Heidi Siefkas was a happily married, globetrotting professional who seemingly had it all—until a tree limb in New York’s Hudson River Valley struck her down, breaking her neck and leaving her unconscious.
Suddenly, life as she knew it stopped.
She lost her independence. She lost her career. She watched her marriage disintegrate as she confronted a trail of devastating lies about her husband’s double life.
She had lost all that mattered, but she was a survivor.
She fought to restore her health, repair her broken heart, and rebuild herself. Along the way, she gained clarity about her core values, ultimately coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to have it all.
Heidi’s most recent book, When All Balls Drop, shows us how it’s possible to look up in spite of pain, deceit, and loss.
Heidi’s memoir–rich with hope and humor–inspires anyone who’s had to confront tragedy and reassess their life in the wake of life-altering events…
Author Interview: Heidi Siefkas
Can you tell us how the title ties in with the book and your story?
My life-altering event and all the changes that ensued, I refer to as “when all balls drop.”
At the time, I was juggling a successful career, marriage, home ownership, healthy, active lifestyle, family, and friends.
I was so busy I didn’t take into account my life’s path. Was I happy? Was this what I wanted?
The book contains three underlying themes: health, love and career. Can you tell us a little about each?
Undeniably all are important to happiness and having it all. I’ll talk about all separately, but in my story, all three dramatically changed and simultaneously that fall.
Health: In a split second, my health and possible recovery was in question. I spent the following nine-months physically healing from a broken neck while wearing an immobilization back and neck brace. I gradually gained my freedom by weaning myself away for my protective cage. Up to that point in my life, I had not had a broken bone. I was active and adventurous. Just the day before, I had hiked in the Catskills and climbed a fire tower. I couldn’t believe that by taking out the trash, such a mundane and seemingly safe task, that I was in a heck of a mess. However, through my experience, I learned quickly why health should be everyone’s number one priority. There is great wisdom behind the countless numbers of cultures that toast with “salud” or “to your health.” I’m forever grateful for the health I regained; thus, I strive to maintain my active, healthy lifestyle.
Love: I discuss love and relationships in detail throughout my memoir. I was so fortunate to have a supportive clan of friends, peers, and family from all walks of life and across the globe whom had my back during my full-blown life catastrophe. However, on the flip side of relationships, I do share my painful discovery of my husband’s betrayal and double life. This major piece of my story was kept a secret from my family and friends until I felt strong enough to disclose what no wife, girlfriend, or partner wants to tell. While recovering physically from my accident took patience and courage, I not only needed to emotionally heal myself from the trauma of breaking my neck, but also in coming to terms with a failed marriage. Could I forgive a con man?
Career: As I mentioned, I was juggling it all while traveling to tourism industry expositions around the globe. I quickly climbed up the ladder of an international travel technology company in marketing and pr, leading a team of dozens of communications professionals and contractors. I excelled at my position and identified with the role. When I was unable to physically return to my job, the company forced my resignation. I lost my career. At the time, I didn’t know it was an opportunity to reevaluate what I really wanted to do with my talents. Did I want to work for someone else? Could I follow my passions? Could I really do what I love: write, inspire, travel, and learn.
Can you explain the concept of looking up?
Through tragedy, hardship, and loss, many turn to religion or healing philosophies.
As I never felt comfortable with the lofty words of yogis or a connection to a particular religion, I didn’t choose those routes. I decided to reframe my situation, which I call looking up.
It is a simple principle that anyone can use. However, don’t be fooled. It takes conscious effort. Looking up and its shift of perspective have two parts.
First, you must be aware of your surroundings, appreciating the beauty around you and also the hazards. In essence, you must be more in the moment.
Secondly, you positively spin each situation. You may not have control over your boss’ mood, another driver’s stupidity, or even your DNA, but you do have the ability to change your thoughts and perspective.
How has this book changed your life?
It was a tremendous challenge and my highest personal accomplishment to date. It goes above and beyond my previous accolades of running the Boston Marathon and living abroad becoming bilingual. However, with that said, it was extremely heartbreaking reliving my experience and beyond upsetting. Years after my accident, I experienced the anguish without the numbing cocktail of medications from my doctors and therapists.
Reliving the experience through writing further solidified my lesson. It is one thing to know it. It is completely another writing it and sharing it with the world. My inspirational memoir is meant to inspire others in their lives to look up in spite of whatever gets in their way.
With When All Balls Drop, one of my dreams has come to fruition. And, I’m continuing to live my dream by writing a sequel to this book. It will share my continued healing through travel to my roots in small-town Wisconsin, moving out of my home in South Florida, and heading to Patagonia for a walkabout.
When All Balls Drop Book Excerpt
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
I awoke feeling cold in a stark, square hospital room. I tried to look around as I heard familiar voices. I was lying in a bed covered with a flimsy, white herringbone blanket. Both my mother and my husband were sitting to my right. I heard the beeping of a monitor and several unfamiliar voices. Why was I here? How did I get here?
A nurse with a long, blond ponytail, glasses, and blue scrubs came in and approached my bed to check my vitals and IV bag. Looking up from her clipboard, she asked, “How’s your pain?”
I tried to nod, but I couldn’t. My neck was in a brace. Scared, I said, “I’m okay. I think?” I looked at my mother’s face. She was crying. I passed my hand over my face, which was tender and swollen. I was in a hospital gown with tubes coming out of my arms and plastic cups around my calves. Every few minutes the cups would inflate and deflate. Combined with the dissonant mixture of rhythmic beeps from my monitor, the buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights, telephones ringing, intercom crackling, and staff talking, my already-high levels of anxiety and fear rose.
Although I do not remember the few days prior to my waking up, my mother and my husband, AJ, had been by my side continually. My mother came closer to my bed, carefully touched my hand, and said, “Heidi, you arrived at the emergency room via ambulance after being struck by a tree limb outside your apartment.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Five days. I’ve been here for the last four days.”
Confused, I asked, “AJ, did you see it happen?”
Without much expression, he said, “I didn’t know it happened. A neighbor saw the limb strike you and called the police immediately.”
My mother continued, “The doctor and EMTs said that only minutes after being knocked out, you were taken by the fire department to where you are now, in the ICU at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York.”
AJ smiled and said, “Thank goodness you’re addicted to that iPhone of yours. That’s how I found you. You took it with you when you left to take out the trash and go for a walk. When you didn’t come back, I called. You didn’t answer. Instead, a doctor did. He told me you had been struck by a tree and were in the ER.”
Over the next few hours, they continued to put the pieces of the puzzle together for me. Apparently, by the time AJ had arrived at the hospital the day of the accident, I had already been admitted. The doctor who answered my phone didn’t know what to say to AJ, as many tests had not yet been done. The possibilities, however, were grim: I could be paralyzed, severely handicapped, or worse. The doctor said the tree limb had given me multiple fractures on my face, head, and—most critically—a broken cervical vertebra. The right side of my face was extremely swollen and my right eye severely bruised; thankfully, there was no damage to my eyesight. The doctor told AJ that as the staff was tearing off my clothes and preparing for scans and tests, I yelled for him in a panic. “AJ, where is he? Call him. Please, call him. He doesn’t know where I am!”
The doctor told me, “He’s on his way. I just spoke to your husband, AJ.” Because of my outburst, the doctor sedated me to prevent further damage to my spine. I was sent through four CT scans that day before being transferred to the ICU that evening.
While I was in the ICU, AJ had to make some of the most difficult phone calls of our marriage and perhaps of his life. We had met nearly ten years before while working in a restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, he in the kitchen and I waiting tables. He was originally from a small town in Brazil’s cheese state, Minas Gerais. I was from a small town in Wisconsin, the cheese state. AJ was a short, green-eyed Latin version of Tiger Woods. I was not nearly as dark and had many freckles, but I was also short with calico-green eyes.
When we first met, we communicated mostly in Spanish, as his English was poor. Having returned from living abroad in Spain only months before we met, I was eager to speak Spanish, and Spanish was closer to his native Portuguese than English. So, one evening after work, I asked him out—how very forward of me. He accepted and things moved fast. We quickly moved in together, but because we were both in our early twenties and from either divorced or separated families, we waited years to marry.
In the hospital the evening of the accident and faced with the need to contact my mother in Massachusetts and my father in Florida, AJ hesitated. Although he knew both of my parents well, he dreaded calling. What husband wants to say what no parent ever wants to hear—that an accident had happened on his watch?
My mother, only three hours away, gathered her things and arrived the next day. My father talked to AJ and then to the doctor, who could explain my condition in detail without AJ’s thick Brazilian accent. He would stay in Florida for an update. Then AJ called my employer’s office after hours to inform the company about my accident. He explained that although I had planned to return to the office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after working remotely in upstate New York, I would be unable to return as quickly as the next week.
Although I didn’t remember any of these days, apparently I had used my beloved iPhone to update Facebook, write e-mails, talk to my father, and text childhood friends.
Via Twitter@HeidiSiefkas29 Sep 09
had a tree accident in NY this wknd, i’ll be in the hospital recovering for a few weeks until the end of October. i’m not a good patient.
That shows I was convinced I was the same one-woman show as before, juggling a successful career as a globetrotting VP of marketing and public relations in the travel industry, being happily married to an aspiring Brazilian chef, owning a home in Florida, and actively hiking, traveling, running, and adventuring in my free time. I wasn’t going to let head trauma, a broken neck, or heavy sedatives get in the way!
Heck, I’d been a highly competitive overachiever since birth, probably stemming from being an only child. Convinced I was a sort-of super woman, I had been on autopilot.
About Heidi Siefkas
Heidi Siefkas is an author and adventurer. Originally from small-town Wisconsin, she lives in Kauai and also calls the Midwest and South Florida home. Heidi is currently crafting a sequel to her memoir, When All Balls Drop, embracing both her wanderlust and love of writing by documenting her many travels.
To read Heidi’s true story of survival and life-change, visit Amazon for your print or ebook copy.