We all Heal Differently – ZipperClub

Charli K Matthews - ZipperClub photo

Last July, I became a #zipperclubmember. This is not a club that you would strive to be in and probably don’t know exists until someone in your family joins it. I joined as an #openheartsurgerysurvivor … Those words still sound strange saying them aloud. I was born with a bicuspid valve instead of a tricuspid valve. Over time the valve began to leak due to increased stress and lack of caring for myself mentally and physically. I started having several unrelated symptoms, and it took us about 3 years to figure out was what was causing the problems. After a MRI found that my valve was leaking 30%, we realized I wasn’t getting enough oxygen mixing with my blood. This can obviously cause other organs to have problems, so I went to a surgeon to discuss options. I still hadn’t really processed surgeon = surgery, so when the words “open heart” surgery was mentioned it took me a minute to follow. I heard the words you can choose a tissue valve or a mechanical valve. I was then sent to make an appointment for surgery. I was alone and as I sat with the lovely nurse who was explaining this I was thinking, “Is this really happening? I mean is this a real option for me…” She asked me to pick a date and I picked the very last day available. I was just giving myself as much time to get out of this as possible. Surely, there was another option. I started to cry. The nurse prayed with me and that seemed to calm me down enough to get to the car. I sat and stared out of the parking garage in downtown Birmingham. The world turned blurry. Surgery was not something I wanted to do. I almost walked in there and said, “You should just cancel that appointment… I will just wait until it gets worse.”

A mechanical valve sounds cool and all, but I did not want to be on blood thinners at 40. I also didn’t like the idea of making my family go through the surgery again if I chose the tissue valve that would wear out in 10 years. I also knew my brothers would be making the sounds of whatever animal it was every chance they got.  These were not good options for me.  There was a chance he could repair it. That’s what he said repair OR replace… I held out hope that they could repair it. It was the best case scenario and I prayed for that.  As I posted to social media and told friends and business partners about this, I received a ton of support and encouragement. There really are too many to mention here. Let’s just say… there is no way my subconscious can ever trick me to think no one cares about me again. I have the proof that many people love and care about me.

I will mention a couple people who’s words still ring in my ears. 

Andre Davanzo. Thank you for telling me I shouldn’t wait that I should do it sooner than later. Thank you for saying, you need to take care of yourself and putting it in a way I could understand. “Do it now because your family and friends are going through this with you, and you don’t want them to have to wait and worry.” I took that advice and called and changed the appointment to an earlier date.  Andre… Thank you also for video calling me to make sure I was ok when I still had a tube in my neck. I will never forget it even if I was on some heavy drugs then

During this time, I would daily question if my family would be better off if I didn’t’ make it. I mean I had good life insurance. These were the mental battles that no one likes to talk about, but I struggled with these type of internal thoughts. Then, I received a card from Amanda and Matt Hoffpauir. At the very end it said, “The world needs you Charli!” My daughter was actually in the car with me and because I was driving she read it to me.  In that moment, something clicked and I know there was only one Charli and my family needed me… Just me to be there for them. 

The next person changed the way I showed up for the surgery. Mike Griffin aka Griff. He is also an open heart surgery survivor. He told me his story, welcomed me to

My ZipperClub Hero!!!
My ZipperClub Hero!!!

the #ZippperClub, and showed me his scar. Next, he told me to go into the surgery with a warrior spirit. He told me how he went into his battle determined to win and get out of the hospital in record time. It was a little bit of a competition, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I immediately pictured Gal aka Wonder Woman headed into battle with bullets flying at her… she was unstoppable in a battle only she could win. I was ready for battle. I had a warrior mindset.  I would win.

I woke up from surgery with the breathing tube still in. I motioned for a pen and wrote, PIG? Carter said, “No, they repaired it! I am still amazed he knew what I meant.  In that moment, I knew everything was going to be ok, because I knew without any doubt, God had answered my prayer and was right there with me through the surgery guiding the surgeon’s hands. I mean how does a valve just start again after 40 years being soldered together. It was a miracle. I was incredibly thankful! I relaxed… Then, I heard my mom tell me to breathe. I remember thinking ok yes, Breathe Charli… Yes! I want to breathe on my own. Mom had told me how important that was before I went under. I took a couple breaths and out came the tube… Now, it was time to get to work recovering… This was the real battle.

That first night was awful. I was nauseous, and I could not get enough pain medicine. I got sick over and over until this Angel gave me a sponge bath, and I was finally able to calm and go to sleep. The next day, I moved to a room where my mom and Carter could be with me. I was given instructions on how to breathe into a spirometer or what I liked to call the lung capacitor, a Back to the Future reference… It was a struggle to take a deep breathe, but each time I did it I felt like I really did something. Each time I could take a deeper breather or more reps, I felt I had made it to the next mile marker in this marathon. Seeing how I couldn’t do much else, I focused on breathing. There were fluid tubes everywhere: A tube in my neck, two coming out of my lungs, a catheter, two that filled up these air wraps on both legs, and an IV. Let me just say… I was barely able to say the word tube before my surgery without getting nauseous, and now they were all around me. I have never cared much for medical talk and the nurses in my family who love all those details know not to talk about that around me! I knew this was going to be hard for me, so I literally told myself over and over before surgery… Tube are good. They save lives… Tubes are the best thing for you. Just to prepare my brain for what I knew would send me spiraling if I didn’t prepare.

So, I set out to master the deep breathe. I did it! Then I got to move from the bed to the chair. I realized that if I did one task, I would get to try another. So, I kept taking the next step… I went from the chair to the bathroom. Then, I went down the hallway. I still remember seeing another woman that came in the same day I did for surgery, and I thought, “I am doing better than her. Keep fighting warrior…” I took a larger walk. The first day I walked I was scared that I would not have the strength to make it much around the corner, I would turn around. I could just see me fall laying with all the tubes, gown open, butt shining… The next day I decided I would walk the full hall, and if I passed out with all these tubes and my gown open so be it. I would at least know my limits. I did it… I made it down the hall and back. I was able to take all the tubes out.  The tubes that were in my lungs were the last to come out.  I was a wake for this. They literally just told me to take a deep breath and then blow out.  While I blew out, they pulled the tubes out… It was the most amazingly awkward rewarding feeling I have ever experienced.  My reward… a shower! Even though it was sitting down on one of those medical chairs with a handheld sprayer, it was heavenly…

It was time to go home. The battle continues…

I kept this mindset once I got home and pushed myself to do “one more” each day… one more walk to the mailbox, one more 5lb weight rep, one more bite of chicken casseroles… It was a process, and I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the mental struggle that would take place next.

My scars. One LONG scar down my the middle of my chest and two “tube” scars just underneath.

Each day, I was a little stronger and would continue to do my walks around the house. I would wear my robe pajamas that wrapped and allowed my scar to be open and heal. It was on display. I saw it constantly with all the mirrors in our home. It made my children uncomfortable. So, I would try to hide it with my robe pajamas as best I could when they were around. But there is not hiding this scar.  As it healed I was instructed to put oils and lotions on it to help the scar. I did this everyday. Everyday, looking to see if the scar had changed. Was it fading? The answer was NO. I would get in the shower to clean it and cry.  I cried a lot in the shower.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like having a scar.  I think scars are cool, and I already had a C-section scar so I was use to that.  It was that every time I got out of the shower, the mirror was there to show me the scar and remind me how WEAK I was… 

My entire wardrobe seemed to be some sort of V-neck collection to showcase I was injured. I went through my clothes throwing out my favorite items that I no longer felt comfortable wearing. I would look through my photos and see my chest in my favorite V-neck shirt or dress without a scar and think… Well, that is no longer me. My favorite dresses and styles would need to change. All I could think is who am I. The way I expressed myself through fashion had changed forever.  I didn’t know how I wanted to show up.  I am not one to hide. I was so uncertain. Should I be hiding this scar? I know it makes people uncomfortable. Hell, it made me uncomfortable! I didn’t know what to do… The strong lady I saw in my photographs had disappeared for me. She was lost. I was sad. So, I grieved. I gave myself space to do this. Three months later after binge watching Chicago Med and watching all the up-close surgery action I could find (part of my healing I suppose), I began to see my scar as a symbol of my courage. 

I have to thank my coaches Susan Hobson and Rob Kalwarowsky for allowing me to share about my surgery on the Leadership Launchpad Podcast. I just recently listened to it, and I know that was a turning point in my journey.  I was then able to share it on the stage at the American Heart Association’s Worksite Wellness event. I had done the work to get myself back physically and on mission. 

You can listen to it here:

In September, I had made it to 3miles walking with intervals of running just in time for the Grundfos Water for Water.  This really was my motivation.  I wanted to be

Made it 3 miles!!!
Made it 3 miles!!!

able to post that I had done the virtual 3 miles.  This was an eternity on a treadmill for me back then… I was bored after 1 mile. I learned that if played my cardio pop music and did more of dance walk. I could make it. It was a mental test.  I finally passed it.  This also allowed me to be ready for the Empowering Women stage in Chicago in Oct. This was my ultimate goal.  I wanted to show up with energy as myself.  The whole conference was themed #BeYourself.  I was there and I felt I had won the battle!

In reality, it took me a few more months and a hysterectomy to work out all my health issues. Today, I feel that we have uncovered the energy I have been missing for decades, but I still felt I wasn’t fully healed.

Going through this trauma and listening to others stories has taught me, everyone overcomes obstacles in their own way. I know for me I must tell my story to heal… I must show my scar… I must not hide to live in my truth. 

Life goes on and we must keep moving as well.  Take the Deep Breath, Take a Walk, Benge some random TV, do whatever it takes to walk in your truth!

My truth is… I am a survivor. a courageous warrior who went straight at the problem and I happy to show off my victory scar with all my fellow zipper clubs friends. 

Cheers to all of you bold beauties! #scarsarebeautiful #zipperclubmember #openheartsurgerysurvivor #mentaltoughness #selfdispline #nationalzipperday #empoweringwomeninindustry #empoweringwomen #wonderwoman #charlimagic 

The World Needs You… Yes YOU!

Charli at Model Call

These were the sweetness words read to me by my daughter as I recovered from surgery. I don’t know if it was the confirmation I needed to heal or just the emotions that anyone feels when they are told they matter, but it did the trick. I saw this phrase in several letters I received as encouragement and it made you wonder, “The world needs me for what?”

When my daughter read it to me, I immediately thought “Yes, to be your mom!” But, each time I read it in other places, I would think of a different reason. I remember thinking about the engineer who wrote this in his letter, and I thought “Yes, to bring the excitement!” I could give more and more examples, but the main theme was… The world needs you… Because no one else can be you!

This is what I want all of you to know! The world needs you to bring yourself to the table. The world needs your ideas, your creativity, your strategic mind, your critical thinking, and yes your voice. We need to hear from you and learn from who you are!

I encourage everyone who reads this to look into themselves and wonder not “the world needs me for what?” But What can I share with the world that is unique to me? What are my strengths, gifts, and talents? Now, let me settle your doubts right now… YOU HAVE THEM! You were created to be a blessing to others and you are!

As I understand from the outpouring of love I experienced during my recovery from heart surgery, you are loved whether you feel like it all the time or not. Accepting that love or any help from others has been hard for me in the past… Gratitude practices really helps with this. Learning to love and appreciate yourself as the creation you are also helps with accepting love and understanding others motivations.

I am confident that I am loved by God, myself, and others. I say “others” because I could feel the love from strangers as well as friends during my recovery, and it is truly incredible. What strangers’ love did you walk right past and not notice? I challenge you to make it a point to notice. Love comes in so many different forms, and it is an honor to get to know your love language! One of my favorite ways to share love is to mention someone online and include a picture of them (with me if I have it). I like to do this, because I also like to receive that kind of love as well. Bethany Womack picked up on my love language without me telling her. It really made me smile when she mentioned it in passing because I felt like she understood me. Similarly, Bethany captures my soul in photos. Like the one featured here, she captures the things that make me… well ME!

The hundreds of people who posted on my heart surgery and recover posts can not have known how much their comment would really mean to me. It helped me understand that I was loved, in a way I could understand and valued. If this was you, Thank you! I truly felt the virtual embrace!

If public shoutouts aren’t your thing, I’m curious, how do you show love? You can private message me 😀

Ok… I know that is a lot about love on this “professional network” so I’ll get back to business. The world needs you! Know it and shine your light within your industry. We want to hear your voice, we want to learn from your story, and we want to see what you will innovate next!

Don’t know where to start, message me! I’ll listen!

Reflections on The Empowering Women Podcast – Episode 1

You_got_this photo with podcast

Working with the Empowering Women in Industry team this year has been so rewarding!  I have loved connecting with so many inspiring women and learning from them.  Since the start of the Empowering Women podcast, I have been thinking about how I could share some of the lessons I had learned from listening to their stories. I believe listening to each of these Empowering Women stories can help you in your careers.  I understand that each person will relate to a different part of each of these stories.  Hopefully, this summary of my thoughts won’t distract you from your own, but add to them. Here goes…

The Introduction to Empowering Women Podcast with Mel the Engineer.  Can we just stop to appreciate the amazing podcast Mel put together… from the sounds to the vision to better the lives of career women and help them succeed – I am inspired by her every day.  And let’s just say – she knows how to pick out cool podcast tunes. Listen to it here:

https://www.empoweringwomeninindustry.com/podcast/episode/8493be24/introduction-to-the-empowering-women-podcast-and-mel-the-engineer

In episode 1, Lynn Spivey, the Director of Utilities for the City of Plant City in Florida, shares her career path. She started her early career in the U.S. Airforce working for a defense contractor in electronics. She went to school for Chemical Engineering and ended up in the municipal water and wastewater sector. Lynn has a wonderful perspective on navigating tricky career situations, and the Empowering Women team hopes you enjoy this first episode. The most “ah ha!” moment for me was when she talked about “Figuring out your Boundaries.”

Lynn Spivey photo and quote

Lynn explains that if she didn’t establish these boundaries, she was going to enable behavior that she didn’t want. I think everyone is different and everyone has different boundaries; when working in male-dominated fields, I think we all have a different level of “comfort” in setting those boundaries. I speak to women all the time that like being the only woman in the room; while others don’t like it one bit.  Having said that, today, we need to create an inviting space and demonstrate an appropriate place for women and men to work together.

Lynn makes another powerful statement: “How strong am I?”  Said a different way… what is my level right now? What can I handle today? I love that she poses those questions as these are questions we can ask ourselves…this is the part of the podcast that we can apply to our own lives. Sometimes, we aren’t in a position of strength and this is a moment where we can be taken advantage of. So, let’s ask ourselves about our own strength and our own thresholds. We need to know what this is for ourselves, so that when the occasion arises to draw (or re-draw) a boundary, that we are able to take control of the situation.

I love how she discusses “Experimenting” with her boundaries. It’s not ‘black and white’, though a lot of people want it to be. It’s just not!  It makes me think about my own inclination to hug people. I am a hugger. That’s just me! But I realize that not everyone wants a hug, and it’s a lesson I continue to learn.  I basically announce that I am a hugger and read the person’s reaction. Usually, I don’t hug people in business settings if it is my first time meeting them. I tend to hug the person I know in the group first. Having said that, sometimes I forget and I think it is important to notice and say sorry to the people I may have made uncomfortable. I believe in a world where hugs are great for everyone, but I also understand other people have a different boundary.

Another concept that occurred to me while I was listening to this episode was about the environmental influences in our careers. Most of us are introduced to many different career choices… how do we decide which job to pick?  If we are introduced to the skills needed to do each of these jobs, we can decide which fits us best. Lynn made a choice to join the army to be educated to obtain the opportunity she needed to be successful.  I believe finding the opportunity for growth is the biggest obstacle for growth. This reminds me that it’s our job to be the pioneers to shine a light on these opportunities… for the incoming workforce. We need to have cross-training programs that allow our new professionals to gain experience.  For Lynn, she now has the influence to make the water industry better, and I look forward to following her leadership.

Listen to Lynn Spivey‘s story here:

https://www.empoweringwomeninindustry.com/podcast/episode/87105822/empowering-women-podcast-lynn-spivey-director-of-public-utilities

Once you’ve listened to the first one, it’s close to impossible not to hit ‘play’ on the next episode…

Read my reflections on the Empowering Women Podcast Episode 2 !

Reflecting on what Service means to me…

There was a man with an amazing smile who got my attention. He was very kind but seemed unsettled as I spoke to him. He had been in the Navy. It turned out he was new to the program and had just been given a service dog, named HEART, to assist him a few months prior to the event. I asked him about HEART and his new experience. We had a brief conversation about getting used to traveling with a service animal, but then he told me a story that I will remember forever. He spoke about how HEART helped him get through the stress of going into the grocery store – and while I could see the anxiety on his face as he told me the story, I thought to myself…I have seen this look before…on my father’s face. My dad might have had a better return to the workforce if given a service dog to help him. I didn’t come to that understanding until I had heard several other stories and the speech from another hero the following day: “If I can take care of him, then I can take care of my family. This dog is my family.” As I watched HEART lead his ward away from the crowd, I was in awe of the depth of service. The dogs who are offering a service, and at the same time being given a service (care)…dogs who have been trained to support Veterans, who have served our country…this cycle of service got me thinking about what ‘Service’ means to me.

Reflecting on Service