Personal hardship is a fact of life; everyone has a story. We all cope and deal with tragedy or adversity in different ways. However, some--like the people in this story--not only recover, but use their hardship as a jumping off point for helping others. There are a million and one ways life can get in the way of your career path, or throw a wrench in your entrepreneurial plans. You might suffer a great personal loss. A challenging situation could leave you feeling helpless. Health problems may threaten not only your career, but your life. You may very well have experienced great personal hardship already. How do you recover and move on? Check out these inspirational everyday heroes, whose personal hardship became the driving force behind amazing businesses and charitable initiatives that not only helped them, but offer a guiding light to others, as well.
This Chicago Woman Lost Her Son and Built a Life Saving Program for Thousands of Students
In 2005, while pursuing her Master's degree in social work, Mary Beth Schewitz suddenly and tragically lost her 20-year old son, Max. He had fallen victim to an undiagnosed cardiac condition--one that could have been detected earlier with a simple EKG test. "There are countless sad days after your child dies. You resolve just to put one foot in front of the other until night falls; then you cry yourself to sleep, a sleep plagued with dreams of longing and regret," Mary Beth shared. In fact, no one would blame Mary Beth if her grief had paralyzed her and kept her from moving forward. Life had others plans for Mary Beth, however. She met with Dr. Joseph Marek, a Chicago cardiologist who had just piloted a school-wide EKG screening program to identify young adults at risk of Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) from hidden and undiagnosed conditions. "While it was too late for our son, we knew there were others just like him, living their lives unaware that they had a heart condition that could kill them. We knew from the moment we met with Dr. Marek that we would do all we could to bring EKG screening to young adults in our area," she told me. "We knew it would be tough to relive Max's loss over and over, but we also knew if we didn't act others would surely die." Just a year after her son's passing Mary Beth created the Max Schewitz Foundation, which provides free EKG screenings to high school and college children. They have now tested over 43,000 students; 828 students had an abnormality that required further medical evaluation and 438 students received free echocardiograms from the Foundation. What does Mary Beth want people struggling with tragedy and hardship to know? "Resilience is a quality you're lucky to find you possess just when you need it most."
Paralyzed by a Drunk Driver as a Boy, This Man Became an Accessibility Advocate
At seven years of age, Kevin MacGuire was playing baseball, as American children are bound to do, when a drunk driver drove off the road and struck him in the yard in which he stood. He was paralyzed from the waist down. "My parents never allowed me to use my disability as a crutch," Kevin told me. "I wasn't to wallow in pity. I never made excuses because of my disability." In fact, Kevin's parents went to great lengths to help him walk again, even sending him to Lourdes, France at twelve years old, to visit a shrine with healing waters. "I went there to be healed, however, upon arriving, I saw so many other people from around the world who had more dire medical conditions," Kevin said. "This put my disability in perspective. During that week, realized I would be fine, and began praying for the other visitors." Kevin went on to graduate from Georgetown Law Center and founded his own firm in 1992, specializing in Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. He consults with NFL teams and stadiums, Live Nation concert venues and the White House Visitor Center on accessibility issues. He is also the founder of AbleRoad, a website and free smartphone app that allows people with disabilities to research, find and review any public space or business location for accessibility. He hopes AbleRoad reviews will help businesses understand the accessibility issues their locations may pose to people with disabilities, and persuade them to make changes. What drives Kevin to help others? He says, "I have this instilled work ethic to push myself when others would simply give up and walk away. That's not me."
This Breast Cancer Survivor is Bringing Preventative Awareness to Women's Shelters
Wendy Kuhn was just 42 when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. After a number of surgeries, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Wendy had one thing on her mind: how can I keep my breast cancer from coming back? Wendy described to me the moment at which she realized her situation was going to change for the better: "After my first breast cancer surgery, when I learned the cancer was invasive but also discovered that it wasn't in my brain, I took pause and thought, who do I want to go through this journey for?" That was the point at which she knew it would, indeed, be a journey; that this wasn't a death sentence. "I decided my priority was being an excellent role model for my nieces, my stepdaughter and my sisters," she explained. "I wanted them to see that this could be handled with grace, dignity and humor." Wendy's illness inspired her to pursue her dream and became a holistic health coach, specializing in cancer prevention and awareness. She built a wellness business and now offers presentations and workshops free of charge at her local cancer support center and women's shelters. Through her business and volunteer initiatives, Wendy is helping others make healthier life choices and gain awareness of cancer risks and symptoms, despite economic and social barriers that might otherwise have left them in the dark. "I always say it's not a club I would ever want to be a member of (being a cancer survivor), but now that I am a member, it's an amazing community, we cancer survivors are strong, powerful, and empowered," Wendy said. "I feel honored that so many people are interested in and open to what I have to say."
After a Brutal Sexual Assault at a Business Conference, This Woman Speaks and Writes to Inspire Survivors
Jenny Lynn Anderson was a veteran corporate journalist, well-respected and 25 years into her career, when at a business conference, she became the victim of a hotel invasion, robbery and brutal sexual assault. "In the aftermath of my sexual assault, it took courage each and every day to survive," Jenny Lynn told me. Three specific things significantly impacted her recovery, Jenny Lynn says: Forgiveness of the man who sexually assaulted her; seeking psychological helped for PTSD; and writing her book, Room 939: 15 Minutes of Horror, 20 Years of Healing. Jenny Lynn decided to share this devastating event in her life to help and inspire other survivors by speaking openly about it. She changed careers and built a part-time business out of her inspirational speaking. "I recall vividly--even down to what clothing I was wearing, skinny jeans and white peasant blouse--standing on the lawn of Valdosta State University in front of about 300 students sharing my message of surviving a sexual assault," she told me. "I looked into the faces of these innocent students and knew what I was saying was having an impact because they were eerily quiet and still. I thought to myself, 'I am changing lives and empowering others to break the silence.'"
This Couple Has Helped Over 400,000 Families with Affordable Therapy
A licensed therapist since 1974, Janet Lehman's own life was not without its struggles. Her husband, also a counselor, struggled with a heroin addiction and later, an addiction to alcohol. Her son, Jeremy, was bullied throughout middle and high school. Janet knew that negative child behaviors could be managed well in a traditional counseling setting. However, she could also see that the stigma of mental illness and financial barriers were preventing families from securing the help they needed. Before his death in 2010, Janet's husband James worked with her to create a program called Total Transformation that would go on to help over 400,000 families in 70 countries work through negative child behaviors in the privacy of their own homes. Their program cost each family just $20, effectively breaking through the social and financial barriers impeding their ability to get help. Janet credits her late husband for much of the success of the program. She told me, "James was abandoned as an infant, become a defiant and acting out child and later a teen living on the streets with crime and drugs dominating his life," she says. "He was sent to an accountability program by a judge where he learned to stop making excuses, blaming others, or thinking he was a victim of someone or something. He learned how to accept accountability for the result of his actions and transformed his outlook and life path." Despite a very rough beginning and his battles with addiction as a child and adult, Janet says, the lasting legacy of James is to enable families to transform negative behaviors in children with affordable and accessible help. Janet's tenacity has enabled her to see their idea through and build a successful business that helps thousands, despite the loss of her partner and husband.
Despite Debilitating Injury & Life Threatening Setbacks, This Woman is Spreading Hope
In 2006, 36-year old Michelle Eberwein suffered an injury that would change her life forever, when she broke her spine. After spinal fusion surgery, she didn't bounce back with a miraculous recovery; in fact, she then suffered setbacks that added another year on to her recovery time. Six months later, Michelle was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis--another four months later, doctors discovered she had also developed fibromyalgia. To top it off, Michelle needed another major spinal surgery. Depression set in and before long, the once vibrant woman found she was addicted to the painkillers used to treat her many types of pain. While looking for information on her newly diagnosed conditions, Michelle was disheartened to learn just how little was out there. She felt she had to do something--anything--to stop the freefall of her health crisis, but struggled to find any resources or tools to turn it around. "I decided I did not want to be a victim anymore in my own health crisis. I decided to get healthy," she told me. "I decided to be thankful for a new day to make a difference. And I decided to actually make a difference." Michelle decided her new role was to spread awareness about incurable illnesses and medical conditions; to bring hope to those suffering without the hope of a cure. Michelle launched her business, Hope in Bracelets, with the goal of turning her bracelet-making hobby into an awareness campaign for chronic, incurable illness patients. "I am trying to take this to a level where you will see models in magazines with a Hope in Bracelets bracelet on their wrist. Everybody knows somebody who is fighting a battle," she explained. Michelle was nominated for 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year at Idea Caf. Do you know an entrepreneur who used personal hardship to drive success in business by helping others? Share your thoughts or comments below!