I’m one of those people who believe almost everything happens for a reason. At times, that can be a difficult thing to accept. Why do bad things happen to good people? How can lousy people continue to prosper? Until the end of time, we will ponder these two questions.
It’s part of what makes life a mystery. I bring this up because several people have asked me why I joined a new startup group called UzObi, Inc. Many of my family and friends know I’m a partner in another company, the Vitals App. That hasn’t changed. I’m still part of that impactful venture.
I’ve been fortunate to work on social impact projects. So joining UzObi made sense when you think of my career path. You don’t know the backstory behind why I had to be a part of growing this new company. My journey to UzObi began on Feb. 14, 2004.
I was living in eastern North Carolina during that time. My career was going well. My wife, at the time, was expecting our first child. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, but we were blessed. I would typically check in on my parents once a week because my father was living with COPD, hooked to oxygen tanks for most of the day, and my mom was his primary caregiver. She needed a break and support at times. We lived about 50 miles away, so it was relatively easy to check in and visit them often to give her a break.
My typical call with her that morning was nothing of the sort. She seemed confused, and her voice was slurry. I was immediately concerned that something was happening to her. I immediately drove to their house. When I arrived, I noticed that her shirt was on backward and her voice was difficult to understand. I rushed her to the hospital. Her blood pressure was soaring, and they knew she had suffered a significant stroke.
My mother lived through the stroke but needed intensive rehabilitation that took many months. My father’s health went downhill after my mother was admitted to the hospital. In addition to his serious respiratory condition, early stages of dementia were surfacing, and frequently he referred to me as his brother rather than his son. He needed more medical support, so we forced him to a nursing home for 24-hour care. His health continued to deteriorate, and he landed in the emergency room after just a few days in the nursing facility.
I still remember vividly visiting my mom on the hospital's seventh floor and my dad on the third floor. If that wasn’t stressful enough, my wife was eight months pregnant with our son at the time. I was experiencing trauma and chaos. I had no one to turn to for guidance, no one to speak to for clarity – I was dealing with the unimaginable and felt hopeless and overwhelmed by the impossible task of having confidence in how to care for both.
After several close calls and a debate between my father’s primary care doctor and a specialist on staff, my sister and I had to make the tough decision of letting my father go so he wouldn’t continue to suffer. That still was the most challenging decision of my life and one that unsurprisingly millions are tasked with every single year. My mother improved and made it back home - living half the year at my house and the other half with my sister and her family. A few years later, a second stroke forced us to find 24-hour nursing care for her, and she passed in 2011.
I’m sharing this to tell you that my family had no plan or support in navigating the healthcare system. My parents had no directive plan, so every decision we made was made under severe distress and veiled by a yearning for hope. It was complicated – impossible to understand and always stressful. My mental health took a turn, I missed countless days of work, and every single area of my life felt in turmoil, not to mention that, at the core, I was grieving the loss of my parents. Unfortunately, these are common stressors that impact nearly every caregiver.
I want to help others navigate healthcare more effectively. I want people to know planning for the unexpected should happen while we are living life – while life is good, while we can have open conversations with our family. I am passionate about UzObi because I have been on the other side, I now know the power of planning and how it allows us to grieve compassionately and not with doubt or considering the “what ifs.”