Hard times don’t define you; they refine you

It’s true; as a nation we are facing things that we have never faced before. It’s a scary, heart-wrenching time for our World right now. Our amazing doctors, nurses and front-line staff are working tirelessly. Our businesses have staff to look after, customers to support and projects to complete. For us, as individuals, we have bills to pay and families that depend on us.

But through all of this, and in true Paramount style, we’re here to lend a hand in supporting you during this difficult time for us all. We have asked Kevin Mashford, our Sales Director who was born with heart disease, having had his first heart operation at just 8 years old and who is currently in strict isolation, to provide a positive and inspirational message to those who may be thinking: “What now?” 

“Most people, when they look back over their lives, can identify where they have changed course, adapted and manoeuvred around situations like illness, redundancies, break-ups and so on. I’m sure most would say that the situation didn’t define them, it made them stronger.

I was born with a condition called Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Greater Arteries (CCTGA) with pulmonary stenosis and a large hole between the ventricles of my heart. I find myself reminded of when I was told I needed a heart transplant. The statistics of survival, the complications of the surgery, the longevity of a donor heart, the immunosuppression, the mental health impact of adapting to someone else's heart beating inside me. This was a frightening time, and at first, all I could focus on was the what if’s and the terrifying scenarios.

There is no doubt whatsoever, the current climate we find ourselves in is alarming and heart breaking. So, what do we do? Well, clearly for me and for my transplant community, we must isolate. It simply is the only way. We face 12 weeks completely isolated from our friends, family, colleagues. We cannot do the things we love, we cannot visit the places we enjoy.

However, isolation is what you make of it. So far for me, it’s been productive, fun, active and most importantly safe. But I’m mindful when I write this, that I’m used to this. I have got to do this to survive. It’s no different to me than 7 years ago, when I had been listed for 18 months for a new heart. I’d had my chest open for reconstructive heart surgery six times. I had undergone three pacemakers, two defibrillators, two strokes and seriously nasty infections of the heart valves on numerous occasions. I was in end stage heart failure and my kidneys and liver were also failing and shutting down. I was on a cliff edge facing death head on.

Having spent 18 months adapting to working with life limiting heart disease, the prospect of getting a call at any moment to be collected by an ambulance to be taken ‘somewhere we can land a jet’ and being flown 342 miles from my wife and, at that time, two boys, to then face one of the most high risk, low outcome operations was something of a challenge mentally. But that’s the thing, I needed to adapt, to change, and to be able to grow.

I was over 100kg, the statistics of getting a healthy donor heart from a 100kg person was lower than getting one from a sub 70kg person. I had no prospect of exercising, I was dying.  So, I changed my thinking. I committed to an 800 calorie a day diet. I was fluid restricted to 1 litre per day. I lost 30kg in 8 months. This not only vastly improved my chances of receiving a healthy heart, but it improved my chances of survival post-transplant. Those of you reading this in a business capacity will see the obvious analogies here. 

But more than this, I committed mentally to isolation. Prepared for a new normality, a new communication style and new connections.

At the hospital, I was assessed and then told the risk of me being at home was too great. I needed to be admitted to a room on a ward on my own for an undefined period of time. I would either die in that room or get a new heart there. 

During this time, I wasn’t going to be lonely. I planned and I adapted accordingly. Each breakfast time was spent with my boys, then aged 3 and 7 years old. I was 342 miles away, but we were having breakfast together, welcoming them home from school and saying goodnight via facetime.

Now I’m not saying that where we are with the Worldwide pandemic, will change all of our lives, or our even culture, but it will inevitably change our habits. It will ultimately improve how we communicate. It will, in the most bizarre way, help our planet and the environment. It will help reinforce the need for businesses to include contingency plans.

Whilst I was in hospital, we formed ‘TeamMash’ which was the support group around my hospitalisation and the support network around my family. Taking kids to school, karate, birthday parties. Sending me DVDs music, snacks… even beer and cheese whilst I waited in hospital. Our friends and family rallied, as they are doing all over again.

May 4 2013. This was my lucky day. This was when I received my transplant. I don’t need to tell you that the preceding weeks and months were difficult, they were. But I was lucky.

Today, whilst in isolation, I have the comfort of my own home, I’m with the closest people I have. I have a laptop, a tablet, a phone. I’m connected in a way like never before to the outside World, one that encourages social interaction. And importantly, I have an employer and a team at Paramount that understands and recognises the tools I require to work from home effectively to keep business moving and clients informed.

My wife is working from home too and she has established a new routine for our boys. School sends her schoolwork, and at 1pm she rings the bell and the boys have break-time. This is family time together, usually in the garden. We have to establish a new normal. We’re business as usual for our work and home life, but in a different way.

For me, what’s important for my mind and for my physical health is karate, which I have done since the age of 8 albeit with a 20 year ‘break’. Over the last 12 days, karate has gone online, at the same normal time and keeping to the same routine. It’s adapted, it’s changed, and it’s evolved but more importantly, it’s happening, just like normal.

Over the weekend, together with our friends we hosted a Zoom party. Here, we were all in the safety of our own homes, drinking, laughing and playing games together. Virtually, but we were together, and it was wonderful.

For anyone reading this, who over the next coming weeks think they could be struggling with their business, suffering mentally, financially or anything in between, I want you to know that I had a plan. I knew what I had to do to get through my treatment, as well as my isolation. I needed to learn to breathe on my own again, talk, eat and walk. I slowly turned corners, but some sent me spiralling downwards and I had to start again. It was tough, but I stuck to the plan. My message to you is to do just that. Adapt with the plan and stick to it.

Dark times happen. We need to be supportive. We need to collaborate. Build a plan and stick to it. And we’ll come out stronger than ever. As communities, we need to help to work together and act now. It needs to be TeamWorld from here on in. Who’s with me?”

P.s to those who are already getting us bread and milk, we love you.

#TeamWorld stay safe. We’ve got this… 

Here’s a timeline of Kevin’s amazing achievements in 2 years post-transplant:

  • 7 days post-transplant - cycled 7 minutes for 7 days of his new life to acknowledge his cyclist donor’s life
  • 4 weeks post-transplant - walked out of hospital around Paddy Freemans Park, Newcastle
  • 8 weeks post-transplant - cycled 1 mile
  • 19 weeks post-transplant - cycled 30 miles in the BPAA cyclosportive
  • 20 weeks post-transplant – re-started karate as the same grade Kevin was 20 years ago
  • 1 year post-transplant – cycled 54 miles from London to Brighton for British Heart Foundation
  • 18 months post-transplant - won bronze in an all Ireland Karate competition
  • 99 weeks post-transplant – saw the arrival of Kevin’s third son Luke. John was chosen for his middle name, in memory of his donor.
  • 2 years post-transplant - cycled 342 miles with 50 others from Bristol to Newcastle
  • Kevin now trains at karate four times a week with his three boys and teaches the Bushido warriors course

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Tags: CoronavirusCovid-19TeamWorldwell-being

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