May 12, 2016, Vol.14, Issue 5
May is Stroke Awareness Month, and I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to a stroke survivor, Gordon Viggiano and his wife, Jill, both of whom I greatly admire and respect. They live right here in my town, Lake Oswego, Oregon, so I’ve attended a couple of their local presentations and met with them about the speaking business. I was so impressed with both of them and they are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. It is very impressive to me to think that Gordon could not put a sentence together after his stroke, and he is now making his way as a profound professional speaker who, in telling his story, can entrance an audience (including professionals) and give them new and startling information from a stroke patient’s point of view.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s a taste of their story.
A Hole In My Brain
Gordon and Jill Viggiano were a typical family. They lived trying to do things right — working hard, providing for the family, following Christian values. The day after Gordon’s 51st birthday, out of nowhere, the unexpected happened: he suffered a massive stroke. One might say they were dealt a dirty card, but they see it differently. As they see it, the experience was a true test of faith and perseverance.
It started in the evening with a vision problem in Gordon’s left eye. Over the next nine hours, they went from a happy, healthy family enjoying Spring Break, to a vision problem, to a 911 call, to the Emergency Room of a hospital that had never been a part of their health insurance plan, to Jill having a frank discussion with the organ donation lady. In nine short hours, Jill was facing the possibility of losing her husband, financial ruin, and raising their two children alone.
Gordon survived, but not without severe consequences. He had lost the use of the right side of his body, his ability to speak and think, and his memory. While Gordon was lost in the dense fog of his stroke, unable to speak or to understand a full sentence, Jill was faced with the terrible reality of caring for a disabled husband, raising their two children and seemingly inevitable financial ruin.
The entire story of their challenges and determined march toward recovery, are recounted in Jill’s book Painful Blessing. The book is compelling and rich, recounting not only the unfolding of the stroke, the subsequent consequences, and the journey back to a new life, but also giving guidelines and hope for anyone who might be faced with this or a similar challenge.
There are two storylines I want to highlight here. First there is Gordon’s amazing will and determination to speak again, and subsequently his path to becoming a professional speaker.
Early in Gordon’s stroke recovery, when they knew nothing of the journey they were heading into, they naively thought that Gordon would be fully recovered in one year. They thought they would have a party for all the wonderful people who had helped them and that they would all celebrate the end of that horrible year. At the one-year anniversary of his stroke, though, Gordon was nowhere near recovered. So they decided to postpone the party until the two-year mark. They thought that he had to be recovered by then, right? Wrong! At the two-year anniversary, he was still in awful shape so they agreed that they would celebrate full recovery at three years. At the three-year anniversary, they finally understood that recovery was probably going to be a lifetime pursuit and that maybe they should just have the party anyway.
Gordon agreed but he said he wanted to talk about the experience at the party. It took six months to write “My Brain Has A Hole In It” and eight months for Gordon to practice enough to deliver the speech. On the four-year anniversary, they had the party and Gordon spoke. The overwhelming feedback was that Gordon needed to tell his story to more people, and so his professional speaking career began. (And, as any professional speaker knows, having a speech is just the very beginning of building a speaking business!)
I have witnessed his presentations, and they are compelling, professional, multi-media, and emotionally stirring. Actually, I should be saying “their” presentations because Gordon and Jill are a team, just as they have been all through his recovery. At this time, Gordon offers two speeches. The most stubborn and impactful deficits from Gordon’s stroke are his inability to organize his thoughts and then get the words out. Because of his cognitive inflexibility, any changes to his fully prepared speeches require months of practice to be able to speak to an audience. As a result, he sticks to his script. (PLEASE NOTE: Gordon’s speeches are anything but rote).
At the end of the program, Jill steps to the podium for Q & A, which adds an additional level of credibility, information, and emotional impact as experienced by the patient’s family. Jill also has her own powerful program, based on her book, Painful Blessing, that she delivers to general audiences as well as to caregivers and health professionals.
The second story I wanted to tell is that their programs are appropriate for many more audiences than stroke or heart events. Gordon is an excellent speaker for any meeting planner desiring to set a tone of inspiration and possibility for their meeting. Their talk titled, “Putting Failure in Its Place,” is a great fit for corporate or sales professionals. As a business owner, consultant, and entrepreneur before that fateful Spring Break day, Gordon had always personified the focus and determination necessary to be a top-level business professional. When the stroke rendered him disabled, he used his sales skills to pursue recovery just as relentlessly, and he’s incorporated his method into the talk.
Their programs are also a good fit for insurance/financial, and risk management professionals, as it is not an exaggeration that their investment in a Disability Policy saved them from financial ruin.
“It forces us to think about our lives in a different way- from both a personal and a professional stand point,” commented one listener. “Change is a part of all of our lives, but we somehow think that terrible and traumatic events will never be a part of our lives. You show us how we can overcome small and enormous adversity.”
Gordon and Jill will inspire people to move beyond their assumptions and their ordinary obstacles and motivate them to imagine and pursue what is possible, as this couple use their inspiring story of emergency, chaos, self-doubt and recovery to model how to handle adversity, and how to prevail.
Although I don’t usually include testimonials, these two convey the impressions of listeners in a way that I could not, and because of that, I think they are worth your attention:
I invited Gordon and his wife Jill to be the keynote speakers for Deloitte’s National Sales Meeting, and they knocked the cover off the ball! I’ve hired sports heroes, navy seals, and other terrific motivational speakers in the past but Gordon’s story was the most powerful. The hundreds in attendance unanimously agreed that Gordon’s inspirational story of loss, recovery, hope and faith was a real eye opener and provided all of us with a reminder of what’s really important in life.
Managing Director of Sales, Deloitte
Gordon Viggiano was the keynote speaker at our recent Comprehensive Stroke Center celebration. Gordon gave a moving presentation on the stroke survivor’s experience from the Emergency Department, waking up in ICU, working hard in Rehab and then the continual recovery over the past 7 years. He is an engaging speaker who shares his personal story with humor and honesty. The audience was made up of nurses, therapists, physicians and hospital administration. Gordon’s presentation gave everyone in the room a fresh perspective on stroke survivorship.
Gordon was joined at the end of the presentation by his wife Jill to answer questions and share how this experience has shaped their lives. They are an example to healthcare providers of how life post- stroke can be full of meaning and purpose.
We are so thankful that Gordon was able to join us for our celebration.
Linda Stanford, MSPT
Project Lead Comprehensive Stroke Center
Legacy Emanuel Medical Center
For a taste of their programs, click on this link and view a video clip from my web site, and to learn more about bringing them both to your community give me a call at 503-699-5031 or email email@example.com.
Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
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