Triple Transplant or Three Holes-In-One?

Triple Transplant or Three Holes-In-One?

Three transplants saved my life and have given me the time and good health to play the sport I love the most. Golf can be infuriating, without a doubt, but it does lend itself to pondering the big questions as you walk from hole to hole (and try to make your way out of a sand trap, too).

In those long walks on the course, I have contemplated this question: what’s rarer? A triple transplant, or three holes-in-one? 

You see, I’ve been the beneficiary of both.  To state the obvious, it takes a lot of luck.  For those who golf, you understand the reality of how rare holes-in-one are.  Most people that play golf their entire life may never get one hole-in-one, let alone three. They may never even get close.  It is so rare that when you do, the golf course usually buys drinks for everyone – that’s a long held tradition. In fact, they have hole-in-one insurance so in case you should get one, you’re not stuck with a huge bar tab. By definition, a hole-in-one is a tee shot on a three par when the ball goes directly into the cup (hole).  It is one of the most exciting events in sports.  It is more a function of luck versus skill.  Even professional golfers rarely get them.  I’ve had three! And believe me, I’m no pro golfer.

I got my first ace back in 1994 at a country club located near where I live in Calabasas, California.  Then five years later (almost to the day and with the same group of guys), I shot my second ace – incredibly on the same hole.  They put a plaque up in the dining room of the country club on my behalf. 

Remarkably, two years later at a course in Palos Verde called Trump National Golf Club, I got my third hole in one.  As a reward, the golf club sent me the actual flag stick signed by none other than our current President, Donald Trump.  I couldn’t have imagined at the time that he would one day be in the Oval Office.  That flag has certainly increased in value.

Three holes-in-one are certainly something to behold, considering I’m your basic weekend duffer who doesn’t take golf all that seriously.  This frustrates many superior golfers who practice and sweat and work much harder without achieving hole-in-one status.  Perhaps that is why the Golf Gods have been so kind to me?  I also have another triple milestone that I’m quite proud of, but this is more of a life changing variety.  This would be my three transplants (heart, kidney, and pancreas) which were gifted to me back in 2005.  Rare?  You bet it is!  Lucky?  You bet I am!

Both triples, the holes-in-one and the transplants, share a common feature – incredible good fortune.  Without a little lady luck, neither could have happened.

Back to my original question though – between the two, which is rarer?  According to Golf Digest, the odds for an amateur is 12,500 to one of getting a hole-in-one.  There are no stated odds of getting THREE holes-in-one. 

Triple transplants are so rare, it’s hard to find any research on long-term survival. So, I’m making it up as I go along, listening to my doctors, and taking great care of these gifts. I guess you could say every day post-triple transplant is a hole-in-one—if you wake up in the morning, take a deep breath, and get to spend time with the people you love, it’s an ace.

In the universe I would say that between the Gods of Golf and the Gods of Life, I would put my money on the later.  As to which is rarer? I’m going with the triple transplant. In fact, I’d bet my life on it!

Mission Impossible and the American Steel Industry

Mission Impossible and the American Steel Industry

I was recently on a flight to Atlanta for business and I found myself watching one of those Mission Impossible movies – you know, Tom Cruise, fast cars, tall buildings, and espionage? I do not want to date myself, but I fondly remember the original Mission Impossible, the television version with Peter Graves. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of the series, as I’m more of a James Bond kind of guy.) Tom Cruise and his team are on their heroic mission to save the world. They undertake one action sequence after another using their daring wits, flirting with constant danger, utilizing elements of disguise and technology to ultimately complete the mission. It does get pretty confusing along the way. I’ve heard it’s been referred to as “Mission Incomprehensible” by some. However, if you’re looking for an escape, this one works as well as any.

“So where’s the American Steel analogy?” you wonder. I was thinking that if Tom Cruise could save the world, perhaps he could save the American Steel industry. l mean, wouldn’t that be great? Unfortunately, according to many that mission really is impossible. The American Steel industry has too much reality working against it for it to overcome the odds. Indeed, steel distribution is certainly here to stay, as there are many manufacturers still utilizing steel in their products and construction is not going anywhere. But let’s face it: the world has surpassed American in terms of making inexpensive steel – plain and simple. There was a time not too long ago where it was said that what was good for steel was good for America. Then, I think it was IBM and now it’s Google or Facebook. 

Do you know how many steel mills have been built here in America over the past ten years? Zero. The only ones that have been built are mini-mills which create new steel out of scrap. Meanwhile, China doubled their steel capacity since 2000 and will double it again within the next year or two. Currently China produces over half the steel used on the planet – much of which they use for themselves. We need Tom Cruise to take on that mission.

In all seriousness, this truly is cause for concern. An America which cannot provide its own steel for our defense, for our infrastructure and for critical industries such as automobile and construction will never progress in the 21st century. It is hard enough watching our manufacturing base being chipped away, but we must realize the importance of a healthy domestic market that is fundamental to our standing in the world. I know I’m starting to echo Donald Trump, but it’s true and what are we going to do about it? As a west coast distributor of metals we see steel coming from virtually every corner across the globe. The quality gap between foreign made steel and ours used to be great, but this is no longer true. We now have customers requesting imported steel and that is alarming for a number of reasons.

Politicians tells us that this trend cannot nor will not continue, that American Steel will return to its glory once again. Through technology and innovation, America will rise as we always have. I would certainly wish for this to be the case, but I wonder what it will take for it to happen. Mission Impossible? I hope not. This post however will self-destruct in 30 seconds!

Source of Hope featured at My Hero Film Fest

Source of Hope featured at My Hero Film Fest

For the Stavis and Fabing families, the end of October carries special meaning. Eleven years ago, Brice Fabing--talented, young, and compassionate--lost his life. In his passing, Brice added "hero" to his legacy. The Fabing family, in their support of #DonateLife, saved many people that day.

Jim's documentary, Source of Hope, shares this story, and continues to inspire audiences around the world through learning about Brice's life and gifts of life, as well as Jim's perseverance in the face of adversity (and a triple #transplant).

Today, as we remember Brice, we celebrate a new award for Source of Hope *and* a far-reaching new venue for Brice and Jim's story. Source of Hope is now featured in the The MY HERO Project film vault, where teachers, students, and fans from around the world can view award-winning short films that inspire and educate. Source of Hope was also chosen as a 2016 official selection, honorable mention "Overcoming Obstacles" category, and will be screened live in LA on Nov. 19th & 20th.

The thought of students from around the world watching Source of Hope, making the decision to #DonateLife and do good things in this world--that's what it's all about. Let's all pay it forward today, find a little more gratitude, and try our best to remember the deep and far-reaching impact one good deed can have.

To view the 10-minute student version of Source of Hope, click here!

Renewed Hope

Renewed Hope

This weekend, my documentary film “Source of Hope” competed at the New Hope Film Festival. When I created Source of Hope a few years back, I never dreamed that it would resonate with so many folks. Making the film was rooted in a simple intention: I wanted to share my story.


I knew in my (given) heart that the story would resonate with anybody that experienced adversity in their life.


I believed it was equally important to show all that had to happen in order for me to survive to tell my story.  It was both the donor family’s loss of their son *and* their generous donation that gave some meaning to their incredible tragedy.  It was their faith that got them through their event, but it was their gift that got me through mine.  Two sides of the coin – forever linked.


When Source of Hope was originally produced, mostly on a shoestring budget, it was a labor of love. The two people who helped with the videography and editing volunteered to help bring my story to life. They worked with me to understand my vision and tell a story that is essentially human and imbued with emotion. 


For our first screening, we showed Source of Hope to friends and family in a local theatre. I had invited the my donor family to attend with their friends as well.  


The film stopped. The theater was silent. I looked around—did they like the film? Why was it so quiet? I searched the faces of our audience members and realized why I heard nothing—


Tears have no sound.


I knew from that night on that sharing my story, and talking about how hope works, how hope feels, how hope heals was a calling.


More people needed to see Source of Hope. It was just a matter of making it happen.


We submitted the documentary in a film festival in Loveland, Colorado which seemed like a good fit. I was invited to participate in a Q&A after the screening. We were competing with films which were much larger productions, with many more resources behind them. When the awards were handed out at the end of the Lifetree Festival, I was shocked that we received the “Doing Good” award – the third highest honor in the entire film festival.  


The New Hope Film Festival was our second film festival, this time on the east coast.  Since I am neither a filmmaker nor a producer by trade, being accepted and welcomed into the community of short documentary filmmakers has been extraordinary. I am proud to know that good people in New Hope were able to share in the message I feel honored to deliver in Source of Hope. Here’s to tears, to cheers, to how hope works, to how hope feels, and to how hope heals us all, together.

Removing the Cataracts from Your Life

Removing the Cataracts from Your Life

As I get older, I find myself having to contend with health issues never dreamed of before.  
Since I didn’t anticipate living much past 40, I certainly didn’t think about problems of old age—getting to old age was too big of an obstacle itself! Then, the miracle of a triple transplant and #DonateLife reset the clock for me, and now…now I see that aging has its own bumps and bruises.

As a Type 1 diabetic, I developed retinopathy, or problems with the small blood vessels in the eye.  I was able to undergo a laser surgery that helped with the retinopathy previously, but I was told that a byproduct of this procedure was that cataracts can occur later in life.

Later in life! Ah, what a concept for a transplant recipient to ponder. What a blessed turn of phrase. Now I am in that “later” in life, and cataracts were mine to deal with.  

My vision was worsening to the point where cataract surgery was required. After dialysis and three transplants, I thought this would barely register an effect. I had received a new heartbeat, for goodness sake! What could a new little lens really do for me?

The surgery took all of 15 minutes.

I walked out into the light, blinked and no longer blinkered, and felt I was experiencing the world anew.

I can see clearly for the first time in years.

Think about that—I can see clearly for the first time in YEARS. What power one little lens had over my life.

As I reflected on this medical miracle (another one), I thought—wouldn’t it be nice if we could remove all the “cataracts” in our lives so that we could see life clearly once again?  

We could remove our insecurities.

Expunge our assumptions.

Clear the fears that bind us.

Shed the people who bring negativity into our lives.

What a huge step that would be!  So many people live with metaphorical cataracts and are not even aware of them—kind of like the blurry vision that I just accepted. 

One day, I said “enough” and sought a remedy.  The ophthalmologist looked into my eye and said he couldn’t even see in, so surely I could not see out of it.  Sometimes we can be blind to ourselves, particularly when it involves our health, our assumptions, our mindset.

The cataract can be symbolic for many of the problems that keep us from seeing our lives clearly.  My advice?  Detach, extract, remove, erase them and you will be much happier for it.
 

#4

#4

Jim speaks with Morgan Stanley investors about steel and the future.

Skeletons

Skeletons

Jim talks skeletons, closets, diabetes, and acceptance.

#DonateLife

#DonateLife

Jim, the PARAGON STEEL team, and the Stavis and Fabing families will be walking to honor donation and transplantation at the upcoming Donate Life California 5k this weekend. There is so much joy when families come together to connect through giving and living! #DonateLife

A Few Words on Worrying

A Few Words on Worrying

Worrying has always been something that I’ve had an aversion towards. An endemic annoyance that keeps you awake at night, worrying prevents you from enjoying the better parts of life itself. Yet, it is interesting because everyone has their own threshold when it comes to this act. For some, they can worry over just about everything – whether it will rain, or about how bad traffic will be. While others it seems never worry about anything, letting each day unfold as it may. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum.

I’ve always tried not to be fearful of the future and as a result have had somewhat of a less worrisome existence. Even though I’ve had great cause to worry, I’m just not wired that way.

My wife is a child of concentration camp survivors and she grew up believing that even though their life was good, you never knew who--or what--would knock at your door. I, on the other hand, grew up with the challenges of type 1 ‪diabetes‬ and knew that my life expectancy was going to be much shorter. I had a mental outlook that was founded in a belief that every year I lived past forty would be a gift – so no reason to worry, right? The framework of worrying is a product of your orientation towards life and how you learn to frame your expectations. If you expect less, you will worry less. Expect more and well, you get the idea.

My kids, on the other hand, who have had blessed lives seemingly worry about everything. I suppose it’s how we view the uncertainty of our futures, based on our view of the past. What I find is that ultimately I’m worrying about the wrong stuff anyway. I’ll be worrying about where to go on vacation and then out of nowhere comes an earthquake. I’ll be worrying about my business and then global warming comes to light. You see, since you never know exactly what to worry about, it’s far simpler just not to worry at all. Dealing with challenges and calamities as they occur (rather than anticipating and fearing every possible catastrophe, major or minor) is a much preferred approach.

I believe that as a society, we truly need to worry less. We would be a far happier generation and probably complain less, too (bonus!). After all, we really are the luckiest generation ever, who probably worries the most. Go figure…

Finding Your Wave

Finding Your Wave

I always used to be searching for calm waters, yet it seemed that my life was a series of waves on top of waves. Some waves are the kind you can swim through, while others can literally overwhelm you. I remember one time when I was a teenager my friends and I wanted to experience "The Wedge" in Newport Beach, a body surfing Mecca. We were young, full of energy with a a void of fear and common sense. The Wedge had no lifeguards, just warnings telling swimmers to swim at their own risk. This sounded perfect to us and into the surf we went.

I soon knew why it was so perilous as wave upon wave pounded over us.

I could hardly catch my breath. The water roared in my ears and my mouth and nose filled with water.

Gulp---push--gulp--swim!--gulp----keep going! Pretty soon I knew it was time to get the heck out before I had no more strength. Another swimmer helped me to shore. The Wedge had proved what real rough surf was all about.

Whenever I would encounter tough times, I would reflect on my time in Newport. Though I longed for calmer seas, unfortunately I've found many waves during my lifetime - some bigger than others. I've learned that you need to ride the waves you confront as best you can, all-the-while keeping your head above the water. Calm seas? They may never come - so be a good swimmer and most importantly avoid The Wedge!

What's really in a heart?

What's really in a heart?

On Valentine's Day (and ‪#‎NationalDonorDay‬), this heart transplant recipient has a few thoughts about what's really in a heart...

The ‪#‎heart‬ is a special organ. Not only does it signify life, but our culture also believes it is the center of our soul. It guides our emotions, our feelings, and perhaps most importantly, it signifies love and passion. We are reminded of this each ‪#‎ValentinesDay‬. And yet the symbol that we all think of as depicting a heart actually has little resemblance to an actual heart—the organ itself. The only thing that is somewhat accurate is the color red.

But the question I raise is this: What happens if you remove the original heart and have it replaced with another model—a transplanted heart? This is what happened to me, so I have a little insight. As I neared my 50th birthday, my heart was failing.

Without a heart ‪#‎transplant‬, I would die.

My medical team at Cedars Sinai hospital in L.A. said I needed a new heart, kidney and, best case, a new pancreas, which would cure my Type 1 Diabetes, the source of my problems. The only catch? A triple transplant had never been performed before. I told them I would be the first one, and so it was. In November 2005, I got the call—that a match had been located. In a 21-hour surgery, I received a new heart and kidney transplant from a young man--his family grieving--a generous donor. The pancreas transplant followed in 2006 from yet another kind person who, in her passing, gave me life.

The new heart had to get to know its new surroundings, and I needed to get to know this new heart. It was like we were dating one another. I introduced it to caffeine and it almost jumped out of my chest. I worked it out at the gym and it pumped like that of a thoroughbred.

Now, 10 years later, how do I feel? How has the heart transplant changed my life? Well, for one thing, I’m a whole lot healthier and stronger. I also have a unique perspective on life. Coming as close to death as I did will do that to you. I think about my donor; I think of his family. I wonder how tragic it must have been to lose a son at such a young age. I remember the first time we met, as they were so shocked not to see their son’s heart in another 17-year-old boy. And yet, now when we meet, it is all smiles. His mother puts her ear on my chest to hear her son’s heart beating in its new home—my chest, my heartbeat now.

This past New Year’s Day, I was honored to ride on the ‪#‎DonateLife‬ float in the Rose Bowl Parade. I was holding a picture of my donor, who also had a floragraph on the float.

I did something special that day--I sent my heartbeat via an Apple Watch to my donor’s mother, who was watching from the grandstands. A little heart icon popped up on her Apple Watch; it pulsed and throbbed on her wrist. My family tells me that she smiled, then she cried. We shared a heartbeat that day, not the way either of us ever thought we would, but a heartbeat we both loved, nonetheless.

What’s really in a heart? Not lace, not candy, not flowers or chocolates--not just vessels and muscle, either. It’s a gift, a beat, a moment of grace, and it can be shared, even when we’re gone.

Many Times Blessed

Many Times Blessed

Ten years after the organ transplants that saved my life, I reflect on the blessings I've been given.

Brice Fabing's Floragraph: Honoring the Gift of Life

From photographer Jody Benon, some special photographs of the Fabing family, Lompoc community, and the Stavis family celebrating Brice's legacy of life, and mourning his loss 10 years ago.

10 Days Until the Rose Parade!

Eagerly awaiting that trip down Colorado Boulevard with Brice Fabing's floragraph, sponsored by Paragon Steel!