April 4, 2014
I recently had the privilege to conduct a Video Interview with the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2014 “IBD Heroes Award,” Mr. Andrew Berlack. This Award is being funded by my Non-Profit Foundation, “Crohn’s Disease Warrior Patrol,” [The "CDWP"] because we want to highlight POSITIVE stories about people with Crohn’s, Colitis and any other Inflammatory Bowel Disease to provide much-needed INSPIRATION living with IBD requires on a daily, hourly and often minute-by-minute basis. There will be more 2014 IBD Heroes because we want it to be dynamic so that when we find a great story we can share it and showcase that “IBD Hero.” It looks like the only limitation will be my ability to edit and post the video interviews with the winners!!!!
I don’t want to spoil the formal announcement of Andrew Berlack’s remarkable story but I think its message is SO INSPIRATIONAL on several different levels that I couldn’t resist providing this “teaser”:
Andrew Berlack WAS a Federal Law Enforcement Officer (he carried a weapon, etc. and was a real Police Officer) and then he got Crohn’s Disease and ultimately had his entire rectum removed and had an Ostomy put in its place. When he was still working as a Police Officer, but suffering terribly from the unpredictable hospitalizations and bouts with Crohn’s Disease, his fellow police -men and –women donated to him some of their vacation days to cover the growing amount of his sick days to stave off their accumulation from disqualifying him from being a Cop – that’s how special this guy is. And it gets better …
He was nevertheless forced into filing for Federal Disability and spent the next 4-5 years learning to live with his ostomy before he considered his next step in life. Most people do this by experimenting with going to different public places with friends or by eating diverse foods. Not Andrew. He chose to assimilate to the world of being an Ostomate by PLAYING ICE HOCKEY. It turns out the “physicality” of hockey tested his ostomy to the extreme and those positive experiences of once again “feeling normal” gave him enough confidence to move forward with his Life Plan (he also got MARRIED during this time period) such that he began working a few hours a week and kept a fire burning for one day returning full-time to Law Enforcement.
Being “consistent” and holding down a physically-demanding job with the ostomy took a few years for Andrew to adjust to but those worries paled in comparison to those which required him to sharpen the tough and reactionary mindset required by any law enforcement position. When I interviewed him, I got the feeling his ubiquitous visualization of 100% positive ostomy outcomes on the physically-demanding hockey rink helped him overcome any such worries but there were practical obstacles which couldn’t be scaled with the help of a slap-shot. The most significant of which involved the weight and snug fit of the typical uniform belt worn by law enforcement officers as it conflicted with the space needed for his ostomy to lie still and uninterrupted. But one night, completely by chance, Andrew saw a policeman on television wearing all his necessary gear on his suspenders. It took me a while to grasp the visual he was describing but suffice it to say, horizontal was no good and vertical was life-altering for Andrew as it fulfilled whatever gear requirements he had to carry while preserving the necessary space for his ostomy so as to avoid any messy accidents.
The fire burning inside him was satiated at first by working a few hours each week in Retail Shopping Centers in “Loss Prevention” policing shoplifters. But once he learned of the different way to “wear” his belt, he was transformed back to a life of potential normalcy. In that regard, Andrew most recently got a job as an “Armed Protective Agent” for a private security company where his various law enforcement assignments include protecting government witnesses and the like. He is not “back” on the police force YET but he is back working and helping enforce the law and living out his dream of protecting people which he thought was lost due to his Crohn’s Disease and the ostomy.
Using our Minds to Teach our Bodies
I am presently organizing some National Hockey League (NHL) surprises for Andrew as his “IBD Hero” Award and you will hopefully hear about it through various promotional efforts but I found the power of his mindset as strong as any medication I have ever taken in my 30 years with Crohn’s Disease. I was also amazed he got married during the middle of his acclimation to the ostomy and while being technically “Disabled.” That proves there’s hope for fools like me who stop dating when “the shit hits the fan” for fear of harming what otherwise might be “the relationship” I’ve been seeking my entire life. That got me to thinking how Andrew’s story is inspirational on a variety of levels and thus I defer to readers of this Blog Post to take from it what you need in order to overcome the obstacles of Inflammatory Bowel Disease which you face and resume your life pursuits. The life dream may be a little different after a diagnosis of IBD but the fire can burn a long time when we use our minds to teach our bodies.