Stories of Overcoming Health Issues

Jeff Campbell

Gulfport, Miss.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On June 17, 2016

Jeff Campbell 6-17-16

Jeff Campbell was born in New York, but his family moved to Arizona when he was a teenager. That’s where he learned to fly.

“My father pushed, in a good way, to succeed at different things, and one was pushing me to get my pilot’s license. He had put some money aside to do that.”

Jeff went to college, and wanted to become a Navy pilot. There was a problem, however.

“Unfortunately, my vision is not 20/20. All the military services require 20/20 uncorrected vision to fly.”

But Jeff learned more about the cockpit team for tactical fighters.

“There is a member of the air crew, a naval flight officer. Although you don’t get to be a pilot, you work the weapons system, the radar, deploy missiles … you also do the navigation and communications. A lot of people have seen the movie ‘Top Gun,’ and that’s the aircraft I used to fly in, the F-14, from 1982 to 1993.”

And that’s when his health issues began to appear.

“I started to decline physically, shortness of breath, and just not being able to do the things I normally could do. I was writing it off to age. I thought, ‘you’re getting older, getting out of shape.’ Certainly, there was some of that, but it was being accelerated. I went from being able to jog to I could only walk, and no matter how hard I was trying to get back into shape, I continued to decline.”

Jeff’s wife, Lore, is an active duty Navy officer, a Stanford-trained engineer in what used to be called the Seabees, or construction battalions. Jeff has moved with her on her frequent postings, which brought the couple to Jacksonville. A few years ago, Jeff was working out at the NAS Jacksonville gym, and almost passed out.

“They took me over to the emergency room, but couldn’t really identify anything until they put me under a stress test. Once they did that, they saw the EKG, they saw the spikes. Basically, my heart was not firing properly, and ultimately, it was blockages. There were blood clots that had migrated to my pulmonary artery and into my lungs.”

Doctors inserted a metal filter in the return vein to his heart to guard against a clot in his legs traveling there. No one knows for certain what caused the clotting.

“It is often associated with aviation – pressure differentials, varying your altitude, especially in such a dynamic environment.”

Jeff has seen an immediate improvement in his health, his energy and his stamina. Now he’s on to whatever is next.

“My wife has already got some plans for me! She’s done triathlons, all the way up to Ironman level, and has done very well. She’s an impressive woman. That’s still quite a ways down the road. I’m still recovering. Pretty much all I’m doing these days is walking until the heart shrinks a little more.”

And he’s deciding what opportunities he has for work. As with his …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Cameron Stewart

Spokane, Wash.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On April 29, 2016

Cameron Stewart 4-29-16

Cameron Stewart is a big man. After high school sports, and tours as Marine medic corps man in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was left with crippling back pain. He became a chiropractor – and his greatest professional talent may be empathy.

Cameron Stewart was born in California, but when he was young, his parents moved the family to eastern Washington.

“When I was 13, the family moved up to Spokane and bought a farm. I went from a beach bum to a farm hand. My parents worked in the medical field, and the farm chores were left to my sister and me. Every day,. we’d get up early and take care of the farm, go to school, come home and do more farm chores, and wake up the next day and do it all over again.”

Cameron was a star athlete in high school. He’s 6’5” and more than 300 pounds. and played football, although his best sport was track, where he threw the discus and hammer. After two years of junior college, and the events of 9/11, he decided to join the Marines and become a medical corp man. But the Marines were at war, and they wanted the big guy out leading troops.

“They looked at me and said, ‘are you sure?’ I was like, Yeah. And they said, ‘go across the hall and talk to the Navy.”

So Cameron trained as a Navy corpsman, and was assigned to a Marine brigade. He married and moved to Hawaii with the Marines. Then his unit went to Afghanistan.

“I married my high school sweetheart. We were doing okay, joined up with the third marines, deployed to Afghanistan. While I was there, my wife filed divorce papers.”

Camaron returned to Hawaii, but his unit deployed again soon, this time to Iraq. Cameron came home once again from war, met the woman to whom he’s now married, finished his enlistment, and went back to college. He slowly began to realize that he was injured, and suffering increasing back pain.

“Nothing was violently done. It riding around in Humvees that were not meant for someone my size, wearing an 80-pound flak jacket with bullet-proof plates on it, and carrying around 300 pounds of equipment on my back. that wear and tear led to lower back injuries.”

Back pain soon took over Cameron’s life.

“I was taking eight Oxycontin a day just to function. It took me two hours on a concrete floor, screaming into a pillow, to relax to the point where I could get a few hours of sleep. My wife had to help me get dressed in the morning, because I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes or ties my own shoes.”

Coincidentally, Cameron Stewart had decided to become a chiropractor, for several reasons.

“I knew that I wanted to be my own boss, and being a chiropractor was one of those ways of looking at that. I’ve always believed in chiropractic, from having a football injury helped …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Deirdre Clayton

Jacksonville, Fla. By On April 8, 2016

Deirdre Clayton 3-3-16

Deirdre Clayton was widowed at age 30 with two young children. Her career search led back to what she’d wanted to do since she was a teenager – help people. Today, she’s a guidance counselor in a Jacksonville middle school.

Deirdre Clayton grew up in Jacksonville, and became a military wife. Her husband and she had two young children when her husband was killed in a car accident.

“I was 30 years old, and I was very depressed. I had a six-year-old and an 18-month-old, and I didn’t want them to see me depressed.”

So Deirdre, who had worked part-time to make extra money for the family, started thinking about work differently. She got a job at a local credit union.

“I started off in the call center part-time, because I was raising my kids. After they got in school, I was able to dedicate more time to a career. Then, I went back to school and was able to dedicate more time to my career. I got my degree in business. As the kids got older, I was able to go into the mortgage department.”

Deirdre became a loan underwriter, and did that for a number of years.

“When I went to college from high school, I wanted to go into social services. But everyone said, ‘no, you don’t make any money at that.’ So I went into marketing.”

When the housing slump hit in 2006, and mortgages weren’t being written, the thrift sent many of its officers to speak in area schools as community outreach. Deirdre was one of them.

“I loved it! When I came to work every day, I was hoping that they would say, ‘Miss Clayton, go to this school and do some work.’ We’re going into the schools and saying, ‘this is how you do your financial portfolio, this is how you save money.’”

Deirdre was starting to change her view of what she wanted to do with her life.

“I worked in a program at the International Baccalaureate high school, and that became my project. I talked with guidance counselors, and I wanted to do what they did. I talked with one of mentors at the credit union, who said, ‘Miss Clayton, you need to follow that.’ I said, “I can’t afford that!’ and she said, ‘when you’re following your dreams, you can afford it.’”

That didn’t mean she could afford it easily.

“ I applied to the program and got accepted. I cashed in my 401(k), got some student loans, put in my resignation at the credit union. I got a job at my church – it didn’t pay much, but it was just enough.”

Deirdre graduated from the counseling program, and got a job almost immediately. A year later, she got a phone call about a high school guidance counselor position.

“Someone called me who I interned with and said, ‘hey, they got a school counseling position!’ that never happens. To get a job in here, somebody has to die, …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Kim Stordahl

Jacksonville, Fla. By On March 25, 2016

Kim Stordahl 3-25-16

Kim Stordahl grew up all over the United States, following her father’s management career. She went into management, as well, and moved with her husband to Jacksonville. That’s when she decided she wanted to do something different.

“I was in restaurant management for 12 years or so. It was fast-paced, it was fun, it was perfect for a younger person, and I just got to a point where it was time to do something else.”

Kim and her husband didn’t have kids, so she was able to take a breather to decide what to do next.

“I knew I wanted to help. I didn’t know who or what I wanted to help, but I knew that I wanted to make a difference besides just serving a good meal. I volunteered at the Humane Society and ended up taking a job there. After getting my bearings in animal rescue, I said, this is it, this is what I was meant to do in the next part of my life.”

But as a trained manager, Kim Stordahl soon recognized a problem area in her new field.

“I got to see a lot of success stories, and I got to see a lot of sad stories, and a lot of those stories were with the older animals.”

We routinely trade in our phones and computers for newer models … but that happens, more than anyone, will admit with pets.

“Puppies and kittens are king. Everybody wants bright, shiny and new. I think a lot of the hesitancy in adopting an older animal – or keeping your older animal – is dealing with death. We have a hard time dealing with death, not just with our pets, but with our families.”

Kim Stordahl founded her own organization, The Old Dog House, to focus on older dogs. To compete with the puppies and kittens mentality, Kim has become somewhat of psychologist and a marketer, since the nexus of the problem isn’t the dogs themselves. It’s their owners.

“They were having a difficult time watching their pet age, dealing with the consequences that come with an aging pet, the financial issues.”

The Old Dog House features photos and videos of the dogs that can be adopted.

“Getting really good photographs and videos showing that they’re still active. They might have some medical issues, but that doesn’t hold them back from just enjoying life. As much as I can, I try to help people understand that you have to focus on the everyday. that’s how dogs live, they live in the here and now.”

Which is why old dog rescue means supporting the owners.

“My hope is that I never have any old dogs to save, because I think that people really do want to keep their animals. One of my big dreams is to have a rehabilitative facility, and that means a warm-water therapy pool.”

And if working with old dogs sounds altruistic, Kim Stordahl says that she gets as much as she gives from …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Winston Allen

Columbus, Ohio; St. Augustine, Fla. By On March 18, 2016

Winston Allen 3-18-16

Winston Allen is, is in his own words, a “triathlete for life.” He started working out at age nine to keep bullies away. Today, at 85, he’s the defending world champion triathlete … and getting ready to defend his title.

Winston Allen is from Columbus, Ohio. He’s now 85, and he started working out as a child to defend himself.

“I started taking care of myself when I was about nine. I realized I was smaller than my peers. I’m only five feet, six inches now. We had a guy in our class named Joe Brown. He was 12 years old in the third grade – he’d flunked three times! – and he was a bully. My coping mechanism was to exercise, pushups, pullups, lift bricks and stuff, because I didn’t have weights then. The word got around that I was scrappy, and I never had a problem.”

Winston found that he liked sports.

“In high school, I swam, and then I went on to college and became a diver. I was a finalist in two Olympic trials, in 1952 and 1956, in 10-meter platform diving.”

Winston graduated from college during the Korean Was, and was drafted. He became a military criminal investigator, and when he finished his enlistment , there was a job waiting for him as an auditor.

“When I got out of the service, the IRS wanted to hire me. They wanted me for my investigative experience. I learned a lot in the IRS.”

Winston left government work, and became a private asset manager for some years.

“When my last client died, I dropped out of that. I couldn’t sleep nights. When you’re responsible for your clients’ life savings, it’s a big responsibility.”

He retired when he was 60. About that time, a new challenge appeared.

“My son did the Ironman Hawaii in 1982. He came back and said, “dad, you could this.’ I did my first triathlon in 1983, so I’ve been an active triathlete for 33 years. The first one I finished, it was an Olympic distance – a mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. then I went back the following year, leaned into it competitively, and I finished third. I’ve done 13 Ironman Hawaii’s.”

You’ve probably figured this out already … but Winston Allen is a very competitive person.

“Oh, yes. Yeah, always. Anything I take up, I want to be good at.”

And what he likes most about triathlons is that he takes an early lead and tries never to give it up.

“Well, I’m a swimmer, so right off the bat, I’m in front of everyone out of the swim. Nobody in the world beats me out of the swim. It’s mine to lose. I’m the defending world champion, and I’m going to defend that championship this September in Cozumel, Mexico.”

The irony of Winston Allen’s competitiveness is that the head-to-head aspect of competition is not what’s getting tougher.

“At 86 years old, I don’t have too many in my …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Julia Crowley

Sacramento, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On March 11, 2016

Julia Crowley 2-12-16

Julia Crowley started selling cosmetics for shoe money and girl time. But when her family needed much more from her, and from her business, Julia stepped up her game.

Julia Crowley grew up in Northern California, studied communications in college, and immediately went into television news.

“I went to college in Washington state, started at a TV station there, and then went to Sacramento for my first job out of college.”

She met her husband there, who lived in Jacksonville. Fortunately, her employer also owned a television in Jacksonville. Julia was on the air in Jacksonville for four years. When her contract came up for renewal, however, she had second thoughts about what her priorities were.

“I was wanting to start a family, and the stress of the job was just a lot. I did morning and evening traffic, and there weren’t many break or vacation days.”

Julia and her husband, who was a teacher, had a child, who – they quickly learned – had a rare genetic disorder that required her near-constant attention during his first year. But Julia also realized that she wanted to work.

“When he was about six months, I really thought that it would nice if we had a little extra money coming in, but I also needed a place for me. I needed to have goals, something to get excited about. That was what I was missing from not working.”

With her son’s illness, day care and a regular job, let alone her previous profession, were out.

“I started to think of something to do for me. I was just looking for a way that gave me freedom to work with my child, because I needed a job that I could keep him with me. When I started, I called it ‘shoe money,’ just some extra spending money.

Julia Crowley became a representative of a well-known direct sales company in cosmetics and beauty products. She found that it met even more needs than she had anticipated.

“It also gave me girl time that I was missing. Have women over and play with makeup. I really enjoyed that.”

And things might have gone on like that … but they didn’t.

“My husband became ill overnight. He was healthy on Wednesday, and by the weekend was having 20 or 30 seizures a day. And it lasted for a year and a half. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and life got a little crazy for us.”

Julia Crowley was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Doctors couldn’t find a way to treat her husband’s benign but inoperable tumor … or help the seizures.

“The doctors eventually told us that they didn’t think they were going to be able to stop them, and that this just might have to be how he stayed.”

Neither Julia or her husband thought that that was an acceptable outcome. So they prayed.

“We focused on healing prayer. Because of my business, it allowed me to focus on that and …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Anthony Johnson

Indianapolis, Indiana; South Bend, Indiana; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On February 19, 2016

Anthony Johnson 2-19-16

Anthony Johnson played football from high school through an 11-year NFL career. Today, he’s the Jacksonville Jaguars’ chaplain … and possibly the most low-key former NFL player you’ll ever meet.

He’s an Indiana native who went to Notre Dame on a scholarship. He had, at that time, a single focus to his life.

“Playing football, my passion since I was young. I played through high school and was good enough to get a football scholarship to Notre Dame. I graduated in 1990 and was drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts.”

Anthony played 11 seasons as a running back for five different NFL teams. The last was the Jaguars, which he joined for the 2000 season before retiring.

“During the course of that time, I had the opportunity to be impacted by to chaplains on several different teams. Seeing the impact they had on me when I was playing was part of what encouraged me to take the opportunity to do the same.”

The work of, and the need for an NFL chaplain to an NFL is not well understood.

“Playing in the NFL, obviously you have a lot of highs, a lot of great things and awesome opportunities. But at the same time, you have a lot of stress, a lot of tension and a lot of challenging experiences. They’re deep things, sometimes things that really challenge you in your soul. You’re a young kid, coming out of school, and all of a sudden, you’ve been given millions of dollars, sometimes. You have everything that the world wants – you have money, health, prestige, you’re on a platform. That sets you up as a target. And here’s the one thing you don’t expect – sometimes family can come at you and see you as dollar a sign.”

NFL chaplains work for a ministry, and aren’t paid by the teams. Anthony, for example, is employed by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru. But the need that chaplains fill is as practical as it is spiritual.

“All they want is an opportunity to help you. With the Jaguars and my situation, Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have really opened the door and said, ‘Hey, you’re part of the team. Be here every day and travel with the team, engage to the extent that’s appropriate and is necessary.’

It wasn’t a role that Anthony jumped into quickly after he retired in 2000.

“I took, as my wife would say, a long time to decide what I wanted to do. But what I didn’t want to do is feel compelled and constrained into doing things that I really wasn’t passionate about. I was passionate about my faith, and so after a couple of years, I realized, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Although every NFL has a chaplain, most are not former players. And the job has no defined work parameters, other than that you serve at the invitation of the …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Pete Ancone

Philadelphia, Penna.; St. Augustine, Fla. By On February 5, 2016

Pete Ancone 2-5-16

Pete Ancone grew up near Philadelphia. He had a blissful childhood … but it ended abruptly when he was in high school.

“I was into writing, cars, I ran track, and that world burst when my father died very suddenly. I qasn’t happy and carefree any longer. My father, while a good man, didn’t leave us with much and we had a quite a bit of debt. My mother grew up on a farm, and did not have much education, and there were few jobs available to her. So I had to double down, and I began working with newspapers”

He’d thought about going to a public junior college, when someone from St. Joseph’s College heard about him.

“ The administrator, who was a Jesuit priest, reached out to me and said, ‘I heard you’re going to a public college, that’s unacceptable. I said, father, I can’t afford to go to St. Joseph’s. He said not to worry about it. Two days later, I had a scholarship letter, as long as I worked on the school publications.”

Pete did that, studied for a few semesters in Mexico and Colombia, and earned his degree. He was hired out of college by as a stringer by the Dallas Morning-News.

“My assignments were business and Latin American business climate. After doing that for a few years, I realized that I did not want to live under dictatorships for the rest of my life, and came back to the United States and ended up as a business journalist.”

And that’s where, as a stringer for a publisher of trade magazines, Pete Ancone entered the world of entrepreneurs.

“My assignment was to travel all over the Midwest and the South. My beat was small business I fell in love with small business people, and I thoroughly enjoyed the job.”

What he didn’t like was the amount of travel required by the job.

“I would be out on the road for six to eight weeks at a time. This meant that I had no life! Every time I’d start getting involved with a girl, they’d get tired of waiting for me to come back. So I ended up getting married fairly late in life.”

So Pete decided to go out on his own, writing business stories as a freelancer and forming an advertising and marketing agency.

“Being an entrepreneur was very interesting to me, and I was going to use advertising as a tool to get me there. Which would eventually lead me to writing fiction, which was my first love but not a very practical one.”

Pete ran his own agency for more than 30 years. By the time he was in his 60s, he had some new ideas of what to do with his life.

“I decided to start working on a game plan. I don’t want to do one thing, but there was one thing I did want to do, which was the one thing I never got to do, which …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Suzi Baker

Jacksonville, Fla.; Oregon; Gary, Ind. By On October 16, 2015

Suzi Baker 10-16-15

Suzi Baker was born in Gary, Indiana, and came to Jacksonville with her parents when she was 15.

“I met a Navy man at 19, married him six weeks later. We moved to Oregon where we lived for the next 22 years, and where I mostly raised my family. I came back one day; I just wanted to come home. I came back with the kids, except for my oldest, who stayed with his daughter.”

Suzi’s husband had worked on boats, and that was the beginning of a business.

“He had a bad back, so he started a boat-repair company. He worked on diesel engines and he couldn’t do that no more. So he put an ad on Craigslist doing boat repair. It took off the first day. It was mobile, which Jacksonville really needed. There was a lot of boats lined up, waiting to get fixed in the middle of summer. You couldn’t go fishing, so we nailed that right away. And the business tripled every year, you know, until he passed.”

Three years ago, Suzi Baker’s husband died suddenly.

“He had a heart attack on a Sunday night. He wasn’t feeling good, but we didn’t have insurance.”

Suzi was forced to shut down the business immediately.

“He was the business. I would handle the phone call, schedule appointments, maybe hold a flashlight or something, you know.”

Suzi and her four children were able to move in with her sister.

“We hadn’t talked in five years, but she was right by my side immediately.”

And with the help of her sister and a bigger family … Suzi started to rebuild her life.

“She was a single mom, and we were going to raise all six kids together. She made me get up every morning and take a shower. I knew that with me, I would either gain weight or I needed to lose weight. Fortunately, I wasn’t hungry for a while, and I went with it, I thought it was a gift. I lost 70 pounds. It took me six months. I just got myself together, and I got stronger, and I got my own place. I went back to waitressing, which got me back into the restaurants. It just got me going in the direction I needed to go.”

Several of the many jobs Suzi had worked over the years involved food. Recently, she answered an ad for a chef at an assisted living facility in the area. She was hired almost instantly.

“I’m a chef! My boss says I’m a chef. I had cooked in a retirement home, and it was the best job I ever had. The people are happy to see you. I went to work and smiled all day! But here, I applied for jobs, and everyone wanted a chef. So when I applied for this one, I included a letter that said, ‘look, I’m not a chef, but I’m a cook, and a good one. I just need a chance.’ I was …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller

Jim DeVito

St. Augustine, Fla. By On September 18, 2015

Jim DeVito 9-18-15

Jim DeVito’s father moved with his best friend Angelo and their young families from upstate New York to St. Augustine in the 1950s. Jim grew up with Angelo’s son Bob as his best friend … and fellow musician. “We got into music at the same time. There was a room with drums and a guitar. He liked the drums, I liked the guitar, and we started playing.”

Angelo took a job in Orlando, and Jim had new place to hang out with Bob. Every Friday, he’d hop on the Greyhound bus. He was 13.

“Every weekend we would Play. We’d have some dinner and Angelo would take us to the gig. We’d play at the Winter Park Youth Center, CYO dances, whatever. The next day, we’d play like kids, skateboard or build rafts. That night, we’d play another gig. Sunday, after church, was rehearsal, back to the bus station, and back to St. Augustine.”

There wasn’t a lot of live music in St. Augustine, or on television, and there was no FM in the town. But there was WAPE. “WAPE was the greatest radio station ever! The deejays came in with their favorite stuff. It wouldn’t be unusual for you to hear Aretha Franklin versus Roger Miller. There was no formatting, it was just good music that the guys liked.”

Jim DeVito played guitar in rock ‘n roll bands on road, doing covers in clubs across the country during the 1970s. He came into enough money in the late 70s to buy a piece of property on the beach south of town. That was the start of his recording studio, Retrophonics. “I had the intentions of building a studio, but not the finances to really do it. The first sessions, there was no glass in the control room window.”

Jim is a decidedly retro person, an analog enthusiast in a digital world. His collection of vintage equipment, both instruments and recording gear, is intended — he says — to produce sound that is what music should sound like. “The breath that comes out of your lungs is analog! And as much as you can keep that, that’s what’s really important. There’s no stopping the digital thing, and I wouldn’t dare to think that, but you can at least feed into it the very best that you can.”

Jim has battled with health issues in recent years. “When I stopped playing regularly every week, I started sitting behind the console, being encouraged by my cohorts to work 18 hours a day and drink coffee and eat M&Ms. I managed to get myself up to 365 pounds at one point. That was a big health challenge, and I still deal with it now, even though I’ve lost 120 pounds and I’m still going down.”

And recording can be stressful, not in the way that travel was, but because of Jim’s intense involvement with it. “Sometimes with a big session, I get very, very stressed. People come to me from out of …

Read More

Photo: Warren Miller