Heidi Siefkas

@heidi-siefkas | contributor
Originally from small-town Wisconsin, Heidi Siefkas is author, TEDx speaker, and an adventurer. Her books include When All Balls Drop, With New Eyes, and Cubicle to Cuba. Learn more about Heidi's powerful story of post-traumatic growth and adventures on www.heidisiefkas.com.
Heidi Siefkas

What Cuba Taught Me About Persevering After My Traumatic Health Scare

Do you ever hear a song and it immediately takes you back to a special place and time? I do with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” (“Life Is a Carnival”). It is a popular song by the late Celia Cruz, a lady known for her vocal pipes, but also her loud fashion statements and sometimes wigs. Every time I hear it, the Cuban percussion, horns and her voice, remind me of my travels to Cuba. Over the past three years and almost 15 trips to Cuba, both my Cuban friends and Celia’s lyrics highlight the powerful role of perspective in life, especially when faced with challenges. Many people ask me, “What is Cuba like? How are the people? Did you ride in one of those old cars?” Although I smile as I tell my story of riding in a classic American convertible along Havana’s Malecón (an ocean-side boulevard), I also unveil much more about Cuba than they expect. With all politics, economics and anti-Castro talk aside, I believe Cuba has a culture with life lessons for us all. I have witnessed the perseverance of the Cuban people through shortages of water, transportation, housing and limited quantities of toothpaste, diapers and soap. But the essence I’ve taken away from Cuba is the appreciation of the moment. Just as the song below states, there are bad times, and they will pass. It is true that life obstacles come and will continue to present themselves; however, there is and always will be the moment. Excerpt of “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” translated from Spanish to English: “Anyone thinking that life is unfair, Needs to know that’s not the case, that life is beautiful, you must live it… … Anyone thinking that life is cruel, Needs to know that’s not the case, That there are just bad times, and it will pass. Anyone thinking that things will never change, Needs to know that’s not the case, smile to the hard times, and they will pass. Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival, It’s more beautiful to live singing. Oh, Ay, there’s no need to cry, For life is a carnival And your pains go away by singing…” This understanding of being in the moment can be seen any night of the week with plentiful life outside of the home. I’ve seen each and every ocean boulevard or plaza lined with crowds of Cubans of every generation . In my experience, this recipe for happiness repeats itself nightly, only changing ever so slightly. In general, I think the go-to formula is good company, music, dominos and beverages for a good dose of perspective to create happiness. Why do I feel a connection to Cuba? Although I don’t have Cuban roots, I feel a deep connection to the two cultural elements of happiness and perseverance. Nearly six years ago, I faced a traumatic health scare after an accident that broke my neck. While I recovered, I faced two other tremendous setbacks: my high-powered career vanished before my eyes as my marriage disintegrated. I lost all I held dear. But I chose and continue to vie for the upside. I share this story about Cuba and my Post-Traumatic Growth in the hopes that those going through health scares, tragic loss or other struggles can preserve and create happiness through perspective. So as Celia says, “Smile to the hard times, and they will pass.” I would call that a play on our lemons to lemonade, but done a la cubana (the Cuban way), turning limes into mojitos. Originally from small town Wisconsin, Heidi Siefkas is author of “When All Balls Drop” and “With New Eyes.” Learn more about her powerful story of Post-Traumatic Growth, her books and travels on www.heidisiefkas.com.

Heidi Siefkas

When Taking Out the Trash Changed My Life in a Split Second

How can doing something as mundane as taking out the trash change a life? If I were you, I would be skeptical as well. However, this wake-up-call story shows that life can change in a blink of an eye, causing a ripple effect and transformation from tragedy into triumph. On a normal fall day in Hudson River Valley, New York, I was tackled while taking out the trash. No, I wasn’t mugged, but I was clobbered. In a split second, a 1,000-pound tree limb struck me, breaking my neck and leaving me unconscious. I didn’t hear, see or feel a thing. The next memory I have is five days later in the ICU of St. Francis Hospital where my mother, husband and doctor put the pieces of the puzzle together for me. I awoke limited to a brace, as I had fractured my C7 vertebra. I was in denial of my circumstances. I almost immediately asked for my iPhone to check in with my “real” life. Yes, before the tree, I was a self-proclaimed “Superwoman,” juggling a successful travel industry career, marriage, homeownership in south Florida and an active lifestyle. Even from the ICU, I wasn’t going to let a broken neck get in the way of my plans. After nearly a week in the hospital I underwent neurosurgery, where the surgeon encapsulated my C7 with steel to naturally fuse it instead of inserting a rod. Although my doctor was a gifted surgeon, he certainly was not forthcoming with me or my family about the recovery process. In fact, after my mandatory eat, pee and poop, I was given an overly general, one-page instruction sheet from the nurse and rolled out to the car. Needless to say, my recovery wasn’t so quick, nor painless. In my post-op appointment, I learned I would be out of commission: no work, no showers, no travel, no return to my home in Florida, and limited to my full back, neck, torso brace for the next four to six months. My life was forced to pause. With that news, my career and professional identity vanished. I was forced to resign from my position to obtain long-term disability coverage. As I simultaneously dealt with my health in peril and my career in the toilet, I discovered a destructive trail of lies. My husband had been living a double life. All that I held dear that fall was lost. Was there an upside to losing everything? Over a lengthy, nine-month period, I regained my health with the help of a team of doctors, therapists, and my clan (friends, family and virtual supporters from around the globe), after which I revisited that very tree in Poughkeepsie, New York. By standing in that same place, I saw the tree and my life with new eyes. I accepted the opportunity I had to architect a new life and share my story to inspire others to not only survive life’s obstacles, but to thrive in spite of them. I’m a living example of post-traumatic growth. In 2009, I didn’t know the term post-traumatic growth (PTG), but I was familiar with its opposite, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although I’m not discrediting PSTD, I believe as a society we tend to downplay the positive after-effects and growth potential that come from life’s challenges.  I’m a living example of PTG. However, I’m not alone. You, too, have the tools to tap into PTG. With the power of perspective, you can use life’s curveballs as a springboard for life change and triumph. It has to do with your outlook. When life hands you lemons, make the best lemonade or limoncello. And if you mess up the first batch, try, try and try again, learning along the way and tweaking your path to success. Heidi with the tree that changed her life Follow this journey on Heidi Siefkas. The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.