In 2015, San Jose City Councilmember Raul Peralez joined four of his colleagues to co-sponsor the creation of the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. The office, established a year later, is the first of its kind California. Public school administrator Sandra García served on the design team that created Adelante Dual Language Academy in east San Jose. In 2013, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce named her “Principal of the Year” for her contributions to the award winning school.
Marco Ramirez, President and CEO of the DeHaro and Ramirez Group, founded the firm eighteen years ago. His company specializes in concrete construction for major public and private commercial projects. Lupe Rodriguez is on the front lines of women’s advocacy in Silicon Valley. As Chair of the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status Women, she signed a memorandum of understanding to create an innovative Jail Monitoring Program designed to protect women.
These four exceptional people are talented and visionary leaders in their communities. They have another thing in common – they spent nearly a year sharpening their leadership skills with the Latino Leadership Alliance Leadership Academy (LLA) and Stanford Summer Leadership Program. The LLA, a non-profit organization, was established in 2006 to empower civic leadership in the Latino community by identifying, developing, and supporting leaders.
In 2010, the LLA launched its Academy to help build leadership within Latino communities by putting into practice the philosophy of servant leadership based on the Four Pillars of CommunityLeadership – an operational model pioneered by one its founders. The four pillars are: Business, Community Service, Education, and Politics and Government. Academy alumni have demonstrated that effective management of the model leads to meaningful and lasting change in the community.
The Academy is a unique three-phase executive leadership training program that incorporates a: (1) Monthly Seminar Series, (2) Stanford Summer Leadership Program, and (3) Cohort Network. The Monthly Seminar Series includes leadership skill development, free flowing discussions, and influential guest speakers. The Stanford Summer Leadership Program is a three-day, two night retreat hosted by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity on the Stanford University campus. The Cohort Network provides for ongoing discussion and resource sharing among the Cohorts.
To date, eight cohorts (ninety-eight participants) have completed the academy. In addition to the leaders mentioned above, cohorts include scores of business and non-profit executives, school administrators, and elected officials. Together, they serve on over 50 local, state, and federal government commissions and non-profit boards. Many LLA Cohorts have become lifelong friends who collaborate on projects that benefit the Latino community.
Although the LLA is a family of servant leaders passionate about the Latino community, the organization doesn’t participate in political campaigns, advocate on behalf of issues, or provide frontline community services. The mission is clear: it’s a leadership training and development organization. The LLA provides a safe learning environment for leaders to explore innovative ideas and sharpen the skills necessary to effectively do all of the above.
This week, the LLA released its application for the 2018 Academy. We seek smart and talented professionals who aspire to lead. Through a rigorous process, the selection committee focuses on candidates with a sincere passion and commitment to serve others. The application is due on January 15, 2018.
If you want to be part of the LLA family and support our philosophy of servant leadership, we would love you to consider joining an amazing team of leaders by applying for Cohort 9 today!
For questions or to request an application, please e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The guy in the White House got to me last weekend. He ruined my NFL Sunday. My stomach churned with frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. It was like someone punched me in the gut. I wasn’t even watching my awful, but beloved San Francisco 49ers. This time,the reason for my discomfort was the president’s attack on NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
The unpleasant sensation stayed with me all day on Sunday. The contention that kneeling is disrespectful to our nation’s veterans and military personnel has been nagging at my insides since the media frenzy produced the usual suspects of pro and anti talking heads. The ensuing rhetorical storm has me rethinking my lifelong beliefs when it comes to the Star Spangled Banner.
My dad was a World War II veteran. Although he rarely talked about his experience, I beam with pride every time I mention his service to someone. I’ll never forget my first baseball game with him, the Dodgers vs. Giants in 1971. When my dad and every other fan in windswept Candlestick Park stood in unison for the traditional pre-game song, I was a proud 7 year-old with hand over heart standing right alongside him.
My dad’s service in World War II led to my fascination and lifelong love of American history. I went on to earn a college degree in history. I appreciate why our Founding Fathers risked their lives to start a new country. I understand the Constitution and the discussions that led to its ratification. I researched how our nation rose to be a global superpower and a force of good in the world. From the deepest part of my core, I believe in the values outlined in the Bill of Rights.
I also know all too well the devastation brought on by America’s dependence on slavery, and the tragedy of Native American genocide in the name of progress and destiny. I’ve studied the Civil Rights Movement and America’s brutal reaction to each gain made during that era. It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure. The United States of America is far from the “more perfect union” envisioned by the Founders. Nevertheless, we are the greatest and freest nation the world has ever seen.
With that said, the Star Spangled Banner holds a special place in my heart and soul. I still get chills every time I hear it. With hand on heart, I listen to the familiar tune and watch the Star and Stripes freely wave in the wind. I think of my dad serving on the USS Wasp in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. I think of our heroes – George Washington to Barack Obama, Ulysses S. Grant to our commanders in the War on Terror. I’m proud to be American. I’m proud of our flag. I’m proud of our national anthem.
From the moment that Colin Kapernick set his knee upon the turf, I’ve been torn by this issue. Emotionally, I couldn’t imagine not rising for the anthem. It’s been part of my life since that cold windy night at Candlestick Park. Intellectually, I have absolute respect for the Bill of Rights and what it means to our democracy. For a year and half, I’ve managed to straddle the line between emotional allegiance to my boyhood and intellectual adherence to everything I know about what the United States represents, good and bad.
The president’s attack and the players’ reaction, however, have forced me to rethink my position. In terms of personal integrity, I know that I can no longer be on both sides. The fundamental question is whether the action taken by the players is disrespectful or a peaceful exercise of freedom of speech.
There are those who believe that this discussion is trivial in light of the natural disasters that have impacted so many around the world lately. I disagree. The debate goes to the heart of our nation’s value system and it’s worthy of discussion even during these trying times. The American spirit can multi-task. We can still hold our government accountable to natural disaster response while the anthem conversation continues.
To understand my thought process on this issue, a brief history lesson is required. The United States was born under the compromise of slavery. When the Civil War settled that issue, the law and social structures created two Americas: one for white men and one for everyone else. With the exception of a few victories like allowing women the vote, almost no progress was made until Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus nearly 100 years after the Civil War.
Then, to quote my dad, “all hell broke loose.”
Civil rights, the Free Speech Movement on college campuses, hippies, the Equal Rights Movement, the LGBTQ Movement, and race riots all came raining down on the established social structure that made rural white America comfortable. The backlash began with Richard M. Nixon’s election as president. Rural white America wrapped themselves in our flag and proclaimed it as their flag.
The backlash reached its first boiling point at the 1992 Republican National Convention when Patrick Buchanan, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, stepped up the podium to deliver what came to be known as his “Culture War” speech. We rarely hear about it today, but his angry tone and his words are seared into my memory. He was literally calling for war.
Buchanan is a former Nixon speechwriter and an ancestor of the current Alt-Right Movement – the guys who are against everything that’s not white and Christian. His speech began by outlining the cause for ills in our society: people of color, feminists, non-Christians, LGBTQ. He finished the speech with these ominous words, “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country” to an adoring and cheering crowd. It was clear who he meant by “we” and “our.”
Thank God he lost. The culture warriors – Neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, all other assortment of racists – were forced to recede into the shadows. Then everything changed when the 45th President of the United States was elected. Their messiah had arrived and the dream of a white Christian only America became a de facto possibility.
I’m not sure if the president is a stooge for the generals prosecuting the Culture War or the Culture War Commander in Chief. I guess it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are in the midst of Pat Buchanan’s Culture War. For me, the fight isn’t about the American flag. The fight is for the American flag. We can’t stand idly by and allow the culture warriors to claim sole ownership of our flag. We must engage the battle to ensure that our flag belongs to all of us, even those who disagree with our government.
The flag is a symbol of the freedoms that makes us Americans, not of any one person or event. It’s been a long and tortuous journey of reflection since Kapernick kneeled down. I have friends who praise him and others who demonize him. That’s their right. I’ve thought long and hard on what I should do. That’s my right. And I want to keep it that way.
Of all the awful things the president had said and done since he descended the escalator more than a year ago to announce his candidacy, this one has impacted me the most. I’m an American, a third generation American. I resent having to write that sentence every time I do. But writing it reminds me not to allow anyone tell me otherwise. No person, no president has the right to question my birthright or tell me how to honor my country.
Until our government gets serious about resolving the issues raised by Colin Kapernick, I plan to honor our flag and our song by placing my hand over heart and kneeling or sitting whenever and wherever I hear the Star Spangled Banner.
I will do this in honor of my dad and all others who have risked their lives for my freedom. I will do this in honor of all those who bravely fight everyday for equal treatment guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. I will do this in honor of the country I love.
This hasn’t been an easy decision for me. My stomach feels queasy as I write, but my conscience is satisfied. I know some people will call me a fool or unpatriotic or worse. That’s okay. This is a personal decision. I’m not encouraging others to flow suit. Each one of us should do as we choose without fear of reprisal. Thank God, our flag gives us that right.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with two Latino high school students from Los Banos, California. They sought advice and coaching on their oral presentation for a national science competition. The boys were freshmen who had defeated older and more experienced students at the local, regional, and state contests. They wanted to sharpen the presentation that led to the national finals in Philadelphia.
The duo had collaborated on creating a prosthetic arm. The device was an impressive contraption. Their presentation was excellent and needed just a few adjustments on style and substance. It was clear to me from the outset that these young men were engineers in the making who have the talent and potential to be executives someday.
I was giddy about their unlimited futures until reality set in. The Washington Post printed an article in February that confirms what Latinos in Silicon Valley already know to be true – Latinas and Latinos are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management.
Apple, Inc. was highlighted in the Post article. The piece indicated that “only 7 percent of the (company’s) leadership is Latino and 3 percent is black, according to Apple’s website. Blacks and Hispanics each make up 8 percent of the company’s tech workers.” That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino.
Unfortunately at Apple, the lack of diversity isn’t changing anytime soon. The Post article cited an Apple spokesman speaking off the record “that the company prefers to promote within its ranks, so change at the senior level will take time.” Without a doubt, the rest of Silicon Valley maintains the same hiring and promotion practices.
Silicon Valley managers have long pointed out that there’s a lack of qualified Latino candidates and the education system isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. It’s noteworthy that the National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley. Somehow that fact has evaded Valley decision-makers.
It’s clear that Silicon Valley has some work to do in recruiting Latino talent. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, Valley executives were beginning to understand that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” Two years have passed without any progress and it could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised.
Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latina and Latino professionals to do?
Be a trailblazer. Take matters into your owns hands. Here are few tips to get you started:
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.
As I made my way up the corporate org chart from manager to director to vice president, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart too. The hardest and smartest working employees get first crack at a promotion.
Find a Mentor
Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.
The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.
According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.
Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. I studied community leadership as a fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as an executive coach.
The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. As a Latino professional, you have a chance to chart your own leadership path until the rest of society recognizes that you have what it takes to move into the corner office. There are countless Latinas and Latinos in the pipeline. Those two young men from Los Banos and others like them are counting on you to lead the way.
P.S. The boys earned second place in the national competition!!
Freezing rain couldn’t dampen my excitement the first time I went to Washington, D.C. Looking out of the window into the night sky during the unsteady landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport, the sight of the glowing Capitol Dome, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial was mesmerizing. This was also my first trip to the east coast. I was in my mid-30s and a manager at a large telecommunications company.
The regional VP of the department had asked if I was interested in participating in scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill in place of her boss who was unable to go. I saw this as an incredible opportunity given that I had been with the company for just 6 months and no one else at my pay grade would attend. I had never left Sandra and the girls for an extended period of time – Marisa was 4 years old and Erica 8 months. This was uncharted territory for me.
When I told Sandra, she asked if I had to go. I hadn’t thought of that question and didn’t know how to answer. We both grew up in working-class neighborhoods where it was common knowledge that extra work meant overtime pay. I learned in my first job out of college that that wasn’t the case in the professional world. Added to the fact that there was no financial benefit to going, I had a young family at home to think about. Did I have to go or did I want to go?
Making the trip would be a calculated risk. If I made a fool of myself, a career with that company probably would have ended sooner than later. If I stayed home, I probably could have had a comfortable career as a manager. If I performed well during the trip, my opportunities with the company could grow. I came to realize that the question was a false dilemma. The answer to both questions was “yes.”
Twenty years later, the thought of deliberating about such a simple opportunity seems quaint. But at the time, it was a big deal. When I decided to make the trip, the conversation with Sandra was somewhat tense. Sandra and I lived in our childhood homes until we were married, our fathers worked at the same jobs for decades, we rarely ventured out of the neighborhood. Family first and being home for dinner were considerations when making social or career decisions.
I remember being a boy listening to my dad’s friends talking about work. Hourly wages, fringe benefits, and keeping a good job forever topped the conversations. The men I looked up to would list the many reasons not to seek advancement: too much pressure and responsibility, salaried employees didn’t get overtime pay for extra work, too risky.
Sound familiar? For many working-class families, taking chances could lead to disaster. Giving up a good job for something that might not work out could put paying the bills in jeopardy. Once you have a good job, the older men would say, playing it safe and not rocking the boat is the smart thing to do. However, I was now in a different world with different rules.
I encourage those who were raised in a similar environment to be confident in your education and experience. Take a leap into the world of leadership and opportunity.
The ability to venture out of comfort zones is a rare quality. Those who are born with this trait are innovators and game changers. They’re not afraid of failure and rejection. They keep taking chances with the sincere belief that the next attempt at success will be triumphant. Thomas Edison personifies this type of person with his oft-quoted observation, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
In my work developing, supporting, and advising Latino leaders, I’ve seen how reluctance to take risks can be a barrier to personal and professional growth. I understand the hesitation. I’ve been there. This is a common thread with both mid-career professionals and high school students. The pros get anxious about losing a job or a title on a business card. Kids fear putting themselves out there to be ridiculed by their classmates.
We all know that getting ahead requires hard work and dedication. But that’s just part of the equation. Stretching oneself intellectually and professionally is needed as well. Those who don’t have the natural tendency to embrace uncomfortable situations must overcome their concerns about the prospect of failure. The best way to do that is by taking on uneasy and unfamiliar roles.
That’s what I did during my first trip to Washington, D.C. two decades ago. Although I had a minor function during the meetings, I held my own. When the VP noticed me chatting with my congressional representative and local elected officials in the hotel lobby after-hours, she recognized me as someone who could provide value to the company. That week turned out to be the first step in a climb up the corporate ladder.
I learned an important lesson on my first journey back east. Taking risks, although riddled with unknowns, results in personal and professional growth. Can taking risks be learned? I think so. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic next time.
Author’s note: The following passage is from my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 69th excerpt in the blog series. The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis.
The next morning, Sandra started her daily routine. After waking from the small cot next to my hospital bed, she checked on me and thanked God for another day. The doctor would be making his rounds later that morning, so she washed up and prepared to take her morning walk to the JW House.
The JW House sits on the western tip of the campus at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center. The facility, designed to look and feel like a home, provides a comfortable supportive place for families facing a medical crisis. The house offers families and individuals with loved ones in the hospital with a place for rest and self-care during the day or overnight.
During the first days of the ordeal Sandra and her waiting room entourage would retreat to the JW House to pray and get away from the pressures of the ICU. Sandra spent the first few nights at the comfortable home-like environment before deciding to stay in the ICU with me. The morning walk and the soothing shower that followed offered the brief respite she needed to take on another stressful and eventful day.
During her walk that morning, Sandra thought about the confrontation with the doctor the day before and wrestled with the options that lay before her. It was clear that the removal of the breathing tube made matters worse. She grew to trust the critical care doctor and his commitment to me and decided to put the previous day’s verbal exchange behind her. Feeling refreshed from the shower and brisk walk, Sandra returned to the ICU confident that the tracheotomy would put me on the right track.
When the doctor arrived for his morning visit, Sandra apologized for her behavior from the day before and confidently informed him of her decision. He warmly smiled and agreed. The surgery would have to wait about 48 hours, he explained, so he could stop administering blood thinning medicine that would complicate the procedure. He also recommended re-intubation so I wouldn’t lose any more oxygen.
After assuring Sandra that the surgeon assigned to me was one of the best in the hospital, the doctor proceeded with the preparation for intubation. Before long, that God awful intrusion was back in my throat until my blood thickened enough for surgery. Again I drifted off into a medically-induced dreamland.
I was back in the saddle again. Wearing a classic black tuxedo with a silk black bowtie, I mingled with members of Congress and other corporate executives at a cocktail party at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I had a great time hanging out and drinking champagne with a senator.
As the night wore on, I became extremely drunk and my vision blurred out of focus. As the museum spun in circles, the music from the jazz trio got louder and I fell to the floor and passed out in a drunken stupor.
I slowly opened my eyes confused about what had happened. I was alone, lying on the floor of the dark museum, still dressed in eveningwear. I was mute and paralyzed. A branch from a eucalyptus tree was stuck in my throat. The taste of eucalyptus in my mouth made me nauseated. I was scared and anxious. When I tried to shout for help, the only sound that came out was a high-pitched foghorn-like echo.
I could hear footsteps in the distance walking toward me. My heart raced with excitement. Out of the darkness, Sandra and her parents approached me. Sandra was angry and kept asking why I did this to myself. Her parents smiled as Mr. Peralta told Sandra not to worry. Everything would be okay, he assured her.
The doctor scheduled the tracheotomy for late Wednesday afternoon on July 26th. Early that morning, he came in to advise Sandra that a cancellation provided an opportunity for the surgeon to perform the procedure immediately with her approval. Sandra later told me that I was awake at the time and quickly broke into a little smile and my eyes screamed, “yes!” The decision was made.
I vaguely remember the surgeon prepping me for the operation. He was tall and fit, with confident blue eyes and wispy blonde hair. With the brashness of a successful basketball coach, I remember him telling Sandra that the procedure would be “a piece of cake” and that I would be like new in no time. The nurse on duty sedated me for the operation while I patiently waited to be transported to the operating room.
The surgery was to take place at a specialized hospital in another city that required me to travel by airplane. As I waited, I could see other gurneys in line ahead of me waiting to board the aircraft. My excitement turned to anxiety because Sandra wasn’t with me in line. As the hospital staff pushed me along the slow-moving line I looked around but couldn’t find her.
With my trusty Blackberry sitting next to me, I figured that I could text Sandra to let her know that I was getting closer to boarding. That wouldn’t work as I couldn’t move my hands to type in the words. When I tried to explain my dilemma to the orderly no sound came out of my mouth. My gurney was inching closer to the door of the jet as panic began to set in.
Finally, just seconds before loading the gurney into the aircraft, Sandra arrived to my relief. She was smiling and assuring me that I would be safe. She had a bag of peanut M&Ms, my favorite candy, in one hand and lovingly stroked my forehead with the other. With a mischievous look in her eyes, she popped few of those sweet nuggets into my mouth.
Sandra kissed my cheek, and asked God to keep me safe on my voyage. Before I knew it, the jet was flying through a starry night sky to an unknown destination.
The operation was a success. The cocky surgeon did exactly what he said he would do. He made a small incision in my throat puncturing the windpipe to make room for a small tube he inserted that connected to the respirator. I would no longer have the discomfort of the breathing device down my throat, but I would continue to benefit from the machine that pumped oxygen into my lungs.
Next Wednesday: After the successful tracheotomy and the elimination of heavy sedatives, I became more aware of the sights and sounds of my surroundings.
For the first few hours without the tube, I continued to make progress. Doctors were monitoring me closely as Sandra felt the weight of the decision taking a toll. She was excited, nervous, and scared all at once. The question on everyone’s mind was “can he handle it?” Sandra feared that the sudden removal of the tube would cause me to panic, thus impacting my ability to breathe without the security of the device.
As the evening wore on, I started to struggle with each breath. I had a confused look on my face and Sandra couldn’t tell if I was worried or scared. The hollow eyes in my thin face looked out into the distance trying to understand what was happening. Sandra couldn’t even fathom what was going on in my head. She rhetorically asked me in her journal, “What do you remember? What questions do you have? How do you feel? Did I make the right choices for you?”
Just before midnight, phlegm began building up in my lungs. I was too weak to cough out the gooey substance. Nurses tried to remove the phlegm with a suction device without success. I was gasping for air as oxygen levels declined. Doctors and respiratory therapists worked to stabilize my breathing before deciding to reconnect me to the BIPAP machine, the helmet-like device that forces air into the lungs through the mouth.
Sandra was afraid and second-guessed her decision to remove the tube. She turned to her faith for answers. God had taken us this far, she reasoned. Whatever was happening at the moment was His will. As I stabilized and fell into an uneasy sleep, she read Psalm 91:4-5,
“God will cover me with his wings. I will be safe in his care. His faithfulness will protect and defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night of sudden attacks during the day.”
She decided to recommit to God and whispered to me, “We can’t be afraid Babe. We have to trust that God has you in His care. Please don’t get discouraged. Fight!”
I was in the cockpit of a 1960s era Air Force fighter jet feeling weak and incessantly coughing from what was probably my lungs’ adjustment to the thin air at high altitudes. I wore a white fighter pilot helmet and black oxygen mask from the same era. I was so weak from coughing that I found a small couch in the cockpit where I could lay down and rest. Folding myself into a fetal position, I felt helpless as the cough intensified and I struggled to catch my breath. I could hear voices cheering me on to no avail. The air was too thin. I was too weak. I lost consciousness as the jet roared through the sky.
Removing the tube wasn’t working. When my regular critical care doctor returned to work on Monday morning, he was surprised to see that I was no longer intubated. I was struggling to breathe with the clear oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. After reviewing my file for the weekend, he realized that Sandra had elected to forgo the tracheotomy. Meeting with the Sandra in the room, the doctor again recommended the procedure.
Sandra was furious. She interrogated the doctor asking why he hadn’t consulted with the pulmonologist on duty during the weekend. Hurling accusations that the doctors and the hospital were experimenting with my life, she released all of the pent up emotions that had been simmering inside of her for almost two months. The critical care doctor patiently listened and allowed Sandra to express her anger, fears, and frustrations.
I remember hearing and seeing Sandra’s tirade. For the first time since doctors induced me into a coma, real and overwhelming emotion washed over me. I felt the need to intervene and protect Sandra. I understood their conversation and wanted to weigh in as I thought that would relieve Sandra of the pressure to make a decision.
When we made eye contact, I tried talking to her completely oblivious of the fact that my strained vocal chords had rendered me mute. Once I realized that, I wanted to tell her to bring me a laptop so I could write down my opinion. I agreed with the tracheotomy option. I was insistent that Sandra bring a laptop to me. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t move my arms, hands, and fingers.
Reading my lips, Sandra finally understood what I was trying to say. She frustratingly waved me off and said, “NO!” When I persisted, she angrily pointed out that I was paralyzed and that I couldn’t use a computer. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. I don’t remember anything after that.
My road to recovery had experienced yet another bump. Meanwhile, I continued to drift in and out of consciousness, Sandra continued to grapple with the hour to hour decisions that weighed heavily on her, and the waiting room continued to pray and support her and the girls.
Next Wednesday: Back to square 1. Doctors reinsert the breathing tube into my throat.
Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 67th excerpt in the blog series.
The next week was uneventful. My critical care doctor advised that I was ready for the tracheotomy. He believed that the procedure would hasten my recovery and help my lungs to get stronger. At first, Sandra was reluctant because the operation would leave a permanent scar on my throat and could cause even more damage to my vocal chords. After consulting with her inner circle of support, she decided to proceed with the tracheotomy.
The doctor was scheduled to be off for the weekend, so he recommended that I spend the two days resting and getting stronger for the procedure. The pulmonologist on weekend duty would monitor my progress in preparation for the next big step. It had been a long road. The life-support tube had been inserted in my throat for more than four weeks, much longer than was the norm.
I had managed to get through virtually unscathed from all of the potential complications caused by being intubated and connected to the tubes that performed bodily functions for me. In addition to the variety of IV lines that monitored my heart and delivered medication to my listless body, I was connected to a urinary catheter, rectal tube, breathing tube, and feeding tube (inserted through my nose).
All of these intrusions are breeding grounds for viruses and infections which create unmanageable situations that usually result in patients fatally succumbing to the infections rather than the illness that brought them to the ICU. I battled fever for most of July, yet whatever caused the phenomenon never materialized into a serious life-threatening infection.
The enormous amount of oxygen loss during the first days of the month didn’t cause any brain damage, nor did it impact other organs. Despite the fact that my lungs were literally non-functional, my badly damaged heart hadn’t suffered additional deterioration. My heart was weakly hanging on, but plugging along. On doctors’ orders, respiratory therapists had been gradually decreasing the amount of oxygen artificially delivered to my lungs
I hadn’t eaten solid food in over six weeks, so I was a skeletal 153 lbs, losing more than one-quarter of the body weight that filled my frame the day the heart attack hit. My friend Rogelio later remarked that I looked like a “sack of bones on a bed.” While doctors struggled to find answers to the fevers and ARDS onset, they were equally puzzled by the relatively good condition of the rest of my mind and body. I was actually making progress.
The pulmonologist managing my case over the weekend believed that my gains were so significant that he recommended to Sandra that the breathing tube be removed to allow me the opportunity to breathe on my own. Once again, Sandra found herself in a untenable decision-making position.
She was only reluctantly in agreement that the tracheotomy procedure was the best course of action. The argument to give me a chance to breathe on my own by removing the tube was attractive, especially given Sandra’s concerns that cutting into my throat had its own set of complications. She gathered her inner circle to deliberate over the correct answer. As a group they came to the same conclusion: What would Eddie Do?
When the pulmonologist on duty returned on his rounds, Sandra told him to proceed with removing the tube. I was semi-conscious and looking stronger every day. She knew that I’m a fighter and if given the choice myself, I would elect to try it on my own without the tracheotomy. The doctor scheduled the tube removal procedure later that afternoon.
It had been a week since doctors began weaning off the heavy sedative medication, so I have a somewhat hazy recollection of these events. In fact, doctors were growing concerned because it was taking so long for the effects of the medicine to wear off. During that time, Sandra and visitors constantly talked to me trying to get me to respond. Other than a weak smile when I felt Sandra hold my hand or a blink of the eyes when I heard Marisa and Erica’s voices, I showed no sign of waking up.
One night during the last weeks of July, right around the time of Sandra’s decision to take the tube out, Miguel was visiting and suddenly shouted, “Wake up, Comps!” According to Sandra and the girls, my eyes shot wide open and I scanned the room looking confused before slowly closing my eyes and returning to a peaceful sleep. Everyone present was excited and the waiting room was abuzz when the news got out. Years later, we all still laugh about Miguel’s uncharacteristic outburst that night.
Despite being in this semi-conscious state, I remembered bits and pieces of the extubation episode. The doctor on duty was a tall Asian man with thick black hair wearing wire-rimmed 1980s-style glasses. He had a confident smile and spoke with certainty as he began the procedure that would remove the tube that had occupied my throat for a month.
He began by sending a gust of 100% oxygen into my lungs before extubation. After removing the tape which secures the tube around the mouth, the doctor inserted a new catheter into the windpipe to deflate the cuff that held the tube in place. I vaguely remembered the doctor asking me to take a breath and cough. When I was able to generate a weak breath and cough, he rapidly removed the tube.
Although the final removal took a mere few seconds to complete, it felt like the tube traveled slowly through my windpipe scraping each and every nerve ending along the way. With the exuberance of a cheerleader, the doctor triumphantly held the tube in his hands. Within a couple of minutes, there was an enormous sense of relief. I was finally free of that awful gagging sensation. Sandra was ecstatic.
Writing in her journal at 2:30 PM that day, she exclaimed, “It’s out!!”
Next week: Excitement and hope in the waiting room quickly turns to concern and despair.
Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 66th excerpt in the blog series.
At the hospital, Sandra was getting a clear picture of what had happened in the operating room. The procedure to insert the Swan line was routine. As one doctor threaded the line into my pulmonary artery, the other followed the tiny tube’s path on a computer screen. The artery that leads to the heart runs next to the jugular vein. In some cases, the vein and the artery intertwine looking like a braid. That’s how mine are configured.
As the doctor carefully moved the hard wire that guided the tube through my artery, maneuvering the catheter through the curves where the artery and jugular vein met proved to be challenging. As she delicately managed the tight turns while looking at the computer monitor, the hard wire suddenly collided with the jugular vein and punctured it. Blood started squirting out as the doctors worked to contain the wound.
The lead doctor squeezed the vein between the thumb and forefinger of his surgical gloved hand. With the blood making the rubber surface of the gloves slippery, the doctor alternated hands wiping the bright red blood on his smock. The nurse on duty brought in fresh white towels to keep the area around my neck dry. Within minutes, the doctors had contained the situation and stopped the bleeding.
The doctor called a vascular surgeon to evaluate the puncture wound and determine if additional surgery was needed to patch up the vein. The surgeon was at a sister hospital 30 minutes away as my doctors awaited his arrival. In the waiting room, the clock ticked away as Sandra grew more concerned. After several visits to the operating room nursing station, she grew impatient as there was no word from inside.
When the surgeon arrived, he immediately determined that the wound was already in the healing process and surgery wasn’t necessary. Doctors doing the procedure decided to continue and place the Swan line in my heart. They successfully completed the operation in 20 minutes. The lead doctor knew that the conversation with Sandra would be difficult as he walked out into the hallway.
When he emerged from the operating room nearly two hours after the scheduled 45-minute procedure started, Sandra was horrified. The bright white apron covering his smock was smeared with blood. It looked like the apron of a butcher working at a meat factory.
In his calm and reassuring manner, the doctor explained to Sandra what had happened with the jugular vein and how it was resolved. Despite what appeared to be large amounts of blood on his smock, according to my medical record and my later interview with the doctor, I lost just a marginal amount that had no negative impact.
He advised Sandra to be upbeat when she entered the room as I was semi-conscious and probably confused. Although I didn’t know about the punctured vein, a negative reaction from Sandra when she saw the blood-stained towels could have caused me to panic putting stress on my heart.
Sandra later described the scene as “horrible” with blood-soaked towels strewn across the floor and the dressing on my neck covered with the sticky red liquid. She tenderly smiled to reassure me that all was well.
Once again, her faith had been tested. There was the heart attack on June 7th, cardiac arrest on June 18th, the onset of ARDS in late June, the induced coma the first week of July, and then the fever. Now this.
What else would God put me (and her) through? Did He leave anymore fight in me? When she looked at my face and told me that she loved me, I slightly opened my eyes and managed a weak smile. She had her answer. Our fight would continue with God’s help.
The next day, the rhythm of life outside of ICU went on as usual. The Cudas championship swim meet was held at the world renowned Santa Clara International Swim Center, just 10 minutes from the hospital. As our daughters participated in each of their assigned heats in the Olympic-sized pool, Sandra, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, sat on the concrete bleachers with her family proudly watching the girls compete.
Later that summer as I was preparing to leave the hospital, Sandra took me to the ICU to thank the nurses who so skillfully and tenderly cared for me. I didn’t recognize anyone, but for Sandra it was an emotional homecoming.
As I thanked each person who worked with me, a well-groomed nurse wearing a neatly pressed uniform came out of one of the rooms with a beaming smile and said in a familiar voice, “I’m so happy to see you Mr. García.” The nametag on her blouse read, “Fiona.”
A chill ran down my spine as I saw her. I muttered that I had a dream about Fiona as everyone nervously chuckled looking kind of puzzled. When Sandra and I left the ICU, I sat in the wheelchair telling Sandra all about my dream: Mexico, the congresswoman, the beach, the shark, and Fiona tending to the wounds on my neck caused by the shark bite.
Slightly confused, Sandra told me about how doctors punctured my jugular vein during a procedure earlier that summer. Fiona was the nurse on duty that weekend and changed the dressing on my neck several times a day. Sandra fondly remembered that Fiona was always positive and upbeat as she talked to me and treated the small incision on my neck.
That was the first time I realized that fantasy and reality co-occupied my mind in what I later learned was a reaction to the sedative medication and psychosis caused by endless days in the ICU.
The presidential election and its result have thrown me for a loop. Even though I believe that Hillary Clinton should be president, it’s not her loss that has left me with a queasy stomach. It’s Donald Trump’s victory that has me wandering aimlessly around the house.
Forget that he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Forget that he’ll bring back factory jobs so fast that our heads will spin. What’s most galling is how he demeans people I hold dear: the women in my life, my Mexican brothers and sisters, the Pope. The Pope for Christ’s sake (pun intended)!
For the first 48 hours after the election, its impact on one group of people weighed heavily on my mind and my heart: the high school students I work with on the east side. Nearly all of them are Latino. Most are children of immigrants, some have parents who are undocumented. They are campus leaders who serve on student council and other leadership groups.
Despite the ugly rhetoric coming from our president-elect during the campaign, neither they, nor their families, represent the “worst” of Mexico and other Latin American countries. All of them, yes I said all of them, plan to go to college. They want to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, and more.
They are Americans in the truest sense of the word. Unlike many of the American voters that whisked Trump into office, when the world economy changed, the students’ families didn’t stay home complaining that the new economy didn’t work for them. Their parents took risks by leaving their rural homes looking for opportunity wherever they could find it, understanding that education is the key to a better future.
For sixteen months, my students would ask me what I thought about the presidential elections. Could Donald Trump win? Would he really deport 11 million people and break up families? For sixteen months, I told them that America values immigrants, America was the land of opportunity, and that America would never turn its back on the promise to value all its people. Voters are smart, I assured them.
I was wrong.
On Wednesday morning, my heart was heavy. I was someone they trusted, someone who understood how the system works. I felt like I let them down. I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, so I kept in touch with school administrators to see how the students were doing. It was an emotional day for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. During a “townhall” meeting, students shared their worries and concerns.
Then they responded to the challenges that lay ahead.
The leadership students had work to do, so they got through the difficult day on Wednesday and went right back to work planning a campus Club Fair at one school and a rally at another. When I arrived at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, my students immediately set up tables for the Club Fair. The campus quickly transformed from the worry of Wednesday to the excitement of starting clubs on Thursday.
The scene was from a school campus in “anywhere USA,” albeit with a distinctive Latino vibe. Lines of students waited to sign up for the Wilderness Club, the Tech Club, the Music Club – thirteen clubs in all. In front of the table for the Bailando Studio Club, students cheerfully danced to the thumping mix of Mexican, Latin, and Hip Hop tunes. At the Make-up Club table, student leaders were doing makeovers on the spot.
At Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy, the rally was billed as a “walkout” to protest the election result. The only difference is that the students didn’t really walk out as they planned the event for after school. They value education too much. And it wasn’t really a protest. They students marched on the sidewalk of a busy east side street carrying signs and waving to the honking cars passing by. At the rally, students rose to talk about hope, perseverance, and education in two languages.
I was exhausted as I drove home. The pit in my stomach had given way to the hope in my heart. My students taught me a lesson in leadership by practicing a lesson I taught them, “don’t get mad, don’t get even, get ahead.” I try to live by the quote coined by political commentator Chris Matthews. In my moment of despair, watching my students bounce back from an awful day was inspiring. They reminded me that we are a resilient community. When a barrier blocks our path, we will find another way to forge ahead.
All was not lost on Tuesday night.
Nevada voters, led by large Latino populations in Las Vegas and Reno, elected the first Latina United States senator in our nation’s history. Intolerant state leaders in Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are slowly beginning to lose their tight grip on power as Latino voters made their voices heard throughout the West and Southwest.
The racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, criminally indicted in Arizona for illegally profiling Latinos, was booted out of office after winning six straight elections. The number of Latino city council members in San Jose doubled with the election of a Latina and Latino in non-Latino majority districts.
The country is in transition yet again. That’s the beauty of our system. Almost half the country wants to change back to the way we were. The other half wants to keep moving forward. We can be angry and dwell on the potential evils of the upcoming Trump Administration, or we can learn from some smart, resilient, and very American students from East San Jose.
They’ve taught us that there’s no value in getting mad or getting even. It’s all about getting ahead. I’m following their lead.
Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 65th excerpt in the blog series.
The text in italics describes a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Delirium.
When I woke up, I was back in the ICU and everything seemed so clear. Although I was still connected to a bunch of IV tubes and the intubation pipe was still in my mouth, I was sitting up in the bed and I was aware of my surroundings.
I couldn’t move my arms or legs, but I was reading the newspaper online on a computer screen in front of me. The headline read: SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER SHARK ATTACK. I continued to read about an accident I had in Mexico and that I was still in a seaside hospital there.
I wracked my brain trying to figure out what was happening to me. I remembered being in the hospital, but didn’t know why. Then it all started slowly coming back to me. We were in Mexico at a seaside resort celebrating the Peraltas’ 50th wedding anniversary.
Sandra, the girls, and I were setting up some beach chairs near a clear lagoon. The place was spectacularly beautiful. We ran into the local congresswoman, the girls’ pediatrician, and their husbands. We were sitting on the pristine beach and chatting with the congresswoman and the doctor while their spouses were in the lagoon.
The men were engaged in a water activity that was all the rage for the well-to-do: taking pictures of dangerous sea creatures in their natural habitat. They hired several Mexican guides to lure the beasts into the crystal clear lagoon where they could snap the photos.
As I sipped a cool drink, I saw a large Great White shark enter the lagoon with its tail swaying in the water and bearing its sharp teeth with a swagger that befitted its reputation. With underwater cameras, the two men clicked away capturing the essence and beauty of the majestic sea animal.
After a few moments, the guides began trying to get the attention of the shark to lead it out of the lagoon. But, the shark had different ideas. It had focused on the congresswoman’s husband and sped directly toward him. There was sudden panic in the water and on the beach. While the lawmaker screamed for help, her husband froze with absolute fright in his eyes.
Instinctively, I jumped out my chair and into the water to help.
As I quickly swam, I felt the shark’s large teeth sink into my neck. The beast trashed me about like a ragdoll. The water was swirling around in a tornado of bubbles and foam as if I was caught in the wash cycle of a washing machine. I couldn’t see anything but white bubbles encasing me in a tight grip and all I could hear was the violent swishing sound of water.
Abruptly, everything went dark and silent.
When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed. A nurse with perfectly combed hair and meticulous makeup was tenderly swabbing stitches on my neck and calming me with her soothing voice saying, “you’re going to fine, Mr. Garcia.” The nametag pinned to her sharply pressed uniform identified her as “Fiona.” Sandra sat at the foot of the bed warmly smiling with confident eyes.
I slowly closed my eyes and comfortably fell asleep.
The champs rally at the Creekside Cabana was in full swing. Kids and families packed into the small meeting hall tucked into a residential neighborhood to watch the traditional end-of-the year slide show. Outside of the little cabana, an overflow crowd peered through the large windows to catch a glimpse of the spectacle inside.
Marisa and Erica sat on the floor cross-legged in the first row of swimmers laughing and cooing as pop music blared and photos of another memorable summer flashed across the screen. When the show ended, Marisa led the team in a number of cheers that created energy and inspiration for the next day.
From the corner of her eye, Marisa saw her Nina Kim rush out of the cabana with a worried look and the cell phone pushed tightly against her ear. With her brilliant smile and trademark enthusiasm, Marisa continued to shout out chants as her stomach began turning in a moment of extreme anxiety. She feared the worst as bolts of electricity shot through her body.
Nonetheless, she maintained the enthusiastic façade of a leader rallying her troops for the upcoming battle. Minutes later, adrenalin filled her body and blood rushed to her head as she witnessed her Nina and two other moms huddled together holding on to each other in a tearful embrace. Swimming through the crowd as soon as the rally ended, Marisa reached Kim as her heart felt like it was thumping out of her chest.
With a calm that belied her anxious nature, Marisa stood stoically, with tears welling up in her eyes, and gave a definitive directive to Kim: “Nina, just tell me now if my dad died.”
Kimberley assured that I hadn’t died, but confirmed that something went wrong with the Swan line procedure. The details weren’t clear as Sandra was still trying to understand the situation. All that Sandra told her was to bring the girls to the hospital as soon as possible.
Away from the prying eyes and ears of the cabana, Marisa finally lost her composure as anxiety and panic consumed her on the familiar, but seemingly endless, drive to the medical center. She kept asking Kimberley what had happened. Was I dead? Was it my heart? Am I okay? Erica sat in the backseat quietly biting her fingernails. Kim forged ahead with tears in her eyes.