Last Thursday, I attended the annual Silicon Valley Council of Non-Profits “Be Our Guest” luncheon; an event that raises money for charity and features Silicon Valley leaders serving the guests. The room was filled with solidarity, smiles and handshakes, but below the surface brewed the never-ending battle over ideas and resources. The scene reminded me that leadership is a tough business. As one of the valley’s most respected leaders has been known to say, leadership is a “contact sport.”
This seemingly distasteful dance between camaraderie and competition is what turns most people off when it comes to business, education, community, and political leaders. But, it’s the ability to navigate these dynamic waters that separates the best from the rest and provides the effective leadership that is vital in any organization. The people serving lunch at the event make decisions that affect our day-to-day lives in so many different ways.
One server in particular, a waiter named Chris Boyd, who happens to be the chief executive at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, made a huge impact on my life even though we never met before Thursday’s luncheon. Everything I know about great leaders is that they know how to build a positive team environment, provide the resources needed for the team to succeed, and inspire others to achieve. This understanding of leadership skills and my own experience at Kaiser Santa Clara makes me believe that Chris is an outstanding leader.
My journey to meeting Chris began on June 7, 2010. Feeling sluggish and anxious that day, I arrived at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center to learn that I was having a massive heart attack. Quick action by the emergency room team and successful surgery cleared the blockage that caused the heart attack. Ten days later, while in the hospital, a blood clot sent me into cardiac arrest causing my heart to stop beating, and ten days after that, I was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a rare disorder that shuts down the lungs.
There is no known cure for ARDS so resting the lungs and providing respiratory therapy is the preferred course of action. In my case, ARDS was so severe that it was necessary to induce me into a coma and connect me to an oscillator, a recently FDA-approved device that sends puffs of oxygen into the lungs. At the same time that the oscillator was breathing for me a pump kept my heart beating. For Sandra and my family, seeing me lying lifeless connected to a bunch of machines was the most difficult part of that horrific summer.
During that time, an army of cardiologists, pulmonologists, ICU doctors, nurses, nursing aides, physical and speech therapists, social workers, and hospital support staff worked around the clock to care for me. I got to know four members of the team well, speech therapist Suzanne Dabadghav, pulmonologists Mark Mendoza and Sudhir Rajan, and cardiologist Uma Vadlakonda. They treated me with compassion and consummate professionalism, and I’m inspired by them and eternally grateful for their work. There were countless others who were cared for me with the same compassion and skill.
After a month and half on life support in the ICU, I began a long and difficult recovery and rehabilitation period. For family and friends, watching my daily struggle for survival was the most grueling part of the nightmare. For me, it was waking from the coma and realizing that I couldn’t move my limbs, stand, walk, talk, or swallow. My muscles had degenerated after two months of lying lifeless in a coma. I spent most of September at a rehabilitation facility in intensive physical therapy to wake up my muscles and get them working again. On September 21, 2010, 106 days after the heart attack, I gratefully walked into my house with the aid of a walker.
So where does Chris Boyd fit in? My experience tells me that the Kaiser Santa Clara team has what it needs to succeed: a team-oriented environment, the most advanced tools available, and space needed to maximize team members’ talent. Watching a talented team of professionals armed with the right tools working together for a common cause is inspirational. As someone who has been on many teams, and led a few, I know that this can’t happen without a leader who provides the building blocks for success.
Thursday turned out to be an inspiring day for me. It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends and former adversaries who reminded me of the delicate dance among our leaders that makes Silicon Valley one of the best places in the world to live. Sitting next to the Kaiser table brought back memories of that long and challenging summer when faith, family, friends, and a great healthcare team saved my life.
I’ve been on a mission to thank every person who supported my family, prayed for my recovery, or played even the smallest role in the miracle that was the summer of 2010. On Thursday, I met the person responsible for providing the Kaiser team with the tools and environment to be the best they could be. Meeting Chris Boyd and thanking him made my day.