komen came along, and it seemed like the perfect fit.  Portteus spent nearly ten years there, becoming the youngest senior level executive in the organization’s history.  She climbed the ladder in roles and responsibilities rapidly.  “I never chose to sit in my space very long,” said Portteus.  She was on maternity leave after her fourth child when the Komen brand took a huge hit.  Komen leaders pulled funding to Planned Parenthood for a time, and the organization lost supporters and funding.  It was admittedly the biggest learning experience of her career watching the brand she had worked so hard to build fall fast in terms of trust.  However leave it to Portteus to turn even the toughest test of her professional life into another stepping stone.  She stayed true to her mission of helping cancer patients and took on an even bigger leadership role as Livestrong’s CEO.

Leading By Building Relationships

Portteus’ was voted “most friendly” in her Garland, Texas high school which may have been an early indicator of her future leadership style.  She says she tries to approach every employee and situation with transparency and compassion.  But don’t think for a minute her warm and open personality means she is soft when it comes to making tough, quick and sometimes unpopular decisions.  She calls herself a “war time CEO” (from Ben Horowitz’ book The Hard Thing About Hard Things) and seems prepared for any internal or external attack on Livestrong as it rebuilds its brand.

Chandini-Portteus-headshot

Effective leadership, according to Portteus, starts with building authentic deep relationships.  She recruited several leaders to Livestrong from Komen with whom she had established those relationships, and works hard daily to create those with her new staff.  She says real relationships are especially important in nonprofit organizations in which those involved must remain true to the mission daily, even if it’s not easy.  “I wake up every day and believe that it can be done,” said Portteus.  It’s that daily focus on the mission that will guide her in rewriting Livestrong’s story.  Ultimately cancer patients all over the world could benefit from the new chapters.

TX conf women logo** Chandini Portteus is a featured speaker at the Texas Conference for Women in Austin, TX on October 15, 2015.  

Come hear more about her story, and listen to others like ABC’s Robin Roberts, Candy Chang and Patricia Arquette.  I’ll be there too with Judy Maggio talking about how to get the attention of today’s media.  Hope to see you there!

Don’t stop telling 9-11 stories

Flags flying at Dripping Springs, TX on September 11, 2015

The flags stand proudly in the middle of my town on this September 11th.  As I drove by them on the way to school, I realized how few flags I see around the area on the anniversary of that disastrous day.  We don’t stop as often to think back and remember.  We don’t spend as much time in the news covering the memorials for the 9-11 victims.  Our children who were born years after that day of the terror attacks may not even know why the flags are flying in a special place.  We just do not seem to tell our 9-11 stories as much anymore.  Big mistake.  Here’s mine.  The short version.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I stood in front of the television watching in horror what was happening in New York City.  I remember calling my KXAN co-anchor at the time, Robert Hadlock, and holding the phone up to my ear without saying much at all.  There was nothing to say.  My body felt empty inside.  We both just said, “I’ll see you soon.  I’m on the way in to the newsroom.”     

My husband, Patrick, was working in Washington, DC at the time at the United States Department of Commerce. He called to check in, and while we were talking he suddenly said, “What was that!?”  The noise was the Pentagon being hit right across the Potomac River from his office.  He hung up quickly, and the next several hours were very long as I wondered where he was and what was happening.  At one point I talked to him he was near the White House with several others listening to a car radio to hear any information.  Cell phones were jammed.  The next time he got through to me was hours later.  He was walking across the 14th Street bridge to get out of the District of Columbia and a friend who was able to get a car out picked him up. Relief.  In the following days my husband was sent to New York City to help with recovery efforts.  That’s a whole other story.

The next several days for me involved long work days of getting information out to people while balancing my emotions.  ( I later worked with reporters and anchors in DC who had much longer days, and I thank them and respect them greatly!)  We fought back tears on air and had to take long pauses at times as we took a deep breath realizing the enormity of what had happened.  We also knew what our jobs required.  

Journalists covered the stories of the victims, the survivors and the emergency workers who gave it all and more.  Those stories needed to be told and still do.  However stories of what a woman in Austin, Texas experienced that day should be told too.  We should also tell stories of what a man in Illinois or California was doing and how he was changed.  How about we tell stories of how a teacher in Mississippi handled the tragedy with her classroom of third graders?  That day changed us all.  Here are some lessons I took away from it.

There is no such thing as a safe zone.

We should remember evil exists.

Love is more powerful than all evil combined.

When we work together based on our similarities, we are unstoppable.

Take a minute and share your story with someone of what you learned from September 11, 2001 and the days that followed.  We need the stories to connect us and remind us of what makes this nation great… and vulnerable.  We owe it to our children to tell them stories of that day so history does not repeat itself.  We owe it to every person who served and serves in the US military and their families.  Their stories are often too difficult to tell.  They are the people writing the toughest chapters of this nation’s story.  Now fourteen years after 9-11, let’s promise to not stop telling the stories, and flying the flags to remind us all of the lessons learned.        

 

 

My Back To School Hopes

Those first day smiles!

Those first day smiles!

The first day of school is another version of News Year’s Day to me.  As parents we have so many new hopes and plans as our children enter the classroom.  We hope for that perfect all powerful teacher that will connect with our kids in a way that will make them brilliant and talented.  We hope for a school administration that will create a pristine school building that is totally secure.  We hope for a school district that will set high standards that every student, including my own, will surpass in every subject.  Oh, and we hope for a winning football team. 

As parents, we feel a sort of freedom with the ability to finally focus on ourselves if only for just a few minutes a day.  We’ve made a to-do list of what we hope to accomplish when the children are in school.  Most every year my list is a mile long.  Maybe even a mile and a half.  Not this year.

As I start a new school year with my two children, I have decided to simplify my hopes and reach for new goals.

  1. I hope to not be “that parent” who acts like she knows all the answers.
  2. I hope to stand up for my kids and tell them daily how proud I am of their efforts (not their grades).
  3. I hope to stand up for my children’s teachers and give them the chance to be professional educators.
  4. I hope to not be afraid to challenge the system when my gut tells me it’s needed.
  5. I hope to ask for help when I need it (which is often).
  6. I hope to look my kids in the eyes more.
  7. I hope to put down the iPhone and listen.
  8. I hope to think twice before I speak.
  9. I hope to get out of my comfort zone more often.
  10. I hope to get back to storytelling.

 

That brings me to this blog.  We all have stories to tell.  I hope you will consider reading some of mine.