The Howe Family: More Than Hockey

From their inception, in 1967, the hallmark of the Flyers was big bruising players. From Moose Dupont, to Behn Wilson to Glen Cochrane the Flyers’ defense was big, mean and bruising. What the defense was not known for was slick skating, great puck moving and offensive prowess. That all changed on August 19, 1982 when the Flyers acquired Mark Howe from the Hartford Whalers. From the start of his Flyers career, it was easy to see that he possessed the all qualities of a Norris Trophy defenseman. He was one of the smoothest skating players in NHL history. His trademark was his wicked wrist shot that was harder than most players’ slapshot. In an age where a premium was put on high scoring, Howe fit right in, but what made him stand apart from some of the other high scoring defenseman, was his play in his own zone. He could block shots, break up odd man rushes and check opposing players off the puck. In 1985-86 he put together one of the greatest seasons, by a defenseman, in NHL history. That season he scored 24 goals and 58 assist for 82 points. Seven of his goals were shorthanded. But what is really mindboggling was his plus/minus rating. Howe was an amazing +85 (Defensive partner, Brad McCrimmon, was a +83). Had it not been for Paul Coffey breaking Bobby Orr’s record of 46 goals in a season, for a defenseman (Coffey scored 48), Howe would have won the Norris Trophy as top defenseman that season. Howe’s 10 year Flyers career saw him establish himself as the best defenseman in the history of the team. He retired in 1995 and was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame and the NHL Hall of Fame. His number 2 is hanging from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center, a testament to his great career.

I have gotten to know Mark because he has generously shared some of his time with me, allowing me to interview him for my screenplay, The Ultimate Save, which is about the life and death of Pelle Lindbergh. In fact, I had written him a letter to ask to interview him for the film and he agreed. One day, I was sitting in my apartment when my cell rang. I picked up and the voice on the other line said, “Hello, I was looking to speak with Justin.” I said, “This is Justin.” He continued, “This is Mark Howe…” To say that I was stunned that one of my childhood heroes actually took the time to call me is an understatement.

Since that time, I am proud to consider Mark a friend! He has graciously played in my Checkmates Charity celebrity ice hockey games, to raise money in the battle against Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. And recently he came to my home to be a part of my documentary called Keenan’s Kids, which chronicles the incredible Flyers team of 1984-1988.

While I greatly admire Mark’s incredible hockey skills, I am even more impressed by the man he is. We all know that Gordie and Colleen Howe were and are hockey royalty, but I believe their greatest legacy is the children and grandchildren they left behind. I don’t know Mark’s siblings, Marty, Murray and Cathy but as you will hear in the show, they are doing all they can to continue the philanthropy of their parents by continuing the Howe Foundation. The following is the mission of the Howe Foundation,

“The Howe Foundation was founded by Mrs. Hockey® Colleen Howe. Her vision and mission was to help those in need and allow them to be able to enjoy, participate and learn about the great sport of hockey. The Howe Foundation is committed to enriching the lives of those who would otherwise not be able to share and experience the great world of sports.” If you would like to find out more about the Howe Foundation or would like to donate to it, here is the link: https://www.legacyglobalsports.com/howe-foundation/.
Listen as Mark opens up about his hockey career, his dad Gordie, how his mom paved the way for women in sports and his philosophy of life. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I enjoyed speaking with Mark!

Roger Boisjoly: Ethics and the Challenger Disaster

Diamonds are precious and rare. Gold is precious and rare. Platinum is precious and rare. But more precious and rare are people with the integrity to stand up for what is right in the face of severely negative consequences. Roger Boisjoly is one of those people. In January of 1986, in the face of anger, contempt and the loss of his prestigious job as a mechanical engineer for Morton Thiokol, Boisjoly tried to stop the loss of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger flight on the 28th of that month. This story actually starts a year before the attempted 10th mission of Challenger, STS-51-L. In January of 1985 Space Shuttle Discovery safely completed mission STS-51-C. To the American public, it seemed like the shuttle program was unfolding flawlessly. Up close it was an entirely different matter. At that time, NASA and Morton Thiokol knew that there were flaws in the shuttle design, but it was decided that the flaws were not sufficient enough to ground the shuttle. However, what Roger Boisjoly found after that flight shook him to the core.
The space shuttles’ engines, alone, were not enough to power the shuttle into orbit. In order to get into orbit the shuttle had to have some help. The help came in the form of SRBs or Solid Rocket Boosters. The rocket boosters connected to the shuttle and were the main propulsion for the shuttle, until the shuttle was in orbit. At that point, the boosters broke away as the shuttle continued on into space. NASA knew that in order for the space program to continue to get federal funding, the space program had to be cost effective and efficient. Towards that end the solid rocket boosters were made to be reusable on multiple flights. After the boosters were ejected from the shuttle, they were retrieved and examined to see if they functioned properly.
Morton Thiokol manufactured the motor segments of the SRBs. The SRBs were broken up into four segments to make transportation from Morton Thiokol’s Utah office to Kennedy Space Center in Florida possible by rail. The segments were then assembled once at Kennedy with three field joints. The field joints were sealed with rubber O-rings. The O-rings were there to seal the joint so that hot gasses did not burn through the joint and ignite the shuttle’s external tank. There were two O-rings per field joint so that if the primary ring failed the secondary ring would stop any burn through. Three days after the landing of Discovery, Boisjoly began to do his inspections of the SRBs. When he did, he could not believe what he saw. Boisjoly discovered that in one of the field joints a massive amount of superheated gasses burned through the primary O-ring and compromised the secondary O-ring. In his estimation, the Discovery mission was only about 10 seconds from disaster. Boisjoly knew immediately what caused the O-ring failure. It was the temperature. The launch of Discovery on January 24, 1985 was done under fairly cold conditions. The O-rings were 53 degrees at the time of the launch. In order for the O-rings to work they have to stretch and squeeze to completely seal the filed joint, but at cold temperatures the O-rings become hard and can’t stretch as much as they normally would. Boisjoly immediately knew that this is why the O-rings failed. He took pictures of the massive blow out of hot gasses to make sure he documented his findings. As the shuttle schedule continued, unchanged, Boisjoly and his colleagues continued to run tests to see how extensive the O-ring design flaw really was. It was found that the O-rings did not work as designed in temperatures as low as room temperature. In an April 1985 shuttle flight, O-ring failure nearly cost NASA the Space Shuttle Challenger, but luckily the flight completed its mission without incident. Boisjoly and his colleagues then decided to go to management of Morton Thiokol with their concerns for the safety of the shuttles and their crews, but were met with a shocking callousness. They were told that this information was too sensitive to release, so it was kept secret.
The following is a letter written by Roger Boisjoly to Robert Lund, Vice President of Engineering at Morton Thiokol, outlining how extremely perilous the situation concerning the O-ring flaw was.
“This letter is written to insure that management is fully aware of the seriousness of the current O-ring erosion problem in the SRM joints from an engineering standpoint.
The mistakenly accepted position on the joint problem was to fly without fear of failure and to run a series of design evaluations which would ultimately lead to a solution or at least a significant reduction of the erosion problem. This position is now drastically changed as a result of the SRM 16A nozzle joint erosion which eroded a secondary O-ring with the primary O-ring never sealing.
If the same scenario should occur in a field joint (and it could), then it is a jump ball as to the success or failure of the joint because the secondary O-ring cannot respond to the clevis opening rate and may not be capable of pressurization. The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order – loss of human life.
An unofficial team (a memo defining the team and its purpose was never published) with a leader was formed on 19 July 1985 and was tasked with solving the problem for both the short and long term. This unofficial team is essentially nonexistent at this time. In my opinion, the team must be officially given the responsibility and the authority to execute the work that needs to be done on a non-interference basis (full time assignment until completed.)
It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to dedicate a team to solve the problem with the field joint having the number one priority, then we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities.
R. M. Boisjoly
Concurred by:
J. R. Kapp, Manager
Applied Mechanics”
This letter was written on July 31, 1985. Keep in mind that the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger would not be for another 6 months. In the months that followed, Boisjoly and his colleagues continued to sound the alarms that O-ring failure was not a question of if, it was a question of when and of how catastrophic would it be?
NASA had been under pressure for some time before January of 1986 because the government was considering cutting back on funds given to NASA unless they were able to fulfill an impossible launch schedule. The other problem NASA had was that interest in space flight was rapidly decreasing. NASA needed a shot in the arm and putting an ordinary citizen into space would be just that. President Ronald Reagan approved NASA’s “Teacher In Space” competition, which was won by Christa McAuliffe.
NASA had what they wanted. They had publicity. All of America would be watching “The Teacher in Space.” The original flight date was to be January 22, 1986, but due to a delay in the last space flight with Space Shuttle Columbia, which landed on January 18th, Challenger’s flight was postponed until January 24th. But still more problems arose, including weather issues both at Kennedy Space Center and also in the abort landing site in Dakar, Senegal. It seemed that January 27th would be the day as the weather was finally cooperating, but a stripped bolt was not allowing the close out crew to properly remove a closing fixture from the orbiter’s hatch. The batteries, in the drill needed to get the stripped bolt out, were dead. It took over 2 hours to get another drill, with fresh batteries, and drill out the bolt. By that time, strong crosswinds developed at the shuttle landing facility. That meant that if a problem developed and the flight had to be aborted, Challenger would not be able to return to site. Now January 27th was out.
NASA was getting impatient for many reasons, but the two that worried them the most seemed to be the idea that the public saw them as disorganized and unable to carry out their incredibly ambitious flight schedule. Number two, teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was to carry out a lesson from the shuttle on day 4 of the flight. The lesson would be beamed to classrooms throughout the United States. If the flight launched on January 28th, then day 4 would be on Friday, January 31st. However, if the flight was delayed one more day, the lesson would be given on Saturday, February 1st. That posed a huge problem, considering children would not be in classrooms on a Saturday.
Things would go from bad to worse for NASA. An incredibly strong cold front penetrated the Deep South on the night of January 27, 1986. Temperatures got down to as low as 18 degrees at Kennedy Space Center and huge ice cycles formed on the launch pad. Roger Boisjoly and his engineering contemporaries were screaming to Morton Thiokol management that there was no way that Challenger should launch in such cold conditions. If the double O-ring system very nearly failed at 53 degrees, surely they would fail at much colder temperatures. During a conference call with NASA, Morton Thiokol made the recommendation that the launch be scrubbed until a date with warmer temperatures or, at least, until afternoon temperatures warmed. However a pressured NASA responded with contempt and disdain. NASA’s Larry Mulloy shouted “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch? Next April?” The building pressure on NASA was now being transferred to Morton Thiokol. To the amazement, sadness and outrage of the Morton Thiokol engineers, Morton Thiokol management changed their decision from “do not launch” to “proceed with launch.” When asked by his wife, Roberta how his day was, a sickened Roger Boisjoly said, “Fine, except we are going to kill seven astronauts tomorrow!”
The next morning Boisjoly was sure that Challenger would blow up on the launch pad and was elated when that did not happened. His elation turned to terror when only 73 seconds later Challenger was lost after O-ring failure caused the explosion that initiated the disintegration of Challenger.
For Roger Boisjoly the end of Challenger was only the beginning of his personal hell. Roger was asked to participate on the Presidential Commission of the Space Shuttle Challenger, also known as the Rogers Commission. During that commission Roger handed in a packet of memos and activity reports that showed that both NASA and his own company, Morton Thiokol, knew about the O-ring design flaw, yet ignored it at the expense of human life. Instead of being celebrated as the hero he was, Roger was isolated from both NASA and Morton Thiokol management. He was chastised and criticized in front of colleagues. He was ignored professionally and personally during the project to redesign the joints of the SRBs. To say that Roger had to endure a hostile work environment would be an understatement. Why? All because he had the guts and forthrightness to stand up for what was right. The mental and emotional toll this took on Roger was staggering.
Some might say that Roger was an eighth victim of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and, much like with the loss of the “Challenger Seven,” the damage done to Roger’s health, his career and to his family should be solely placed on the organizations that failed him, Morton Thiokol and NASA. Roger never called the Challenger disaster an accident, because it was not an accident, it was planned. Two organizations had the lives of seven people in their hands and made fatal decisions based on greed, the worry of public perception and fear of loss of power.
Although Roger filed a billion dollar lawsuit against Morton Thiokol and a ten million dollar lawsuit against NASA he did so for the noblest of reasons. I will let Roger tell you in his own words:
“First, it is my intention to secure compensatory damages for my lost salary and ruined career and second, I hope the suits send a serious and significant message to MTI (Morton Thiokol Industries) in particular and to executives of other companies and government agencies that they cannot make arbitrary irresponsible decisions that kill people and ruin the lives and careers of their employees without accountability.”
Roger Boisjoly is one of my heroes! I see in him many of the qualities that I admire in my own father! The words that would describe both men are selfless, strong, compassionate, faithful, driven, successful, thoughtful and loving. If that doesn’t describe a complete man, I am not sure what does. I think it only fitting that I end this blog with the words Roger uses to end his abstract, “Ethical Decisions- Morton Thiokol and the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.”
“I have been asked by some if I would testify again if I knew in advance of the potential consequences to me, my family and my career. My answer is always an immediate yes. I couldn’t live with any self-respect or expect any respect from others if I tailored my actions based upon potential personal consequences resulting from my honorable actions. As a result of this paper and other exposures to real case histories, I hope that your answer will also be yes.
I hope and expect a drastic improvement in ethical decision-making practices and employee treatment for promoting ethical conduct as a result of my lawsuits, talks and this paper. Maybe together as colleagues we can all accomplish the second goal in my lawsuits and eliminate or at least significantly reduce unethical decision-making practices within our industrial and government communities.
I will never forget and I hope this nation will never forget, especially the engineering community, the supreme sacrifice that the seven Challenger astronauts paid by forfeiting their lives for such an irresponsible launch decision. May we always remember astronauts Jarvis, McAuliffe, McNair, Onizuka, Resnik, Scobee and Smith for their courage and dedication to this nation’s space program.”
Please listen to Rick Boisjoly, the brother of Roger, as he tells us the real story of what happened in the aftermath of Challenger.

Reggie Leach- The Riverton Rifle

Boy, if I only lived in my current home in the late 70s and early 80s! If I had, I would have been next door neighbors with former Flyers’ super scorer Reggie Leach. Reggie was the “L” in the LCB line. The LCB line, consisting of Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, along with Reggie are one of the most storied lines in hockey history. In the 1975-76 season the LCB line set the NHL record, at the time, for most goals scored by a single line with 141 in one season. Of those 141 goals, Reggie Leach scored 61 of them, which is still the Flyers’ record for most goals in a single season by a player. That season Reggie’s plus/minus was an incredible +72, showing that he was more than just a goal scorer and could play in all zones. As great as he was in the regular season, Reggie was even more spectacular in the playoffs. He set the, still standing, NHL record for goals in a playoff year by scoring 19 goals. In doing so, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, despite the Flyers falling short of winning their third consecutive Stanley Cup. With his 61 regular season goals and his 19 playoff goals, Reggie also set a new NHL mark for goals by a player in a single season, including playoffs with 80 (now 100 goals held by Wayne Gretzky). Reggie was a two time 50 or more goal scorer and he and his son, Jamie, are the first Aboriginal father and son to have their names on the Stanley Cup. Many credit Reggie Leach for bringing into prominence the term “5-Hole.” Hockey fans know that that is the vulnerable area between the goaltender’s legs, where goals are sometimes scored.

Reggie’s successes off the ice are as incredible, or even more so, than what he did as an NHLer. Reggie defeated alcoholism in 1985 and continues to celebrate sobriety for over 30 years. He and Jamie run hockey camps throughout Canada, teaching the next generation of hockey stars. He also spend much of his free time traveling all over Canada teaching Aboriginal children about the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings, which are a set of teachings of how human beings should behave in accord with other human being.

Finding out what Reggie is doing is easy to do, you can find him on Facebook, on his website www.shoottoscorehockey.com and you can read the story of his life in his autobiography, “The Riverton Rifle.” It is a must read for sports fans and those who want to be inspired by the strength of the human condition.

Justin Mirigliani- The Warrior Life

Flyer Brian Propp Standing Tall Through It All!

There is no doubt that hockey players are some of the toughest athletes in the world. How many people can have their teeth knocked out or their faces sliced from a skate one minute and the next be racing around a sheet of ice chasing a rock solid piece of rubber? Brian Propp is one of those people. The Propper thrilled Flyers fans for over 10 years with his high skill and hardnosed hockey. His career accomplishments rank him among some of the greatest left wings in the history of hockey. His Flyers scoring totals of 369 goals, 480 assists and 849 points rank him third on the Flyers all-time scoring list. His 20 shorthanded goals and his plus-311 rating, as a Flyer, prove that Propp was no one trick pony. Propp was a great player in all zones, not just in the offensive one.

Like all hockey players Propp had his share of injuries, the most significant of which came during the 1986-87 season when he blew out his knee and missed 27 games. That season the Flyers staged an epic battle against the Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers lost in 7 games, but Propp played the greatest hockey of his life in those playoffs and set a Flyers record with 28 playoff points.

Over the years I have gotten to know Propper and I consider him a friend. He was there with help when I started my charity four years ago. September of 2015 was a very difficult time for me. I was preparing to undergo the removal of my large intestine due to a severely precancerous condition. Little did anyone know that that same month Propp was facing a very serious health crisis as well. During a weekend family getaway, Propp suffered a severe stroke. The stroke knocked him off of his feet causing him to lose some teeth. He was rushed to the hospital where the stroke was diagnosed. In a flash, this great athlete had severely limited movement on his right side and he lost his ability to speak. But like any hockey player, he fought back from adversity. He spent a month in Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, in Philadelphia, where he relearned how to walk and speak again. Amazingly, in less than a year Propper was not only walking and talking, he was back on the ice, playing hockey!

When Propper played professional hockey, he was on a mission. His mission was to win. Today Propp is still on a mission. That mission is to share his story in the hopes of saving others from the terrible stroke he suffered. Propp’s stroke was caused by Atrial fibrillation or A-fib. Affecting over 2 million people in America, A-fib is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood into the ventricles. Sometimes there are no symptoms with A-fib and the only way a person finds out they have it is during an EKG. Other times there are symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness, faintness, shortness of breath and more. A-fib is a serious health condition that requires medical attention. If it is not treated, it can cause heart failure, kidney problems and blood clots. The blood clots can travel from the heart to the brain causing stroke. That is what happened to Propp.

Always being one to help others, Propp is doing all he can to get the word out about how to deal with A-fib and how to prevent stroke. One way to prevent strokes from A-fib is to make sure to get A-fib under control. Medications called anticoagulants such as Warfarin, Eliquis, Xarelto and Pradaxa can help reduce the chance of stroke. There are also medicines called antiarrhythmics that help those with A-fib return to a regular heart rhythm.

On a personal note, Propper was one of my boyhood heroes, today he is a friend. There is one story that will illustrate exactly who Brian and his wife Kris are. Brian had his stroke in early September of 2015. My surgery was scheduled for September 24, 2015. At the time of my surgery, Brian was going through his extremely demanding rehabilitation. Kris, who was a rock for Brian, was, I am sure, fighting through terrible sadness watching Brian struggle. Despite all of their struggles and pain, Kris texted my wife, Amy, to let her know that she and Brian wished me luck and asked her to let them know how my surgery went. I think that is a testament to what kind of people they are. They are always thinking of others, even when they have every reason in the world to be thinking about themselves.

I am pretty sure that if Propper’s story can save lives, he would look at the terrible stroke that struck him as a blessing rather than a curse. Many times when you meet a hero, especially a childhood hero, you are let down because they are not what you expected them to be. In the case of Brian Propp that is not an issue. Please share this podcast, it may save a life!

Justin Mirigliani
The Warrior Life

Dan and Beth Wheeler: Fame, Faith and Miracles

Does God speak with us? And if he does, how does God communicate with us? I had the pleasure of interviewing a man who quite literally has had communication with God. I met Dan Wheeler when I was hired by Dell Computers to present their computers on QVC. QVC, which stand for Quality, Value, Convenience, is a TV station based out of West Chester, Pennsylvania on which viewers can shop and purchase items from their homes. I was new to the television business and it took some time to get used to broadcasting to hundreds of millions of viewers. Dan, one of the most famous of the hosts on QVC, took time to give me pointers. He was kind and understanding when I did make mistakes. He was also always ready to give me a thumbs up for a job well done. I never forgot that!

Before and in between shows, Dan and I often had a chance to talk. Most of those conversations revolved around faith and family. Dan is one of the most devoted family men I have ever met. At the time, I was just married and had no kids, but through Dan I could feel the joy of being a daddy. He would gush over his children and share what was going on with his daughter’s college lacrosse team. He loved being a lacrosse dad! Now that I am a dad of two daughters I understand Dan’s feelings. I don’t think it is possible to know Dan without understanding how much he loved his wife, Beth. He was so proud of the family they had built together, as well he should have been.

Eventually I parted ways with Dell and was no longer on QVC. Although I was no longer a part of QVC, I was still a member and did a lot of shopping on the channel. I was still recovering from the surgery to remove my entire large intestine when I turned on QVC on the night of the Super Bowl. I was curious to see what kinds of Super Bowl merchandise they were selling, after the Broncos beat the Panthers. That is when I heard Dan say something about his “late wife Beth.” I sat there stunned. I was hoping I had heard him wrong, so I jumped online hoping to see that I would be unable to confirm his words. Sadly, I heard correctly. Beth had passed away after a battle with cancer. I immediately ached for Dan and sent him my condolences. I also felt a closeness with both Dan and Beth, because while they were going through their terrible time, I was in the middle of my severe health crisis. Even though I did not have colon cancer, yet, I was on the verge of it and because of that I was now living with a permanent ileostomy bag. Cancer had done damage to both the Wheeler and the Mirigliani families.

While I continued to pray for Dan, Beth and the rest of the Wheeler family, we didn’t have any more contact for months. That would change, however. One night I had a very vivid dream. I dreamt that I was sitting in the QVC cafeteria eating my lunch when Dan walked in. I immediately got up from my lunch and gave him a big hug and told him how sorry I was for the loss of Beth. I knew then, that I wanted, or maybe need, to contact Dan.

Because of what I have been through, I knew I wanted to give hope to others. My podcasts and blogs are meant to be positive messages and highlight people who are doing good things for this world. I was very sure that I wanted Dan to be one of my initial guests on my program. Here is some of the letter I wrote him back in July of 2016.

“I grew up Catholic and still attend Catholic Church, but I certainly would not be considered an institutional Catholic. To me, the church I attend is much less important than my relationship with God the Father and with Christ. I don’t believe God is a magician who does tricks on command for us, but I do believe he gives us signs, if only we are open to them. I have had many, unmistakable, signs over my lifetime. I will give you just one to explain what I mean. Amy and I were coming home from a consultation with surgeon, Dr. Michael Harris. I had just been told that I may have colon cancer and that it was 99% likely that I would need my entire large intestine removed and be fitted with a permanent ileostomy bag. You can imagine how devastating that felt.
On the way home we were discussing my options. One of which was deciding if I should have Dr. Harris do the surgery, way up near NYC, or have it done closer to home. Dr. Harris is the preeminent colorectal surgeon in the world, but the thought of having massive surgery done so far from home was not something that made me feel comfortable. I was agonizing over the decision, in my mind. Finally, I asked Amy what she thought I should do. No sooner did the words leave my lips when a truck with the name “Harris Trucking” pulled right up besides our car, on the NJ Turnpike. As if that was not enough, not 5 minutes later we got a call from my in-laws telling us that my youngest daughter hit her head on a counter and had to be taken to the pediatrician. Her normal pediatrician was not there. The on-call doctor’s name? Dr. Harris! Of course I was not happy about my daughter being injured, but I made the decision right then and there that Dr. Harris would be my surgeon. To me, the signs are not the truck being there or Rebecca being injured and being treated by Dr. Harris. The signs are that I was keenly aware of finding God’s message in those circumstances. This is just one example of many signs I have received from God. God has spoken to me after the deaths of people I love. He has also spoken to me at times in my life, where I was lost and had to make life altering decisions. There is more to that than meets the eye. I can easily tell people of my Ulcerative Colitis and my ileostomy, but what I have always kept guarded is my mental illness. I was born with clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder and ADHD (although they did not diagnose that when I was a child). My whole life I have been fearful that people would think I was a freak or strange because I suffer with these mental disorders. In my case, I was doomed from birth. Depression runs rampant on both sides of my family. When I say doomed, I don’t mean that I have had a bad life, what I am saying is that my issues were not learned, they were inherited. I really believe that God knows my struggles and has given me a gift of receiving messages from Him with an awareness that, perhaps, not all people have. I don’t hear voices or commands, but I do feel His loving hand guiding me. It sounds like you have similar feelings.”

During time of Beth’s transition to Heaven, Dan had created a blog. To read it, here is the link. There are many heartbreaking stories that Dan shares along with many heartwarming stories that he shares on his blog. Out of all of the incredible miracles Dan shares on his blog this one is my favorite.

“Here is an amazing miracle. On Saturday, October 24th one of my best friends, Brian, flew in from California. I had John, the lead singer from Blue Sky Band, pick up Brian who is also a musician. John, his wife Joey and Brian arrived late at night and I went out to meet them in the driveway. As we talked, I noticed that John wasn’t saying much. He had a rather odd expression on his face. After they left I mentioned something about it to Brian and he said John had been very talkative on the way from the airport. I didn’t give it another thought until the next morning.

When I came out to get coffee on Sunday, October 25th, my sister, Mary Jane told me that I needed to talk to John. I called John and he came over the next night and told me that he didn’t want me to think that he was weird but while I was talking with him in the driveway the night before he saw a large being standing about 8-9 feet tall right behind me. He said there was bright, shimmering light coming off of the being and it appeared to be wearing a cloak and robe. The light was so bright that he had to look away. He said when he looked back at me it was gone but as I kept talking it appeared again and he had to look away once more because it was so bright. I said, “John, what do you think you saw?” He said, “I think I saw an angel!” I said, “I did too!” (Miracle #16) I was so comforted to know angels were surrounding us all during such an extremely difficult time.”

There is no doubt in my mind that this was a direct sign from God! Dan and his family had been suffering so badly and God wanted them to know that He was right there with them. I don’t believe that God takes suffering away from us, but I do believe that He is right there during the suffering.

Obviously, I wish that Beth had recovered from her cancer. Obviously Dan and his family wish the same thing. But if there is any positive to come from such a terrible situation, it is that God’s love has shone through the darkness. I hope you enjoy listening to Dan discuss his incredible faith and his signs directly from his Father!

The Warrior Life with Justin Mirigliani

Have you ever had a dream where you were running from danger, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t get away?

I have had that dream too, but for me that dream became a reality. In December of 2002I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. What is Ulcerative Colitis? Ulcerative Colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It gets its name from the fact that it leads to ulcers and inflammation of the colon. The inflammation of the colon leads to terriblesymptoms like explosive and nonstop diarrhea, rectal bleeding, loss of appetite, nausea, sever cramping, dehydration and more. With what you just read, you can imagine how hard it is,for those of us whose lives have been touched by UC, to talk about what we are going through. People with UC suffer in silence. Another disease that falls under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease is Crohn’s Disease. UC and Crohn’s Disease are very similar.They produce similar symptoms, they are both autoimmune diseases and they are both treated with similar medications.

One of the biggest differences between UC and Crohn’s is, UC’s inflammation is limited to the colon only, while Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal system.With UC the inflammation isonlyto the lining of the colon, while the inflammation from Crohn’s can extend deeper into the layers of the bowel.Technically,neither of these diseases are curable although radical surgery to remove the entire colon, or large intestine, is considered a cure for UC, since UC does not extend beyond the colon. For 12 years I limped along with my Ulcerative Colitis. During that time my doctor tried many many different medications to try to calm the raging inflammation in my colon. Unfortunately, I never did achieve remission during all of that time. While there was a lot of suffering over that time, I can’t say that the entire 12 years were misery. Despite my lingering symptoms I was able to fall in love, get married and have two beautiful little girls. I also got a Master’s Degree in Education, started a corporate training company and a charity. Knowing that I needed to do all I could to stay in shape I worked out 6 days a week and developed a very muscular and athletic frame. A stranger who saw me on the street would never know, by looking at me, that I was chronically ill.I remember being pulled over for speeding one day. The cop came up to the car and asked me why I was speeding.

When I told him that I was rushing home to get to a bathroom because I had Ulcerative Colitis, he said, “What is Ulcerative Colitis?”I got the ticket.

A hallmark of IBD are periodic flare-ups .Despite never achieving remission,I did have some times where my symptoms were at bay. But inevitably, those times would come to an abrupt and painful end. I make my career in public speaking and teaching and I can’t even count the number of times that I had to run off of a stage or out of a training room to get to a bathroom. I can remember one time when I was teaching a computer class at a large pharmaceutical company when I completely lost control of my bowels. The embarrassment I felt,as I stood in front o fmy students, completely soiled, was dreadful. During severe flare-ups I would have to skip parties, get-together s, ski trips, hockey games and more. I would spend hours in the bathroom going back and forth 20 times in a day. I would be weak from constant bleeding and dehydration. I would have to endure the indignity of standing in a supermarket checkout line with two bags of adult diapers, which I would wear every day.Even when I was not having terrible symptoms, the fear of them coming back was always hanging over me. Long car rides brought anxiety. I dreaded going to the beach. Going to amusement parks gave me a burning feeling over my entire body.

These are times I should have been enjoying with my wife and daughters, but Ulcerative Colitis stole a lot of that joy.

Continue Part 2#

http://checkmatescharity.com/inflammatory-bowel-disease-its-in-the-bag/

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: It’s In the Bag

The other stress that comes with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, is the fear that one day the inflammation will lead to colon cancer. I held my breath with every colonoscopy. I knew that the long term-constant inflammation was damaging my colon permanently. Still, since I was able to live a fairly normal life, I decided I would rather live with UC rather than go through a life changing operation. On June 10, 2015 I underwent my 10th colonoscopy in 12 years.
My doctor, Dr. Jorge Prieto, of Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, said that the test showed that I still had active colitis, but there was some healing in parts of my colon. I asked the same question that I always asked him, after each colonoscopy, “Did you find any cancer?” He said he did not and that was good enough for me. I left the office feeling encouraged that things didn’t get worse and actually got a little better.
I dropped my daughter, Alex, off at swimming on the evening of Tuesday, June 16, 2015. While she was at swim practice, I decided to put myself through a punishing cardio workout. I was exhausted as I jogged back to the pool to pick Alex up. I was feeling good about myself. I figured I had to be in pretty decent shape to work out like I had just done. I was sitting by the pool, panting and sweating, but with a smile on my face. Just then the phone rang. It was my wife, Amy. She said that Dr. Prieto called and need to speak with me. He wouldn’t tell her what he wanted to talk about, but he said it had to do with the biopsies he had taken during my colonoscopy. My legs went numb and I felt a burning sensation come over my entire body (I feel it now, as I write this blog). I knew the news could not be good. I had never had biopsy results come back that quickly, it usually took two weeks. Dr. Prieto asked Amy to have me call the next day. I did not sleep much that night. I was so worried about what news could be awaiting me. The next morning I called Dr. Prieto’s office. He was with a patient and I was told that he would call me back within 5 minutes. I was drenched with sweat. I could hear myself breathing heavily. When the phone rang, it took me three rings to pick it up. I gulped and answered his call. Dr. Prieto got right to the point. “Justin, we found high grade dysplasia in your colon. That is a step below colon cancer.” My knees buckled and I remember wildly asking Dr. Prieto question after question desperately hoping I would fine something to calm me. While there was nothing, medically, that he could offer to make this devastating diagnoses any better, his final words to me were, “You’re gonna alright man!”Although those words didn’t change the uncertain future I would face, it gave me hope. After I hung up the phone I collapsed in tears of fear. I called my wife and when she heard the news, she cried with me.

I called my mother and told her the terrible news. She tried to be strong for me and give me hope, but later told me she cried when we hung up the phone. I don’t know how I did it, but I ran a computer training course, just 20 minutes after this scene unfolded. I guess I was on autopilot. Unfortunately, due to my severely precancerous condition, total removal of my entire large intestine was the only sure way to save me from colon cancer. On September 24, 2015, Dr. Michael Harris of Englewood Hospital, in Englewood, NJ performed a total proctocolectomy with permanent ileostomy. I would now life the rest of my life with an ileostomy bag. An ileostomy is when the ileum, or small intestine, is brought to the surface of the stomach. This is called a stoma. Stool is excreted through the stoma into a bag. People with an ileostomy empty the bag of wet stools about 6 times a day. The surgery to do this took nine hours, but it saved my life. Much like Dr. Prieto, I owe Dr. Harris my life!

The question was, what kind of life would I have? Before the surgery, I had been a weightlifter, a hockey player and a very active person. I was petrified that these things would be lost. I was sickened by the sight of my stoma. I wondered how my wife could ever seem me the same way. I lost 40lbs in the 4 bweeks after surgery. My once 19” biceps lost 3”. I looked gaunt and sickly. Little by little, though, I began to eat more. I was getting stronger, walking around my basement, at first, and then walking down the block. Eventually I was walking 2 miles a day. By November of 2015, and just 8 weeks from massive surgery, to my shock I was lifting weights. In late November I put on my hockey equipment and played a hockey game and by my 41st birthday, on December 20th,
I was back over 200lbs. I began skiing again in March of 2016 and in late March, my 19” biceps were back. I would be a liar if I told you that I knew everything would work out. I still run the risk of having a hernia in my stoma due to my weightlifting and my athletic lifestyle, but I figure, I will deal with that if and when that happens. In the meantime, I am living life. My business is back and better than ever. I am currently trying to become the first man to bench press 405lbs with an ileostomy. I play hockey twice a week. Most importantly I am able to be a husband and a daddy. I am no longer chained to a bathroom. I no longer have to worry if colon cancer will take my life. I am no longer on 30 pills a day, just to stay
functional.
The biggest goal I have, now, is to help rid the world of inflammatory bowel disease. My daughters have a considerably greater chance of being stricken with it because of my disease. I want to make sure they are never on a phone having a doctor tell them what I heard from Dr. Prieto. Because of that I have started a charity called, Checkmates Charitable Association. Among other things, Checkmates plays hockey games against the Philadelphia Flyers Alumni to raise money in the fight against Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. We have raised about $50,000 in the last three years. Our website iswww.checkmateschairty.com. Our next game against the Flyers Alumni is on March 24, 2018. Dinner with the Flyers Alumni follows. Go to our website for more details and to buy tickets. I don’t know if I will ever be thankful for what I have been through, but I am thankful I am in the position to help others who suffer with inflammatory bowel disease or its aftereffects. I hope I can be an advocate for those who have ileostomy, colostomy or urostomy. For that matter I hope my life can be an example of how the human spirit can overcome even the most difficult of times. I am nothing special. If I can do it, others can do it! All it takes is will! If you will it, you will do it! Live the Warrior Life!