Exceeding Expectations

Categories: Blog

Never having been to a support group before, my mind raced and heart rate elevated as I stepped through the door of my first meeting. Easily the youngest person by 20 years, I passed by rows of retirees and older couples to grab the last available seat in the back of the room. The guest speaker, a doctor, began to describe the mechanics of the worst headache of your life. I heard him say that when a brain aneurysm hemorrhages, the resulting headache is swift and vicious. Slides of case studies and medical images of the aftermath flashed across my eyes. My ears rang with statistics that 50% of the 30,000 individuals per year who suffer a brain aneurysm are no longer with us, and of the remainder, 66% are burdened with a permanent disability. An estimated 6 million people in the U.S. are walking around with unruptured aneurysms – that’s 1 in 50 people.

All this I already knew – because I had lived it. I was 1 in 50.

On July 2, 2013, while performing high-intensity interval training on a stationary bike, I had an unexpected brain aneurysm rupture. Leading up to this were many months of unexplained migraines that impacted all aspects of my life, with constant visits to a specialist and diagnostic tests coming up inconclusive. On that fateful day, I had stumbled upstairs to be found nearly unconscious on the kitchen floor by my girlfriend (now wife) when she came home two hours earlier than normal. The responding EMTs questioned rushing me to the hospital, as they suspected it was just a “bad migraine” and did not turn on the sirens during the drive. It was hard to believe that a 28-year-old, who eats organic food and was pursuing a fitness challenge, could possibly be suffering from a trauma commonly linked to hypertension, poor diet, smoking, and excessive drug use.

According to my neurosurgeon, it was precisely my focus on self-improvement that allowed my body to hold out until surgery. For five years I had pursued dozens of 30 and 90-day challenges. From “interval training every day” to the extreme “only eating raw food” to the jovial “draw a comic portfolio”, each challenge enhanced my fitness and attitude towards goals. Two months before my aneurysm, my challenge was to publish an e-book detailing my pursuit of self-improvement. I wanted to help others learn to push their boundaries to reach their goals. On May 27, 2013, I published “30/90: Building a Better Future” on Kindle and Nook. It was a humbling experience to then become one of the people I was trying to help. During my recovery, I utilized these very techniques for such basic challenges as walking down the hallway or piecing words together to form sentences after three weeks in the neurological intensive care unit.

The realities of my injury reaffirmed my lifelong outlook to be the optimal version of myself, and by extension, foster improvement in those around me. The estimated recovery time was six months, but in just two months I returned to certain normalcies of life I had known before, such as taking on projects at work and teaching yoga to friends. Additionally, because of my experience, I was able to advise a board member at a brain analytics company and the founder of a cognitive reasoning startup on the aneurysm process. It is with this conviction, understanding of the fragility of life and how my experiences and skills could foster positive change, that a plan began to unfold about how I should embrace my second chance at life.

My wife, Brittany, was my guardian and champion throughout the ordeal, I am positive that I would not be here today without her. In addition to being a tough Jewish/Italian environmental lawyer, she is a bilateral amputee – born without arms past the elbow on each side. We form a perfect union, unrestrained by the limitations of our bodies to go out and attempt to achieve everything we want to. With this conviction and her blessing, we decided to move to Boston so I could attend business school at Babson college. The school is #1 in entrepreneurship and I wanted to start a company that would make a meaningful impact on the world.

During this point, my brain was still healing. So much could have gone wrong. I could barely read or focus. I had daily headaches and slept with ice packs around my head. I managed anxiety and pain through a cocktail of medications. In fact, during my admissions interview I had a headache and an aura, so I was answering questions partially blind waiting for Fioricet and Vicodin to kick in. I tried incredibly hard to be “professional” even though my cane was tucked into my briefcase and my head was mostly still shaven exposing my new scar. I had many second thoughts about doing something easy instead, that my body would not be able to handle this, but I wanted to take full advantage of my second chance at life and powered through.

I am glad I did.

At the risk of boasting, I exceeded even my wildest expectations. Scholastically, I graduated second in my class with a 3.83 GPA, and won both the Dean’s Leadership Award and the Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Physically, I worked hard to be able to weightlift and rock climb (you can appreciate that I have no desire to go on a bike…). Personally, I married Brittany and began to lay plans for a wonderful family.

The combination of these achievements, my aneurysm, and my past work as a software engineer and product designer on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, ultimately led me to co-found a company that could help every nonprofit. My company, Gravyty, provides predictive intelligence for nonprofits to help them raise more money for their missions. We help nonprofits of all shapes and sizes – from hospitals to colleges to medical affinity organizations to museums – discover and engage high potential donors.

That is how my engagement with the Brain Aneurysm Foundation went to the next level. During my recovery, I had lots of BAF swag. Everything from wristbands to brochures to t-shirts. I followed them on social media, as part of my support group, and in online communities. My Boston neurosurgeon was on their medical board. I deeply respected them and the work they do to support survivors and families.

One day, I decided to see if they might be a good client for our services. Gravyty works with many nonprofits, but to be able to help such a personally influential organization appealed to me. As soon as I learned they were near Boston, I sent an email to the Executive Director, Christine Buckley, who promptly scheduled a meeting at a Panera between our two locations. She told me about the amazing plans they have to accelerate their mission, which will require both an additional focus on data analytics and additional resources. We’ve begun to help them understand how they can increase their respectful engagement of donors and bring about the awareness necessary to enact positive change. I look forward to what we can accomplish together and am proud to support them.