Welcome back for the 2nd season of the Less Alone Podcast! Today, we’ve got an incredible story to share with you! Joining us for our very 1st interview EVER are Brian and Kelsey McNeill of A Light We Share.
Humans are magnificent beings, as Brian and Kelsey will testify. After Brian’s two near-death experiences, Brian and Kelsey have a new mission through their movement called A Light We Share, and that involves telling others about the incredible support that we can be to one another and the effect we can have in the lives of those around us. They share about their journey of hardship and pain, but more than that, about people’s ability to pull together and support one another.
They also talk about how each person has worth and the fact that each of us brings beauty into the world and that we are all worthy of life. Brian and Kelsey share their in-depth accounts of the months though his illness and how the whole process has transformed their perspective on life and compelled them to share their hope with others.
They have a truly incredible story!
Key Points From This Episode:
- The role of hospital staff in patients’ physical and mental recovery.
- Where the concept of A Light We Share came from.
- How Kelsey and Brian met and discovering that Salida, Colorado was where they wanted to live.
- Being diagnosed with aortic stenosis at age eight and the symptoms that presented in 2018.
- Brian’s experience of being flown to Colorado Springs in a helicopter ambulance.
- Meeting with the surgeon, Dr. Muhammed Aftab, and having a heart attack in the hospital.
- Deciding between the two potentially life-threatening treatment options.
- How Brian had bleeding into the brain, spent two weeks in the neurosurgery ICU and experienced memory loss.
- How a six-hour surgery turned into a 14 hour one and what happened when Brian’s heart stopped.
- Brian’s “non-traditional” near-death experience and his consequent questions about purpose.
- A serious setback at home, having CPR for 50 minutes and a worse prognosis.
- Kelsey’s experience of being angry and grateful at the same time.
- Brian’s belief in God, humanity and our capacity to take care of one another.
- The blog that Kelsey wrote, suffering PTSD and the emotional work they’re both doing.
- The importance of each person taking CPR classes and knowing you can save a life.
- How Brian’s thoughts on life have changed and learning the value of intentionality.
- Figuring out what exactly A Light We Share will mean and how they will share their story.
- And much more!
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Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
- A Light We Share
- A Light We Share on Instagram: @alightweshare
- A Light We Share on Facebook
- Mayo Clinic
- Dr. Muhammed Aftab
- Endocarditis Support Group on Facebook
- Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivors and Friends
- Book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
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[0:00:01.5] AMY MOORE: We are three friends exploring connection. From the coffee shop to the podcast studio. I’m Amy.
[0:00:06.3] ANNA NEWELL JONES: I’m Anna.
[0:00:06.7] ERIN LINEHAN: I’m Erin.
[0:00:15.2] AMY MOORE: Hey, hey everybody, we’re back.
[0:00:17.7] ANNA NEWELL JONES: We are back and we’ve got some wonderful guests in this studio. Super exciting.
[0:00:22.8] ERIN LINEHAN: We are super excited. So Kelsey and Brian are here with us today and they are some of our very best friends and they have an amazing story about connection and so we want to hear from them. Kelsey and Brian, hello.
[0:00:36.6] KELSEY: Hi there.
[0:00:37.3] BRIAN: Hello.
[0:00:37.9] AMY MOORE: Awesome, we are so glad you guys are here and we’re super excited because you have, it sounds like –
[0:00:45.5] ERIN LINEHAN: An incredible story.
[0:00:46.3] AMY MOORE: Yeah, an incredible story and it relates so much to our topic of connection.
[0:00:51.8] ERIN LINEHAN: Yes.
[0:00:53.2] AMY MOORE: You guys want to talk a little bit about what you’re doing, just quick and then we’ll kind of go into background stuff. But tell us a little bit about what you’re doing around A Light We Share?
[0:01:05.1] BRIAN: Basically, the idea of A Light We Share is – and I won’t go too far into everything that happened quite yet but I had some major medical issues related to my heart in 2018 and coming out from that, I really started to reconsider my own purpose, you know, kind of what my mission was in life and coming out of this whole experience, I realized I have such amazing people in my life and I think one of the things that we really came to understand seeing other people in the hospital and seeing what they were going through is not everybody has that same experience but I think the most important part about it is.
Everyone we met carried with them this light inside, it got pumped into our lives through the interactions with them. So people, obviously there were people we had known for a long time, friends and family who had been around forever and we could count on that from them but there were strangers who came in who just brought such significant experiences to us and I think that was a huge part of what helped me get better.
Just being able to bring that back to everyone and share those ideas with everyone out there in addition to that, we learned that there are pretty significant issues in both emergency medical and intensive care units among staff in terms of their mental health, wellbeing and unfortunately suicidality.
We really wanted to bring something back to them as well because the staff at the hospital were so integral to you know, of course they’re integral to me getting better physically but getting better mentally, you know, just keeping me feeling like things were moving forward, keeping my family feeling positive about things. It was huge.
They put so much of their hearts and their light into that and so we want to be able to give back to that as well.
[0:03:00.7] ANNA NEWELL JONES: That’s so awesome. I love the name, A Light We Share, that’s amazing.
[0:03:05.5] ERIN LINEHAN: That picture that you all have on your Instagram of like the one lit up person and then it’s spreading is such a good visual of what you’re all trying to do here.
[0:03:13.6] AMY MOORE: It’s so beautiful.
[0:03:13.9] ERIN LINEHAN: It’s beautiful.
[0:03:14.5] AMY MOORE: We’ll definitely put that on our site too because it is a great visual.
[0:03:17.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: It’s @alightweshare.
[0:03:19.0] ERIN LINEHAN: I was trying to explain to them last night like what we were talking about and so I was like, you just need to see this picture and then, yeah, okay.
[0:03:26.2] BRIAN: Yeah, it’s a pretty perfect representation of what we feel.
[0:03:32.1] AMY MOORE: Erin, you met Kelsey at a camp? Wait.
[0:03:40.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Remote health, yeah? We were both on this too. The course is in the can.
[0:03:45.4] ERIN LINEHAN: Not the camp this time, not the camp, yes. Not fishing at all, I never had fishing, the camp. We were therapists on the school base team and then yeah.
[0:03:56.1] KELSEY: I think I saw your light and I hung on to you.
[0:03:59.4] AMY MOORE: Yes Erin, does that thing, you would do in this hour Kelsey
[0:04:06.1] BRIAN: She told me she was drawn to you like a moth to a flame.
[0:04:10.9] AMY MOORE: Wow.
[0:04:11.8] ANNA NEWELL JONES: That’s like the best compliment ever.
[0:04:13.1] ERIN LINEHAN: No kidding.
[0:04:15.4] AMY MOORE: That’s great. Kelsey, you have a background as a therapist, is that right?
[0:04:19.2] KELSEY: Yeah. I think Erin and I had been in the field about the same amount of time and still doing that work in Salida where we live.
[0:04:26.6] AMY MOORE: Do you use that work with A Light We Share or is that kind of a separate –
[0:04:32.4] KELSEY: It’s all still developing. I think it all ties together. I’m not sure exactly how, you know? Like it’s a process of defining what this is and how we go forward, but I feel like it does.
[0:04:45.2] ERIN LINEHAN: I think that in the work that you do like generally from being around you is that you carry that with you regardless of if you’re doing it intentionally with this mission but that’s how you are. I’m getting all teary but that’s how you are and that’s your presence that you bring to things. Generally is a light around.
[0:05:04.1] AMY MOORE: We do want all of you to know out there that we have a giant toilet paper roll because most likely, there’s going to be a lot of tears today.
[0:05:13.5] ANNA NEWELL JONES: That’s right.
[0:05:14.7] AMY MOORE: Without further ado, I think we should get into your story about your near-death experience or yeah, what happened?
[0:05:25.2] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You two, well, can we back up even more? You two are married, you live in Salida, you have – Colorado.
[0:05:30.5] BRIAN: Two, yup.
[0:05:32.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: And just to kind of set the framework of that.
[0:05:33.8] ERIN LINEHAN: And high school sweethearts.
[0:05:35.5] AMY MOORE: That’s amazing.
[0:05:36.5] KELSEY: Well, we’ve been together since we were 16.
[0:05:38.2] AMY MOORE: Wow.
[0:05:40.8] BRIAN: We met at Evergreen High School, another Colorado shout out there.
[0:05:43.4] AMY MOORE: Yeah.
[0:05:44.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah, Colorado
[0:05:46.5] AMY MOORE: When you first met, did you two know like my gosh, this is my person.
[0:05:50.6] ERIN LINEHAN: That’s good.
[0:05:52.7] BRIAN: I think I had some sense because I still remember, we were in French class together and –
[0:05:57.7] AMY MOORE: That’s awesome.
[0:05:58.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You’re like she’s in shape, right?
[0:06:01.3] ERIN LINEHAN: Would you like to go to Paris with me?
[0:06:05.5] BRIAN: The French class was in one of the modular buildings outside the school, they were working on renovating the school. I just remember, she had just come back from a family trip to [0:06:17.9 inaudible] was it?
[0:06:19.1] KELSEY: Yeah.
[0:06:20.0] AMY MOORE: What grade was this?
[0:06:21.5] BRIAN: I was a junior, she was a sophomore.
[0:06:24.3] AMY MOORE: Okay.
[0:06:26.8] BRIAN: I was in a classroom, I was like the French club president. I was really into French at the time.
[0:06:31.3] AMY MOORE: That’s a good tip.
[0:06:34.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: The grand part of the story.
[0:06:37.2] AMY MOORE: Are you fluent?
[0:06:38.6] BRIAN: No.
[0:06:38.1] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Okay.
[0:06:40.0] KELSEY: Not even close.
[0:06:42.0] BRIAN: I sat down because I got there early because I always got there early and then I was just watching other students come in the door to this little building and all of a sudden, I see this amazingly gorgeous, tan, long legged, incredible young woman walk through the door and I knew, right at that moment, I was like, I need to know this person much better.
There came an opportunity for us to get extra credit in French class by going to see a French puppet show at Washington park. I said, I’m going to go, does anybody want to go with me and I see –
[0:07:27.4] AMY MOORE: Staring her down.
[0:07:29.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You are going to come with me.
[0:07:32.5] BRIAN: Well, only one hand in the whole place went up and I was so excited because I knew whose hand it was and I said, great, then it’s a date.
[0:07:44.2] KELSEY: And then I got nervous and invited a friend to go with us.
[0:07:50.2] AMY MOORE: That is a great story.
[0:07:51.3] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Have you been together ever since then
[0:07:53.0] BRIAN: Ever since.
[0:07:54.1] AMY MOORE: My gosh.
[0:07:54.8] KELSEY: Yup.
[0:07:55.6] AMY MOORE: Go to the same college?
[0:07:56.3] BRIAN: October of 1996. Yeah, I went to Chico state in Chico California and because we were a year apart in school, I left, Kelsey was a senior, she graduated and then came out to Chico as well and did most of her kind of undergrad general studies there and back to Colorado again.
[0:08:16.4] AMY MOORE: My gosh, that’s so great.
[0:08:17.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You were both in Salida or you were in Evergreen and then chose Salida after college or –
[0:08:23.7] BRIAN: We were in Evergreen, went to college, came back, lived in Denver for 10 years and then just really got tired of other people’s tail lights. So then we made our way to Salida, we had never been in Salida before, we just kind of was like throwing darts at a map and I was like, well, that place sounds cute.
We had driven through that valley multiple times, my parents lived in Ridgeway which is down your ride. We were driving through the valley once or twice a year and after a while it was like, maybe we should just stop and live in this valley? It’s worked out pretty well.
[0:08:59.1] AMY MOORE: How long have you lived in your current community?
[0:09:02.4] BRIAN: About four and a half years.
[0:09:03.1] AMY MOORE: Four and a half, okay.
[0:09:03.8] KELSEY: It’s been four and a half years?
[0:09:05.3] BRIAN: I reckon.
[0:09:06.4] AMY MOORE: Yeah.
[0:09:07.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Long time.
[0:09:08.4] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah. Well, and long enough it sounds like to have this amazing support that really showed up for you in the hospital. Can we jump into that? Are we ready to hear the story?
[0:09:21.4] BRIAN: For kind of a long term background of it, I was born with a congenitally malformed aortic valve and so at eight years old, I was diagnosed with that and aortic stenosis and I was just told by doctors, you know, you have a surgery at some point and that point came up in 2016, I had my first valve replacement and that was done at Saint Joe’s and was a great success and everything seemed to be going well that year.
I think it was four months later I climbed Mount Albert and then the month after that, I ran a 10k in Salida and so I thought you know, things are fantastic so then fast forward to 2018 and I just started having weird nondescript symptoms and the first thing that came up was I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my palatial artery which is a major artery in the leg, this was in my right leg and I was flown out of Salida down to Colorado Springs to have that removed.
I remember talking to the surgeon who took it out afterward and saying like you know, it’s kind of weird that I would have a blood clot at this age and he was like, yeah, that’s weird. I said, kind of extra weird that it’s in an artery, right? He was like yeah, that’s extra weird and I was like –
[0:10:35.2] AMY MOORE: What age were you at the time?
[0:10:38.8] BRIAN: I was just about to turn 38
[0:10:39.0] KELSEY: 37.
[0:10:40.0] AMY MOORE: Did you say you were flown to Colorado Springs so this was like an emergency, you had to get this?
[0:10:45.1] BRIAN: Yeah, the doctor came in at the emergency room in Salida and he said you know, we need to get you to Colorado Springs as quick as possible so we’re getting the ambulance ready and he came back 30 seconds later and was like, the ambulance isn’t going to quite get there fast enough, you’re taking the helicopter.
[0:10:58.5] AMY MOORE: My gosh. Wow, just so everybody knows because our listeners are all over the place. But Salida is a mountain town and so you have to go through the mountains to get from Denver to Salida or Colorado Springs because –
[0:11:13.9] ANNA NEWELL JONES: To get anywhere, right?
[0:11:14.7] AMY MOORE: Yeah, that’s called – it’s like the front range.
[0:11:16.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah.
[0:11:16.3] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah.
[0:11:17.5] BRIAN: Yeah, we were like three-hour drive from Denver to two and a half hour drive from Colorado Springs.
[0:11:23.7] KELSEY: And in the mountains so depending on weather, it could be a lot longer.
[0:11:26.5] BRIAN: Yeah.
[0:11:28.1] KELSEY: Okay, just for –
[0:11:30.3] AMY MOORE: Good context.
[0:11:30.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Well done Amy.
[0:11:31.3] AMY MOORE: I know some of our listeners are in my home state of Minnesota so –
[0:11:36.8] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Just got to clarify.
[0:11:38.7] ERIN LINEHAN: Good call.
[0:11:40.1] BRIAN: I got to say, for somebody who likes to fly, it was – you know, it’s not the way I would recommend having your first helicopter flight, but it turned out pretty well for me.
[0:11:48.4] AMY MOORE: Were you on a stretcher or were you like sitting there looking out the windows?
[0:11:53.9] BRIAN: They have kind of a stretcher that they can put the backup on so that I could sit there and look out the windows but it actually locks into the base of the helicopter.
[0:12:02.3] AMY MOORE: Okay.
[0:12:03.1] BRIAN: I was impressed, my pilot was very smooth takeoff and landing. Amazing staff there, the folks who worked for reach are incredible, they took great care of me. We came out of this all with this surgeon just saying, I don’t really know what’s going on and his advice when I said, well what do I do from here? Was, go to Mayo and I was like, you mean like Mayo Colorado and he said, no, there’s no Mayo here. You got to go to the Mayo Clinic, and I was like, I work 40 hours a week and my wife works 24 hours a week and we have two kids, I don’t think we can just show up at Mayo tomorrow. Not really in the plan.
[0:12:41.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Can I just give another little Minnesota shout out
[0:12:46.5] AMY MOORE: Is that where it is?
[0:12:48.0] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah. Mayo Clinic is like big time, you know? I don’t’ know. Minnesotans proud, yes.
[0:12:57.9] ANNA NEWELL JONES: There you go.
[0:12:57.9] AMY MOORE: Anyway.
[0:13:00.8] BRIAN: I had this kind of other nondescript symptoms, you know, it’s August and the high mountain desert of Colorado, 90 degrees during the day and I would get these chills where my teeth would just start chattering and I’d be in a meeting with my boss and my teeth would start chattering and I’m like, I know this is awkward but not sure how to turn it off right now.
We had that, I was having some, I think what we would just call cognitive issues.
[0:13:27.1] AMY MOORE: Maybe neurological?
[0:13:29.1] BRIAN: Yeah, things where I would walk into a room and kind of forget why I was in the room, blobs in my vision.
[0:13:36.3] KELSEY: You’d repeat things that you had said.
[0:13:38.8] BRIAN: I’d repeat things that I had said. And, my left side went numb for a short time when I was at work one day. Just yeah, things that didn’t make much sense. We had test being run but there was just nothing that was coming up so then, I ended up with a pain in my arm that was very similar to the pain I’d had in my leg when I had the first clot and we went back to the hospital and they couldn’t find in the scans that they ran that there was a clot there.
They sent us home and after talking it through for a bit, we decided to call my cardiology team which is at UC health in Denver and they said, you know, why don’t you just come on in to the ER here and we’ll see what’s going on. We went ahead and made that drive, they did find that there was a clot in the brachial artery in my right arm and so that was removed but because we had talked to the cardiology team about what was going on, they started running some other test and what they found was that I had an infection in the aortic valve, the one that had been replaced.
That the infection basically, it was growing stuff, the doctor called it vegetation.
[0:14:53.2] AMY MOORE: You don’t want to have that growing in your artery
[0:14:54.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Vegetation in your artery.
[0:14:56.4] AMY MOORE: That doesn’t sound like a good thing.
[0:14:57.2] BRIAN: No, you also don’t want to put that on your salad. This vegetation pieces of it would just break of and they went to different spots so they caused the arterial clots in my leg and my arm and then we found that they had also been going to my brain and causing a series of strokes and that’s where those kind of neurologic symptoms were coming from and so we ended up with the most incredible surgeon ever and I apologize first to all surgeons out there for saying this but.
You may know, surgeons are not really known for their bedside manner. I think mostly because they generally work on people who are unconscious.
[0:15:39.5] AMY MOORE: Totally.
[0:15:40.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You’re like, this isn’t a skill I need.
[0:15:43.3] BRIAN: But my surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Aftab, I came in and the first time he saw us, he probably spent an hour and a half with us just going over everything that was a concern about what was going on in my heart, all of his plans for surgery, what we were going to do to go in and get this infection out and get on the road to recovery.
Unfortunately, one of the things that he told us was because of where the vegetation was growing on that valve is right next to the coronary artery, so he said, if a piece breaks of and hits your coronary, then you have a heart attack. 24 hours later, I woke up feeling like the whole building was just collapsing on my chest and I –
[0:16:27.9] AMY MOORE: You were in the hospital and which hospital did you say your doctor was –
[0:16:32.7] BRIAN: This was at UC Health.
[0:16:33.8] AMY MOORE: UC Health.
[0:16:35.3] BRIAN: On the entry to medical campus and yeah, I was sure from things that I had read, things I’d seen on TV, I never had a heart attack before and I will say, if you’re going to have a heart attack, do it in a hospital.
[0:16:48.6] AMY MOORE: Pro tip.
[0:16:50.2] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Life hack?
[0:16:51.0] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, life hack.
[0:16:52.6] AMY MOORE: We’re all full of life hacks here, thank you Brian.
[0:16:55.3] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Thank you Brian.
[0:16:57.2] BRIAN: But they were all over it. I mean, in just immediately coming in to help get me taken care of and they said, we have two ways to fix this heart attack. They said, you still have this major clot in your artery and so we need to air your coronary artery, we need to go in and get this thing out. One way is to basically open a catheter in your leg, go up through your artery, take some tweezers on a stick and –
[0:17:21.4] AMY MOORE: That’s the technical term?
[0:17:22.8] BRIAN: Yeah.
[0:17:23.5] AMY MOORE: Clearly.
[0:17:24.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: This is what we’re going over in medical school today, tweezers on a stick.
[0:17:30.3] BRIAN: They said you know, we’ll go in with those and then we’ll pluck the stuff out of there and you’ll be okay and I said, well you said there were two options so let’s figure out both and they said okay, the second option is, we go in with this medication called TPA that dissolves the clot and breaks it up and then you’re good to go. I said, well, they both sound amazing. Are there any drawbacks?
They said, possibly. If we use the tweezers, we go right by your valve and maybe we break of some more of those vegetation and then a huge chunk goes to your brain and causes a massive stroke and I said, what’s behind door number two? They said well the TPA is a major blood thinner and so because you already have some damage in your brain, there’s a chance of bleeding into your brain and my thought was like, cool, you got to have blood in your brain, right?
[0:18:27.2] AMY MOORE: You sound so positive about this.
[0:18:30.4] KELSEY: It was a little more intense at the time.
[0:18:34.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You’ve done some work around those.
[0:18:35.3] BRIAN: Yeah, it’s funnier now. I was like okay, what does that mean? Bleeding into the brain and they were like, massive stroke and I was like, okay, what would you do? They were like, we’d let you decide.
[0:18:51.7] AMY MOORE: I hate that answer.
[0:18:53.7] BRIAN: We had at least one doctor who finally said you know, the TPA is the less invasive way to go and so it might be a good way to start, see how it does and then we can go back and so we said, fine, let’s do the TPA.
[0:19:05.5] AMY MOORE: What were you thinking Kelsey at this point?
[0:19:08.1] KELSEY: I had witnessed him having the heart attack and so I was just in survival mode of how do we figure this out and keep him safe and it was really hard to not have medical professionals give us direction in that moment and leave it to us but it really was left to us.
[0:19:22.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Kelsey is a boss at researching, I would say.
[0:19:26.3] KELSEY: Well thank you.
[0:19:27.5] ERIN LINEHAN: All the things that you need to check up.
[0:19:29.8] KELSEY: Yeah, we had a lot of family, I mean, as soon as family heard what had happened, they were gathering and we have lots of medically inclined folks in the family and so we had a lot of support. But it was crazy.
[0:19:41.9] BRIAN: We start the TPA drip and so it’s intravenous and they plan to have it run for about two hours and every 15 minutes, they would come in with this little flip chart of activities for me to do called a neuro check to make sure that my brain function was still going properly. The first page was just a picture that I had to describe everything in the picture. I remember it was a lady doing the dishes in front of the kitchen window and just describe everything that was going on.
I think there was maybe a simple maze and there was a page with just three letter words to read and at one hour and 45 minute into running this TPA, I couldn’t read three letter words anymore. I couldn’t actually even differentiate individual letters. They said that’s not good. They took me in and found that I was in fact bleeding into my brain and that’s when I stopped remembering for a couple of weeks. Most of the story in that time then is really Kelsey’s story, more than mine.
[0:20:45.2] ERIN LINEHAN: Can I pause for a second? What is that like to have that experience so intensely? And then you hear from Kelsey and then you don’t’ remember, what’s it like for you now and looking back?
[0:20:56.2] BRIAN: It’s totally strange, you know? I think I have a relatively strong memory most of the time and so there were things like, I spent two weeks in the neurosurgery, neuro ICU?
[0:21:08.3] KELSEY: No, it’s neurosurgery.
[0:21:09.9] BRIAN: I apparently became relatively close with one of the nurses there, Paul and I don’t remember him. Yeah, it’s just –
[0:21:18.6] AMY MOORE: Have you seen him since?
[0:21:19.7] BRIAN: Yeah, before we left the hospital, we stopped back in there and checked him with everybody. The next thing that I remember was waking up in my hospital room and everybody was kind of looking at me expectantly like maybe something had happened.
[0:21:34.7] KELSEY: Spoiler alert.
[0:21:37.5] AMY MOORE: This was four weeks later?
[0:21:39.0] BRIAN: This was closer to three weeks later. I looked at Kels and I said, when am I having surgery? And she looked at me and said, babe, I’ve got so much to tell you.
[0:21:52.9] KELSEY: He had spent two weeks in the neurosurgery ICU, they had to get his brain bleed stable before he could have his heart surgery. That time was just about keeping him stable, trying to keep him comfortable, they were doing some occupational therapy, physical therapy and just trying to get him through till we could get his heart surgery done.
And then, they did a CT of his heart just before the scheduled heart surgery and the infection had become much worse.
[0:22:23.7] AMY MOORE: Had they been treating the infection alongside the vegetation or no, that’s the same thing.
[0:22:30.8] KELSEY: Yeah, they’re the same thing. Since they discovered the infection, he had been on ivy antibiotics throughout and what we learned later was that it was a really rare bacteria, so I think antibiotics helped but they weren’t fully effective. Just prior to surgery, we learned that the infection was much worse and Dr. Aftab came to us and just said, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s all these possibilities of potential negative outcomes and we got to get in there and get that infection out.
On October 1st, Brian went into surgery that morning and we were hopeful that it would be six hours maybe and it turned into 14. They had to do a ton of work in replacing his aortic valve, his aortic root, did a bypass. I mean, just incredible work and when they went to close his chest, his heart stopped beating. He was put on can you say it? I can’t.
[0:23:31.6] BRIAN: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
[0:23:34.4] KELSEY: It’s life support, echo life support and it does the work of the heart and lungs. He was put on that with the hope that his heart would bounce back that it was in shock from everything it had been through. He’s spent four days on ECMO.
[0:23:50.2] AMY MOORE: Does that mean like completely unconscious?
[0:23:53.4] KELSEY: That’s what I thought at first but it wasn’t. He would wake up a little bit and as time passed, he would be there, he was intubated, he was hooked up to all kinds of stuff so he wasn’t really, I don’t think you remember any of it? But there was one time, one of the things we talked about over and over again is how bad he wanted a haircut when he got out of the hospital. This was what got us through was this damn haircut.
[0:24:20.5] AMY MOORE: Did he just get all bushy?
[0:24:21.9] KELSEY: Yeah, his hair was just kind of wild and it was this – something we could focus on. I think you know, tangible. When we’re out of here, this is what we can do. He’s intubated, he’s hooked up to ECMO and I’m on one side of him and his sister’s on the other side and we’re talking about his haircut. His sister’s like, maybe we should get you a Mohawk? His arms flew up and his head came up, we’re like, never mind. It’s okay.
[0:24:49.7] AMY MOORE: That’s a no from Brian.
[0:24:50.8] BRIAN: he did not want a Mohawk.
[0:24:54.0] AMY MOORE: Not breathing on his own, no heart beating on his own but definitely opinionated on the Mohawk.
[0:25:02.3] KELSEY: He’s very particular about his hair.
[0:25:03.5] BRIAN: Which is funny too because when we met, I had a Mohawk.
[0:25:06.8] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Funny.
[0:25:07.8] ERIN LINEHAN: That’s awesome.
[0:25:09.3] KELSEY: He would do things like when he first started waking up, one of the things he was most worried about is he didn’t have his wedding ring on and he was kind of pointing to his finger and trying to ask about that and he would sign I love you and so he doesn’t remember but we knew he was there and after four days of monitoring and his heart was starting to come back online and they thought it was time to give that a try and so they took him into surgery and removed this ECMO device and his heart took over and started beating on its own.
[0:25:39.5] ERIN LINEHAN: Wow.
[0:25:41.3] AMY MOORE: Did you technically die?
[0:25:44.2] BRIAN: You know, the way I look at it when my heart stopped, if there hadn’t been somebody there. I think one of the really incredible parts of the story is, while they’re preparing this ECMO machine, my surgeon literally reached into my chest and hand massaged my heart to keep blood pumping through my body.
[0:26:03.0] ERIN LINEHAN: Wow.
[0:26:05.0] AMY MOORE: Our mouths just dropped.
[0:26:06.8] BRIAN: Was probably like the most intimate interaction two people can have.
[0:26:11.0] AMY MOORE: Yeah.
[0:26:12.2] ANNA NEWELL JONES: God.
[0:26:13.7] ERIN LINEHAN: Wow.
[0:26:14.9] AMY MOORE: High five for that dude.
[0:26:16.1] BRIAN: I know.
[0:26:16.0] KELSEY: I know, we got to give him a few shout outs on the minimum. Good job.
[0:26:23.8] BRIAN: You know, obviously, I didn’t know what was happening at the time because I don’t think I would have handled that as well as I think of it now. But yeah, then, you know, it’s three weeks after I remembered my last memory and all of a sudden I’m finding out that all of this had happened and to me, it really felt like the kind of thing that should come with a near death experience and I was very disappointed.
Possibly even distraught about not having had a traditional near-death experience, you know? There’s no light, I wasn’t visited by god, my great grandparents didn’t come talk to me, nothing like that. I just kind of woke up and then I was told you know, you were dead and – that’s not how the movies said it was supposed to go.
[0:27:11.1] ANNA NEWELL JONES: I just got this T shirt. I want to go out there.
[0:27:14.9] ERIN LINEHAN: Just a little heart massage? Come on.
[0:27:18.3] ANNA NEWELL JONES: I signed up for way more than that.
[0:27:22.9] BRIAN: We got to talking and so Kelsey, the wise therapist that she is. I was trying to figure out how I find purpose in this when nothing came and gave me a purpose and she looks at me and she says in her best therapist voice. Well what do you think the purpose is?
[0:27:39.8] ERIN LINEHAN: Kelsey, could you give us that?
[0:27:43.0] KELSEY: Well, what do you think the purpose is?
[0:27:45.5] ERIN LINEHAN: So good.
[0:27:48.0] BRIAN: I started talking about the fact that I had been working in a prison for about four years and you know, Vista Colorado, before that I worked –
[0:27:55.3] AMY MOORE: What were you doing there?
[0:27:56.4] BRIAN: I was a teacher then. I started out in GED and then kind of took oversight of all the academic and vocational programs and before that, I was a teacher at an alternative and drop out high school in Sheridan Colorado and before that, I was a general studies teacher at youth drug and alcohol rehab in Denver.
All of them can be relatively dark places, there are a lot of people who are not experiencing happiness in life in prison or rehab. Every day I try to go into those jobs just with the idea of bringing some positivity. I looked at Kelsey and I said, well I think you know, I’ve always tried to be kind of a positive person in these dark places so I guess that’s it, I’ll just carry the light and that became the basis for our mission was just this idea of carrying the light and just bringing the best of ourselves to other people to allow them to give the best of themselves to us. That was a very profound moment.
[0:29:06.5] AMY MOORE: We all have tears in the studio if you wonder so there’s that.
[0:29:11.6] BRIAN: Then, I started getting better, you know, I went through physical therapy, occupational therapy, we got to the point where the hospital said you don’t need to be at the hospital anymore so –
[0:29:22.5] AMY MOORE: How long were you in the hospital? [0:29:24.4] KELSEY: That stay I think was 38 days.
[0:29:29.6] BRIAN: And then, we didn’t want to be three hours away from the hospital so we stayed near the hospital in Stapleton for a couple of weeks but you know, kept going for walks because of the reading issue, I was seeing speech language pathologist about getting my reading back and going through the motions with that and then after two weeks, we decided you know, it’s time to get going home.
On November 2nd, we drove back to Salida and got home to our girls, to our dogs and you know, just getting back to regular family life, we had eight days there and then on the 10th, we went to get groceries in the morning, we talked to some neighbors and we came back, I was real tired, my parents had come to town to help us out. I sat down next to my dad to watch a CU football game, a little while later, I just kind of slumped over on my dad and he thought I was upset about the football game at first and then he turned and he saw that I just wasn’t there.
[0:30:39.1] KELSEY: I was really lucky that Brian’s parents were there, and we quickly determined Brian didn’t have a pulse and so we started CPR, we got medics on the way and Chafee county EMS was there. I think within four or five minutes it was – I’m so grateful. They got working on him, they use defibrillation and a machine, the Lucas.
[0:31:04.7] BRIAN: Lucas chest compression system. It’s basically a machine that does the chest compressions instead of having humans do it. They’re precise, they always go to the right amount of compression and then you know, you don’t have people who are getting exhausted by the physical exertion of doing CPR.
[0:31:25.1] KELSEY: They worked on him at the house for probably 30 minutes and weren’t making progress and then decided to take him to our local ER which isn’t far from the house and continued to work on him there and finally, after 18 shocks and 45 to 50 minutes of CPR, his heart started beating again.
[0:31:47.3] AMY MOORE: That’s a significant amount of time.
[0:31:49.9] KELSEY: Yeah. It’s huge. And there were several times in there where the medics and then the ER doc came to me and said, there’s not much more we can do and in retrospect, I’m so thankful they didn’t stop but most of the time, I don’t know that they work that long.
[0:32:06.3] AMY MOORE: Where were your girls?
[0:32:08.0] KELSEY: They were at the house when Brian collapsed and they saw what was happening and I’m not sure who told them to go upstairs to their room but somewhere in there, somebody said, go upstairs so that they wouldn’t witness everything that was happening.
The EMS workers talk about seeing them up in their window, their bedroom window like looking out at the driveway. When Brian was transported to the hospital, I got in my car and followed Brian’s parents stayed at the house with the girls. Once he was revived and stable enough, the flew him back to UC Health, we had been in touch with his surgeon. His surgeon had actually called me on my phone while the CPR was ongoing to say, is there anything I can do to help? They were ready for him and they took him and just started working their magic.
[0:33:00.8] AMY MOORE: Was that your same doctor?
[0:33:02.7] KELSEY: Yup, or the surgeon who had worked on Brian came in on his weekend of when he heard that Brian was in such trouble. I had to drive the three hours to Denver and I was kind of oblivious, I didn’t realize, you know, once he revived, I thought okay, maybe we’re okay. I didn’t realize how detrimental being in CPR for that long can be because often, the brain and other vital organs don’t get enough blood flow and they die off.
When I got to the hospital, fortunately for the drive, I was in that oblivion and also shock. I got to the hospital and we had a doctor who came out and said, Brian had been doing what they call posturing. It’s kind of straightening his arms and putting his fists back which is apparently –
[0:33:49.3] ERIN LINEHAN: Brian is giving us an example in the studio right now.
[0:33:51.8] KELSEY: He’s an expert at it and that that was a really bad sign that indicated probably brain damage and that we shouldn’t expect him to wake up and that if we did, he would probably be neurologically injured. Their protocol is to cool a person’s body for 36 hours after an event like this. It protects the brain and I’d need somebody more science-y to be able to explain that.
[0:34:24.0] ERIN LINEHAN: That’s interesting.
[0:34:25.7] KELSEY: They put him in a medically induced coma and they cooled down. His heart was functioning okay, but his kidneys were failing, his liver was failing, they’re worried about his brain so he’s on dialysis. All that started to improve, and the big remaining question was, will he be there or did his brain suffer this injury and 36 hours later, I was sleeping in a hotel across the street at 1 a.m., the phone rang and I thought, oh no. This has to be horrible.
It’s Brian’s dad who was at the hospital with Brian going, he’s waking up. The nurses in the background like –
[0:35:02.7] AMY MOORE: Chills.
[0:35:04.1] KELSEY: Yeah. The story is that Robin who was our nurse that night like ran up and down the ICU corridor being like, he’s awake, he’s awake. Because everyone expected the worst and he was still intubated and I mean, he was still really sick but he was responding to commands, he was seeming like he was there.
[0:35:26.1] AMY MOORE: Wow.
[0:35:27.2] KELSEY: Which was I think all told with everything that happened, he had a 1% chance of the outcome he had. Only 11% of people suffer what he had which was a cardiac arrest and only 1% without neurological damage.
He started recovering again and started getting better and they inserted an internal defibrillator which has a lead into his heart and if his heart goes into a funky rhythm which they think caused it to stop the first time, it would shock him right back onto normal rhythm. I mean, it’s crazy and such a good backup plan.
[0:36:07.2] AMY MOORE: Yeah, do you believe in God?
[0:36:09.7] KELSEY: I think it’s fair to say that neither of us grew up like in a religious
background or influenced by a particular religion and I would say we both have like a spiritual connection to something and it’s really interesting to think about because sometimes, I can be really angry and upset and why did this happen and there’s that part of it.
The unfairness, the pain that our whole family went through, and then there’s the flip side of like this is a miracle, right? This horrible thing happened and here we are almost a year later doing a podcast about it.
[0:36:49.0] AMY MOORE: Right.
[0:36:49.4] ERIN LINEHAN: What is it like to do – after you’re done talking, I want to hear what it’s like to talk about it in this room?
[0:36:54.5] KELSEY: You’re such a therapist.
[0:36:57.8] ERIN LINEHAN: Especially in that quiet long hours.
[0:37:02.4] KELSEY: Sometimes it’s surreal, I have to do a lot of my own work. I have PTSD around everything that happened and I think the passage of time is helpful for me because it’s like, “Okay maybe this chapter is closing” or closed and it is hard to trust that but the question about God is hard because this experience for me shook everything up. I think it is different for Brian.
[0:37:27.7] BRIAN: Well I think I have been at least fairly sure that there is a God now for a while. There was a time in my life when I was also sure that I was an atheist and I think that is past, but I think what I really came to believe in through this process more so was the importance of humanity and so I believe in God but I think what I really see is I see the influence of God through people and so just that feeling of having so many people pouring positivity into my life at my darkest moment.
And knowing that my family was there and not only where they there but they were being taken care of by other people, you know feeling like the whole staff of where I was located at the time was really not just invested in seeing me get better because it was good for their morale but wanting me to get better for the sake of that they saw a human in pain and they wanted to see that person thrive and I think that is what’s amazing is people have such a great capacity for taking care of each other.
And we end up so focused at times on the ways that we do the opposite of that and it was such a nice way to reflect on that when people need each other, they can really come together to do amazing things.
[0:39:08.3] ERIN LINEHAN: That is good.
[0:39:10.7] ANNA NEWELL JONES: That is real good.
[0:39:12.6] ERIN LINEHAN: So through the whole experience you wrote a blog and so can you share what that experience was like because there is all these things happening on the GoFundMe page and so Kelsey wrote this whole just an update to everybody to keep everybody informed, a book essentially and so can you talk a little bit about that because as being people that love you like – my goodness.
[0:39:38.4] KELSEY: What I have embraced to all of these is that I am writer and I love to write. I mean I started writing these updates because as soon as we knew there was an infection in Brian’s heart, there were new things and things happening every day and we have such an incredible village and I had no capacity to send 10 million text a day. So it was those central place to update everyone and what I found was that I could be vulnerable in it and talk about what this was really like.
Erin may know I struggle with vulnerability a little bit, but in the writing I could say what this is like to watch my partner go through this, to watch my kids go through this and to experience both the pain and the gratitude that was coming in waves through the whole experience.
[0:40:32.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: We’re you surprised by the way people showed up or didn’t show up throughout the process?
[0:40:37.3] KELSEY: There was no “no showing up” I think that’s where it gets me because I am so moved by everyone who sent messages or donated money or Erin who came and sat with me or did the healing touch for Brian and even months after we got home, a neighbor brought a quilt that she had made for me and she said, “We need to take care of you too” and it was all hearts and random people who we have never known who did things for us.
And I think that people connected to the story, to this sense of human experience like it is at its core when you peel away all the other crap that we worry about all the other stresses that impact us daily and it is like are we going to have it tomorrow. It touches people.
[0:41:35.3] ERIN LINEHAN: It sure does.
[0:41:36.7] AMY MOORE: So did you Kelsey, how did you take care of yourself in this process?
[0:41:42.0] KELSEY: I don’t know that I was thinking about it. I think I spent in between both hospitalizations, I think Brian spent 51 days in the hospital and I think I spent 45 nights in the hospital. I wanted to be his advocate, I didn’t want him to be alone and it came at a cost and I think that is why now I get to heal and do all of that self-care and even though I wasn’t trying to, people were showing up and helping me through. People who would sit with us, people who would bring me food.
People who would set up acupuncture for me. So I think our village knew that I wasn’t going to be thinking about that and so trying to fill that gap but it was just for me, it was like we got to get through this and frankly being afraid to be away from Brian.
[0:42:30.8] ERIN LINEHAN: Would you be willing to talk a little bit about what costs, what happened?
[0:42:35.9] KELSEY: Yeah, I mean truly I have PTSD. I have that diagnosis. I have been working on it since things stabilized and we got home through a lot of routes. Acupuncture and therapy and EMDR and it’s just this process of trusting that I can feel safe again. I think I would have been okay if after the surgery and ECMO things had continued but then totally unexpected the rug pulled out and Brian had his cardiac arrest and that’s the piece where I think I was totally shaken.
Everything was hard but having that element of not being prepared, thinking we were on a good track in our own home, the impact on our kids, you know it is hard to feel safe again and so that’s what my work is now.
[0:43:32.2] ERIN LINEHAN : Did you find any support groups or was there anything that you found going through this outside of your village? Did the hospital have anything or was there anything that was already set up for people in your situation to find support?
[0:43:50.1] KELSEY: Brian’s case was so unique, his illness was so unique. I mean the hospital had support group for families of people who experienced strokes or heart attack. So that was one element of Brian’s experience and our experience but it was so broad and different. I connected into several communities on Facebook.
[0:44:11.5] ERIN LINEHAN: Good.
[0:44:11.9] AMY MOORE: Can you tell us which ones?
[0:44:13.6] KELSEY: So there was the endocarditis support group and that is the name of the heart infection, endocarditis. There is a sudden cardiac arrest support group, living with an internal defibrillator support group, I mean they’re all of these pieces and it is so unique because Brian’s story is so unique but I found comfort there in people who had walked some aspect of this road before me for sure.
[0:44:43.0] AMY MOORE: And Brian have you had to do work around what happened? I mean physically I would imagine that’s a given but like the mental and emotional part of it.
[0:44:54.2] BRIAN: Yeah, I think it is very different for me. The trauma for me doesn’t really stem from the experiences themselves because I just wake up from them and then people are like, “Here is what happened” and so –
[0:45:09.2] AMY MOORE: So your second near death experience, did you have any?
[0:45:12.6] BRIAN: No.
[0:45:14.8] KELSEY: When he was in the middle, I know right? When we were in the middle of that he was on our living floor having CPR, all these things happening and I literally thought, “I hope you’re having a near death experience.” I mean in bigger picture come back but also when you do I really hope that you get this thing.
[0:45:39.5] AMY MOORE: Oh that’s love. Well that is love.
[0:45:43.8] BRIAN: It was so sweet. She took amazing care of me throughout and I think that is where most of my work has been. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t do things to traumatize other people but what happened to me did and working with the fact is a child should never look at their parents eyes and not see them there and so working with that. The fact that a lot of people in this support groups, they talk about the heroes in their experience.
And most of it is through bystander CPR, my bystanders were the most important people in my life and not that I wanted to traumatize a stranger but it is also really hard to look and see the pain that they went through and feel like it was caused not by me but by what was going on in me and so yeah, I have done some work around that. I think otherwise, you know again I feel like I have the opportunity now to just wake up twice but knowing where I was before I woke up, I’ve had to do some work around just that feeling of not really being sure.
I don’t remember collapsing on the couch so if it every happened again, I assume that I wouldn’t remember and then it is so strange to just think like, “Oh this could have been all done” and I had no idea of it. At the time, I think that was part of why I was really hopeful for something that would say to me like, “Hey by the way, you’re here real close to death. This is the edge. Just take a step back” and everything is going to be cool.
So the fact that I didn’t get that you know I still feel some proximity to that edge and so just working out feeling safe enough to be away from that.
[0:47:53.1] AMY MOORE: How are your girls doing today?
[0:47:55.6] KELSEY: It comes in waves. Overall I think they are doing really well. They had so much support outside of us when Brian was in the hospital so long, my aunt, his parents, my parents, my grandma, I mean there was this system that came together and there were moments that I didn’t know where they were but I just knew that they were okay and they were in good hands and I think having such soft spots to land, they faired okay.
And they saw things that at the time, they were four and seven that nobody should ever see and especially such little kids and it brings up fears and they know more about sudden cardiac arrest and CPR and they have a million questions that they started asking as soon as it was done. So we’ve just tried to be really honest and soft and supportive and understanding of that process for them and I don’t think it is something that they worry about day in and day out but some days it comes up, yeah.
[0:49:03.8] AMY MOORE: That is quite a story.
[0:49:05.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah.
[0:49:05.9] ERIN LINEHAN: That is quite a story. Thank you for sharing that.
[0:49:08.8] AMY MOORE: Yeah.
[0:49:09.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you want to tell us about?
[0:49:12.8] BRIAN: Well I think one of the concerns that people have had when I talked to others is like what can they do and not for me but just in general and I think some of the most important things is take a CPR class. Be prepared to know how to do this and I had CPR classes every other year when I was employed by the Department of Corrections and I always thought, well you know this is the kind of thing that I would use on somebody who’s got to be a stranger, right?
Or maybe here at work something like that and so it is amazing to have it be people who were so close to me providing this and you have no idea who might need that. I think understanding what a defibrillator is, where they’re available, being able to provide that. You know what we understand now is for every minute that a defibrillator is not used, the chance of survival goes down by 10%.
[0:50:11.2] ERIN LINEHAN: Whoa that is crazy.
[0:50:13.8] BRIAN: Yeah it is a very, very quick curve down.
[0:50:15.3] ERIN LINEHAN: But that also speaks to like that’s crazy that you for all those minutes came out, you know?
[0:50:21.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah and do you have long term – are you okay with sharing do you have any long term damage or effects?
[0:50:26.8] ERIN LINEHAN: Neurological effects.
[0:50:27.7] BRIAN: So I think the longest term damage is still to my reading ability from the stoke that was caused after my heart attack and you know I can read at this point. It is just certainly not at the same level as it was before I was sick and otherwise I get to take a lot of medicine so that’s fun and I have a metal box in my chest that is my insurance policy but other than that, you know for –
[0:50:54.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Is it weird? Can you feel it at all?
[0:50:56.1] BRIAN: Oh yeah, I can feel it right there. Yeah, it feels like there is a box of Lucky Strikes just embedded in there.
[0:51:05.1] ERIN LINEHAN: Your favorite, wow.
[0:51:06.7] BRIAN: Yeah, otherwise no. My surgeon even said when it comes to physical activity, do what you are ready to do. Your body is going to let you know and so over the last three weeks I think I have put close to 75 miles on a mountain bike and you know, yeah, I love being – we moved up to Solida to be outside. So it is great that I get to be outside at this point.
[0:51:34.1] ERIN LINEHAN: Next summer we’re trail running?
[0:51:36.8] KELSEY: Erin, you are going to get every single person she knows to start trail running with her.
[0:51:45.0] ERIN LINEHAN: Oh my.
[0:51:47.1] AMY MOORE: Is there one thing that you think got you through this or?
[0:51:52.1] BRIAN: No, there are so many things and they all have names and places and it was the power of people coming together on my behalf and you know, I woke up to find Facebook messages and comments and comments on Kelsey’s blog and people in my room just hovering over me, maybe uncomfortably at times but they’re –
[0:52:27.6] AMY MOORE: We’re here, Kelsey just pointed to Erin.
[0:52:33.9] BRIAN: And I think the other thing was just like Kelsey said, you know I woke up and it was like, “I am here in the hospital. Where is our family?” and Kelsey was like, “Don’t worry they’re fine” and I could truly believe that. We were so well taken care of. In terms of our finances and things like that, I think just knowing that we were safe at that point allowed me to recover fully and you know I think that is everything. It is just being able to have people come together.
So that you can feel like the things that are dangerous to me, the doctors are here taking care of everything else for me was set and taken care of and I was loved and there was light and it was amazing.
[0:53:17.3] KELSEY: I would answer the same and I think that that’s what has spurred Brian. So in July, Brian left his job with the Department of Corrections to pursue this calling of sharing his story and talking about the light and the light is something that is in every single person that you meet and we have this opportunity to see it and to use our own light to bring it out in others and that’s what we had. That was what’s fed to us.
I mean there aren’t words to express what it’s like to know there are dozens of churches praying for you and you’ve got a family taking care of your kids and your dogs are with your friends and that light that sustained us when maybe our lights were dim was so powerful and I think is the core of why Brian is doing what he’s doing now.
[0:54:20.2] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, so what have you two done since you got back to Solida, life normalized, have you done anything to really keep those connections that you had in maybe some of your darkest days, kept them going today or growing or you know, deepening those connections or how are you maintaining those that really showed up?
[0:54:44.7] BRIAN: Well I know for me, I have always been close to a lot of people and I always just felt that but I don’t know that I felt like I expressed it all the time so a lot of it now has just taken that time for a little bit of outreach to just different people who I haven’t talked to for a while. You know I had people come out of the woodwork and I got calls from friends from college who I hadn’t talked to in years and there is such gratitude for me in those moments.
Of having people who I may have even forgotten where there and so I wanted to be that same kind of voice for somebody even if they are not going through something but just to reach out and say like, “Hey, remember how we like each other? I am still here” we still feel that so.
[0:55:29.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Kelsey really quick, what is your blog?
[0:55:31.4] KELSEY: It was part of a GoFundMe account that we had going at the time and we are trying to figure out how to transition that into something that can be ongoing. I still update the GoFundMe a couple of times a month when I need to write and when there is stuff to write about and I am trying to find the platform to switch that over to yeah.
[0:55:50.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: And then a huge question for you, have your thoughts on death changed since this experience?
[0:55:56.8] BRIAN: I don’t know that it has really changed my thoughts on death. I think probably it has changed my thoughts on life. So I don’t know, maybe same question with an answered in a different way.
[0:56:08.2] ERIN LINEHAN: It was like I got all this social media quotes right now for you. It exploded like oh.
[0:56:16.3] AMY MOORE: Quote, quote, quote. Okay, how have your thoughts on life change? I guess we have been talking about that.
[0:56:22.1] BRIAN: Okay, I think a lot of it really for me has to do with intention and so it was something that was kind of a nebulous idea for a long time. One of the things that I got to do through the prison was to teach a class based on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I feel as though there is a lot in those text about and you may not use exactly the same words but about setting and following through on intentions. So really just the shout outs to friends and family who I haven’t talked to for a while.
Or making a plan around things that really matter to me for taking care of my family, just taking care of myself, you know I think that is a lot of what it comes down to is if I can set those intentions, you know I hate to say schedule them because spontaneity is still fun but it is great to go into something with a schedule of things and look back and go, I really wanted to get some things done and I really did get those things done and –
[0:57:23.6] AMY MOORE: I love schedules. Taking my notes right now.
[0:57:30.4] BRIAN: And I think when I look back at the end of it, you know one of the amazing parts for me, so we had an exercise that the offender students would do in the seven habits class where they had to write their own eulogy from the perspective of somebody who care about them and it was super intense for a lot of the guys because many of them had a hard time thinking of positive things they might say and when I got back to work, I was talking to one of the teachers of the seven habits.
And he was like, “Dude, you got your eulogy and you didn’t have to die all the way” and I realized what a special thing that is to have people telling me that I was a good person. That I was worthy of being alive and so I think that is one of the big intentions for a mission is to just go around and remind people you are worthy of being alive and you are worthy of being loved and you bring beauty to the world and you know I think to me that’s what it’s all about. That is the whole reason I got to come back.
[0:58:44.4] ERIN LINEHAN: Who needs God to tell you that? You figured it out, right? So the stuff that you’re doing now, A Light We Share.
[0:58:53.2] KELSEY: A Light We Share and Brian can tell you all the reasons behind that from an English teacher perspective but it’s really good.
[0:59:00.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah.
[0:59:01.4] KELSEY: We’re driving to meet some friends in Durango and going through all of these names of this thing we want to do and when we got to A Light We share, we’re like, “Yeah that’s what we want” and we’re still figuring out what that means. Brian is looking for opportunities to tell the story, to share this message in any venue and then the medical professional community is another big piece of that. We learned of suicides within the unit where we were.
Staff suicides and we’re crushed because those folks pour their light into their patients and they work with the sickest patients in the hospital in that unit and so that’s another piece of it is that we want to find a way to give back and to give hope to people who do that work but don’t always see that outcome. So that is another piece of what we’re looking at doing.
[0:59:57.8] BRIAN: I think that is really where it starts from. You know we have so many ideas of where this could go and how to benefit people with it and you know I think there is a lot of diversity to where we can offer but I think the start is just being able to get out, tell the story and talk about what it means and I think mostly because Kelsey wrote them. The most articulate forms of our missions are available on the website, so alightweshare.org.
[1:00:27.5] ERIN LINEHAN: Great, I wonder too even just your girls sharing their story with other kids, I mean there’s got to be other kids out there who have experienced seeing their parent in extreme distress.
[1:00:40.8] KELSEY: Yeah, we’ve had those conversations too about how getting through what we went through at all levels of our family could be a resource, a source of support for people who face that kind of thing.
[1:00:53.2] ERIN LINEHAN: Do you find at all tricky where it’s like you don’t necessarily want to be defined by this or in the trauma of the experience so much and also having it as a purpose.
[1:01:05.9] KELSEY: So there are nights where I’m like I can’t talk about it right now because it is our intention to do something with this. I don’t think we could go through it and not change our path. So it is a defining moment. Hopefully the biggest defining moment will ever have and I just don’t think we could do anything other than operate from that but it is tricky because sometimes it pulls me back and I think it pulls Brian back and we cry pretty much every night as we talk about both the painful moments.
But I think even more the gratitude that we have for coming through and having all the support that we have and all the beautiful things that have come out of it but there was no question. We had talked about like do we follow this calling and there was a night where we went out to dinner and Brian looked at me and he said, “I have to do this” and I said, “Yeah we have to do this” and that was it. So it is a work in progress and it probably always will be but it just feels so close to our hearts.
[1:02:15.7] AMY MOORE: Well I got to say for myself and I am sure I can speak from these other two, thank you so much for inviting us in to your journey and we’re so excited to follow where this ends up going for both of you.
[1:02:32.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah and to support you as you share this. It is super incredibly powerful.
[1:02:37.4] KELSEY: Thank you for having us and giving us that chance.
[1:02:41.4] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, it is our pleasure.
[1:02:42.5] BRIAN: Thank you for being here.
[1:02:43.8] AMY MOORE: Yeah and I have to say, I’ve got some takeaways personally. I’m going to sign up for CPR class, I am going to reach out to people to maintain my connections because I’ve got a lot of support people right now that they need to know how much I love them and I want to review The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, that book.
[1:03:09.2] BRIAN: Highly effective people.
[1:03:10.7] AMY MOORE: Sorry, highly effective people, thank you and I think it would be really interesting to do a personal writing around what our or what our listeners defining moments in their lives.
[1:03:24.5] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Ooh I thought you were going to say eulogy.
[1:03:26.8] AMY MOORE: No, defining moments yeah. 180.
[1:03:30.8] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Totally against their own thing.
[1:03:34.0] AMY MOORE: So, what do you have Erin?
[1:03:38.6] ERIN LINEHAN: I think that I haven’t told so during this whole time reading the blog and they are sometimes and then talking to you and whatever support I could provide but like –
[1:03:52.2] AMY MOORE: You got this.
[1:03:54.3] ERIN LINEHAN: Well it’s sad.
[1:03:54.9] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You can cry dude.
[1:03:55.9] ERIN LINEHAN: Well I am trying but it is so – to hear the whole story all together is – gets you, you know? So thank you for sharing it.
[1:04:09.3] KELSEY: Of course.
[1:04:10.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah and so I really appreciate I mean you are being super
vulnerable on the podcast. So that is some growth, right?
[1:04:20.4] AMY MOORE: Your therapist just gave each other a high five.
[1:04:23.2] ERIN LINEHAN: We have a lot of those knee hives after nowhere and I was sitting here thinking like I mean I got some really great friends, really amazing people in my life and so thank you for being a part of it.
[1:04:34.5] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Yeah, one of the things that struck me is I have this spot right across from this two. So the thing that struck me is the love that you have for each other. You two are so beautiful together. You’re like soul mates it is amazing.
[1:04:48.2] AMY MOORE: They are sharing a microphone everyone so they’re sitting just a couple of inches apart.
[1:04:52.1] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Like it is just so evident that the love that you have and the connection and it is just absolutely beautiful. So I am glad that you were able to come in and could see that.
[1:05:01.9] BRIAN: Thank you.
[1:05:01.9] KELSEY: Thank you.
[1:05:03.6] ANNA NEWELL JONES: So yeah.
[1:05:04.4] ERIN LINEHAN: What’s your takeaway?
[1:05:05.3] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Oh gosh, all the things. I think your love is really inspiring. I mean I know that is not what we are talking about but yeah it is. It truly is like I see such a deep connection between you two and that’s so beautiful and that is my takeaway.
[1:05:23.6] AMY MOORE: Do you want to comment at all about your relationship as far as going through this together and since you have known each other since you’re 16?
[1:05:32.1] BRIAN: Well I think the thing about a relationship that goes on as long as ours has and I didn’t realize it for a long time but it takes a lot of work. I grew up with people like The Little Mermaid and Belle and the Beast, showing me how love goes and then the minute you realized you’re in love then the work stops and then you just live happily ever after.
[1:05:54.9] ERIN LINEHAN: And then Kelsey showed up.
[1:05:59.2] BRIAN: So yeah but then reality sets in and I remember at first being really afraid of doing work because I was like, “Well if we have to do work then this must not be as strong as I think it is.”
[1:06:09.2] ANNA NEWELL JONES : And what is worked defined for you two in your relationship? What does that look like for you two?
[1:06:15.4] KELSEY: It’s been all different things in 23 years that we’ve been together but it’s really around honesty and vulnerability and I think in this last nine months, it’s been about compassion as much as we want to share the compassion that we’ve had with people outside of us. That compassion has been huge in our relationship because we are both facing enormous defining events and moments and to be able to fall into each other in those moments and find that safe place is the work.
[1:06:57.0] BRIAN: I think so much of it for me has come down to communication as well just understanding that I have a communication style and Kels has a communication style and there is nothing wrong with either one but if I listen to what she’s saying only though my own filter then I respond to her through that same filter and I think that is where at times there had been conflicts and so over the years, I’ve just learned to really try to break that filter down.
And just listen and really understand what she’s trying to say and what she needs and it makes a huge difference and you can’t go through something like this and have somebody who is so consistently right there taking care of you every step of the way and not – I mean I would hope you wouldn’t feel like you can just somehow throw that person away. I mean I can’t express the gratitude that I have that every time I woke up and I had to ask silly questions.
Like, “When am I having surgery?” after it was all done already that I had her there to be the one to answer those questions and you know, I know that we are going to have communication issues again in the future and I know that the strength of what we have is going to continue to propel us past those kinds of things and have us working through them. So I think the work that you asked about is dynamic and it is constant and it is always worth it.
[1:08:33.9] AMY MOORE: And you’re both willing to do it. That’s incredible.
[1:08:37.6] BRIAN: I also just want to say, I think one of the takeaways that I’ve got, you know having your community, the Less Alone community has been a great part of me in terms of setting intentions, just having a place to go and find questions about what kind of pizza I like and such.
[1:08:58.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Thanks for answering that by the way. I saw that in our Facebook group.
[1:09:03.0] BRIAN: What was great is that it is a place to go in and respond and then look at other people’s responses and go like, “Oh a lot of people out there eat terrible pizza.”
[1:09:11.4] ERIN LINEHAN: Pineapple.
[1:09:14.6] BRIAN: But in addition to that, you know it is so cool to have strangers commenting in the same way and then liking each other’s stuff and I love the community part of it and it has really helped me. One of my intentions was every time I see a Less Alone notification, I will go in there and see what is going on. I don’t answer at everything but yeah, it’s just a cool way to like, “Yeah I really want to answer this because I know some other people are reading and maybe they’ll get something from it.” So that’s just really awesome.
[1:09:46.1] ANNA NEWELL JONES: For being in there, that’s awesome.
[1:09:47.7] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, appreciate that.
[1:09:49.8] AMY MOORE: Well everybody, I think it’s time.
[1:09:52.6] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah.
[1:09:53.9] AMY MOORE: Thank you listeners.
[1:09:55.1] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, thank you.
[1:09:56.4] ANNA NEWELL JONES: And we had one question.
[1:09:57.1] AMY MOORE: Oh yes, you guys ready for this? This is going to flip the whole thing around.
[1:10:03.5] ERIN LINEHAN: Yeah, Anna is going to ask it.
[1:10:05.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Okay, so we are going to end each interview with a question, the same question and what’s that?
[1:10:12.8] ERIN LINEHAN: We’re testing this one out.
[1:10:14.7] AMY MOORE: We’re testing. Be our guinea pigs. Buckle up.
[1:10:16.9] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Okay, so hopefully this goes okay. Okay, so the question is, what is the weirdest thing you do when you are alone?
[1:10:32.6] AMY MOORE: I am thinking. I am percolating.
[1:10:36.0] ERIN LINEHAN: This can go to a lot of places. You didn’t that through.
[1:10:39.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: I know, we didn’t think this through.
[1:10:41.1] ERIN LINEHAN: No.
[1:10:41.1] ANNA NEWELL JONES: That you are okay with sharing obviously.
[1:10:44.5] BRIAN: Well that makes it easier. I think for me probably the weirdest thing I have conversations with myself and a lot of it stems from I used to drive a 1978 VW bus and the stereo broke in and this was back when I was in college but I was back for the summer and driving from Evergreen Colorado to Arvada for a job that I had there and so every day, I am making this huge drive.
[1:11:14.4] AMY MOORE: How long is that?
[1:11:15.2] BRIAN: Oh it was probably usually about an hour each way.
[1:11:19.7] AMY MOORE: At least you’re driving the bus.
[1:11:22.4] BRIAN: Which is pretty awesome but I was so used to having music or something to listen to that I would just go nuts and I would start talking at myself and I would yell at other cars that were doing things they shouldn’t be and then I would have the conversation from them back at myself and –
[1:11:42.0] ANNA NEWELL JONES: You are having like a theater performance there.
[1:11:44.7] BRIAN: I would get so passionate and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh I’m here.” And so there is still time for when I would just be walking around the house and it’s like, “How are you doing today?” Yeah, I am doing pretty good, just go on for a while. Beat that.
[1:12:05.1] KELSEY: There is no chance. It is probably the way I talk to my dogs and play with my dogs. We have a bad dog named Bandit and –
[1:12:14.0] AMY MOORE: That is a good name for a bad dog, Bandit.
[1:12:19.2] KELSEY: Brian named her, and I think it’s his fault that she was a bad dog because she had to live up to her name.
[1:12:24.1] ERIN LINEHAN: Re-enforced every day.
[1:12:25.7] ANNA NEWELL JONES She’s all, “I am an outlaw ya’ all. This is how I roll, this is what I got to do.”
[1:12:32.4] KELSEY: That is totally Bandit. She’s like, “don’t mess with this” so she and I, she jumps up on me and grabs onto me and we dance and we play and that’s probably really ridiculous.
[1:12:45.9] ANNA NEWELL JONES: Well that’s amazing.
[1:12:47.8] AMY MOORE: That’s great. Well thank you both so much for making the trip to Denver and being here in the studio with us and sharing and the heat.
[1:12:58.7] ANNA NEWELL JONES: In the heat, in our sauna.
[1:13:02.6] AMY MOORE: And yeah, just everything, sharing your story and we are so excited to support you along your journey. So thank you.
[1:13:09.4] BRIAN: Thank you.
[1:13:10.0] KELSEY: Thank you so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[1:13:15.0] AMY MOORE: Thanks for listening. You can find more about this episode and a way to connect to the community at lessalonepodcast.com and if you like us, don’t forget to subscribe and be sure to leave a review. It helps other people find us and could be just what they need.