When you rule out everything else, what remains must be the truth

Daryl Hatton Cardiac, Health, Personal 2 Comments

Today I’ve been asking myself (gently – this isn’t a beating myself up session) how I got here i.e. what caused my heart attack? I thought I’d look through all the common risk factors to see how they apply.

I just finished reading the Vancouver Coastal Health Cardiac Surgery Patient Guide and the Heart & Stroke Foundation Cardiac Care Guide suggestions for having a “healthy heart” diet. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that I’ve been doing most of these things for quite a while – no easy fix hidden in here. I would be considered a good practitioner of their program and yet I’m still here in VGH waiting for a bypass. So, I interpret this as my occasional dietary abuses (I love soft cheese and desserts but have rationed them out pretty well, especially the last couple of years) are only a small contributing factor to my current condition. I forgive myself for these transgressions – I have to live a little, too! My cholesterol levels are only slightly elevated and weren’t even in the range for treatment according to my GP. Now that I’ve had the attack the doctors are jumping on it of course…

I get some exercise – at least 90 and sometimes 140 minutes of walking per week for endurance and 2 one hour Pilates sessions for strength and flexibility. I also walk a lot at work and around downtown and tend to walk pretty quickly everywhere. When I put on my FitBit I was averaging 7500 steps per day outside my exercise times. I have a big flight of stairs to get to my office and I’m in/out a dozen times a day. Not a marathon man but not bad.

What other risk factors remain?

I’m not an angry person and I don’t bottle up my emotions (far from it!) so that’s not it.

I never smoked (anything) and avoid second hand smoke so that’s not it.

I’m not diabetic. Apparently not even close.

I’m overweight. Not huge but not just a little bit, either. Probably 25 pounds. I’ve been trying to lose some for the last five years. This prompted all the diet changes I mention above. Results to date? Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Then, my first 9 days in hospital? Down 10 pounds. Probable cause? I’m not drinking wine every day which I do to help reduce stress. Hmmmm….

My family cardiac genetic makeup is apparently a big component of this. Most of the males on my father’s side of the family had significant cardiac trouble in their late 50s and early 60s. The head cardiologist at VGH CCU was VERY surprised at my situation and claimed he would never have bet that I’ve be in here given my relative health and age. When I walked into Emergency they were even skeptical that I was having a heart attack and only really believed me after the heart enzyme test confirmed that I had an event. After the surprising result of my angiogram the cardiologist said “you just got bad cards – play them as well as you can”. Fortunately he believes that given my heart is actually quite healthy except for this one set of corroded pipes with the plumbing rework I should live “to my normal full life expectancy”. I like him.

However, to me, it is still important to look at why this issue has occurred almost 10 years earlier than the others in my family. And after ruling everything else out and factoring in the bits that have had some effect, the one risk factor I’m left with to look at is stress.

Stress. The one constant in my life. The question is not “Is there stress?”. The question is “How do I handle it?”

I’m an entrepreneur who for some reason enjoys creating startup companies. Wikipedia defines “startup” as a company designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. At the beginning we essentially know nothing and are searching for answers to a bunch of questions we don’t even know exist yet. We don’t know who our customers will be, why they will buy from us, who else we might be competing with and if what are trying to do is even possible. All we have is an idea or three and some faith that we can figure everything else out.

The dictionary defines stress like this: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Starting and running a company is stressful because the process is FILLED with adverse or demanding circumstances. And I love it. It is one of the most creative, fulfilling things I can imagine doing. It brings me great satisfaction and sometimes even great joy.

I have a belief that people in business don’t feel truly successful unless they’ve had to struggle and overcome significant challenges along the way to their success. In that light, the startup world is a fantastic playground filled with opportunities to test myself against the world and, when I win, feel successful. Frankly, it is kind of addictive. Work to me is not a four letter word. It is not a separate thing I do to fund the rest of “my life”, it is an integral part “of my life”. I manifest my hopes and dreams for me, my family, my community and my world through my work. It is a source of intensely satisfying relationships and opportunities to grow into a bigger, better version of me.

So, given that I’m massively reluctant to give up one of the things that is creating significant stress in my life (the other, family related things are completely non-negotiable and not up for discussion), I’m left with a question: How can I handle the stress better?

It is not as if I’m all that bad at handling it now. In fact, I probably handle it significantly better than most people I know. Major issues roll off my back like water on a duck.

But the long term existential threats to the company and to my personal finances are taking a toll (obviously) and I need to find a way to do it better. Getting the company away from the danger zone would be a huge relief and cause a massive reduction in stress for me. It has been tantalizingly close for a year now but I can’t quite seem to push it over the finish line.

While I continue to try to get the business to a more solid place I’ll search for ways to reduce my stress. Nothing obvious comes to mind so if you have any techniques that work for you in big, long term situations like this, please leave a comment or drop me a note.

Or, bring over a bottle of nice red wine and we can reduce our stress together…

Next up: Live here at ICU

Heart ache

Daryl Hatton Cardiac, Health, Personal 5 Comments

Some good news and some bad news…

Good news: They successfully did the angio, mapped out the areas that are constricted and think they may even be able to repair some of the damage from the heart attack with something they want to try.

Bad news: The something they want to try is open heart bypass surgery. I go in sometime within a week.

Why: I have a genetic (hereditary) heart defect where the artery group that feeds the front of my heart is, well, pretty clogged. The artery that feeds the back of my heart is in perfect shape indicating this isn’t a stress/diet/cholesterol problem although those things may have contributed a bit. Other than the problem with the first artery my heart is in great shape. The head cardiologist came to me and said that this is completely unexpected result and that he truly thought I was going home today. They are gobsmacked. Heart problems plague the males on my dad’s side so I’m not all that surprised. Because of that I carry around Aspirin and took two on the way to the hospital which apparently really helped…

Solution: Replace the bad piping with good piping. The cardiologist believes that after this is done I should be able to live to my full life expectancy.

Obviously I’m not thrilled with this result but given that I have a chance to fix it instead of dying unexpectedly from a massive heart attack (which I appear to have narrowly avoided) I’m good to keep going.

This will obviously slow me down for quite a few weeks but if my dad’s experience of his bypass is any indication I’ll be good as new in no time.

As a family and a company we will need your help and won’t hesitate to call on you for it.

Thanks in advance for your love and support.

Next up: Rule everything else out…

Special Report: The Human Side of Cardiac Care

Daryl Hatton Cardiac, Health, Personal Leave a Comment

On July 11th, 2014 at 6:25 PM Daryl Hatton, your experienced Action News Reporter, walked into the Emergency Department at Vancouver General Hospital to begin an in-depth first-hand look at emergency cardiac care in this city.

The next eight articles will describe the personal side of this journey. They were originally designed as stand alone articles but have been combined into this special report with minimal editing.

Here are the relevant posts:

Please comment and share your own thoughts and experiences on this topic.

What’s the best place to work with ADD?

Daryl Hatton Entrepreneurship Leave a Comment

I’m traveling on business. Sitting alone in a noisy bar in Toronto. By choice. Plowing through my email. And making hay.

A pretty young woman at the next table shouts, “How can you WORK in here???” Explaining it seems futile. Too loud. I shrug my shoulders and she turns back to her friends.

But the truth is that, for me, it is a great place to work. As with many CEOs, I suffer a mild case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). It is difficult for me to stay {SQUIRREL} on one thought or issue at a time. There is just SO MUCH to see. It can be frustrating at times.

However, I also believe that it is one of the things that helps me be unusually creative in life and be able to see outside the normal business-as-usual box. I know experientially that common limits on thinking about a problem are just safe/lazy behaviors acting as barriers to innovation and exploration. I also know that when I give myself permission to let myself throw aside the rule book and see what really works for me I usually learn something worth sharing.

I’ve discovered what works for me to get work done is busy, noisy, chaotic environments. Like bars. And coffee shops. And restaurants. I’ve found I’m massively productive in these environments. I can tame an overflowing email inbox or write important messages in much less time than if I’m in my office. In fact, I’ll frequently ditch my terribly quiet, beautiful, bricks & sticks, modern-glass-walls-in-heritage-building office and head down the street in Gastown to visit the local barista, pull up a too-small table and hunker down to work. I’ve thought of giving up my space to my team and just parking in the board room when I’m in the office. Seriously.

I think it works because there is SO MUCH stimulation, it is actually calming on my brain. I’m amazed that I can tune it all out and really, really, intensely focus on what I’m doing. It is not like I’m an automaton lost in my thoughts. I notice and interact with the people around me or the waiter/waitress as if nothing else was going on. But I’m invariably drawn back to work once that interaction slows down even a little bit. And I slip right back in the zone, without even a minor fuss. It is a wonderful sensation and I love it.

If you are someone who has trouble focusing, try it out. Not once, not twice but enough so that you can know for sure if it works for you.

Works for me. Big time. Good luck.

Eulogy for Art Grunder

Daryl Hatton Personal Leave a Comment

This speech was given at my step-dad Art Grunder’s Memorial Service Monday May 12, 2014.

Speaking notes are below the video.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Daryl Hatton. I’m Darlene’s eldest son. From her, I’ve inherited a predilection to cry over sappy commercials on TV so we’ll see how this talk goes. Right now I wish I had more of Art’s emotional calm…

My mom had a tough time being single again after her divorce. For a while that period seemed much like a harsh Prairie winter which chills to the bone and makes you wonder how you will survive.

But then mom met Art. And it was as if spring was here to stay.  Like a flower pushing up out of the ground to chase the warmth of the sun, mom blossomed.

And like all good children, we tried to vet mom’s new boyfriend (turnaround is fair play, right?). But Art was a big challenge. He was quiet and reserved, from first appearances a very nice gentleman, a good listener but not much of a social talker and really, sincerely, a bit hard to ‘sus-out’ at first.

But what was easy to see was the spring in my mom’s step, the smile on her face and the pronounced and prolonged giggle in her voice when she talked about him. From the first days they met, she felt very safe, he made her very happy and, based on our best attempts to flush out even a little clue from him about how he felt, she made him happy, too.

New lovers! So cute. They’d shyly hold hands when they thought no one was looking. She talked about how Art was always the perfect gentleman, how he held the door for her, how he rode his bike to visit her so that he had to go home before dark, always called to make sure she was safe when she went home at night, and how he had the nicest friends. Good people hang out with good people and in that area, the tremendous respect he had in the community and especially here at the church was a great indicator of how well he lived his life.

I sometimes wonder how the collision between our boisterous, opinionated, gregarious family and Art’s more reserved style affected him. They say opposites attract because they complement each other. Art’s self-confident strength and calm manner gave my mom all sorts of permission to be the social butterfly she likes to be. Mom’s energy and enthusiasm for social things helped Art step out and have more fun. I can recall, especially in the early days of their marriage, hearing comments from their friends about how nice it was to see Art happy again. Just like the tinkering he did with the tractors in Ontario, I think he simply took the opportunities in being with Darlene to experiment a bit with who he was and how he lived. For Art was a disciplined man in thought, word and deed. Some have said he was the most disciplined person they had ever met.

One thing I know about Art was that he not only had a sharp, dry wit but that he had a VERY sharp mind that missed nothing.  He enjoyed sitting quietly in a room observing the conversation flow around him, only occasionally supporting it with facts or observations. I know he had some strongly held opinions but I never saw him try to push his views on anyone else. In that way he was not only respectful but also very tolerant because even if we didn’t agree I never felt that he judged me for my differing opinion.

He was never boastful of his accomplishments except for the occasional subtle hint that his bike ride that day was perhaps a little more difficult than it might first appear. And yet, he was always very curious about my family’s accomplishments. He loved to hear stories about the ups and downs of my new business and the sports and educational adventures of our children.

My sister Kate and her son Pierce wrote a piece about this just last night. Here is what they said:

Art was an amazing Grandfather…

He had the patience of a Saint and the guidance of a Scholar.

He showed his love through play, and never passed on a request to go for a bike ride, or a walk, a swim or a ski.  He’d crack open a rock and would teach.  He’d lie in a hallway and roll a ball back and forth for hours, never complaining that his playmate was only 10 months old and was more likely to “gum” the ball than toss it.

Art loved to see his grandchildren smile.

He knew how to do it – it usually started with his trademark chant on someone’s birthday of “We want cake, we want cake!” or he created it on Christmas mornings by playing with you and your newest toy. Or you’d see him in the audience at your school concert.

And then there was that red nose… he’d wear it trick or treating and never ask for any of your candy…  He’d get a smile from you by offering you an ice cream cone while at a music concert in the Village.  He’d for sure get a smile out of you when he’d take his bike over a jump that you never imagined he would attempt.

Just last month, it was a lovely April evening, just after dinner.  He and his youngest grandchild Pierce went out to the patch of grass at Grandpas for their ritual rocket launch.

Art pumped up the nerf rocket blaster and shot one off into the sky.  They watch it blast high above the trees and waited to see where it would land. If it hit a tree, Pierce would climb it to recover it, if not Art would retrieve it and launch another mission.

That sunny April evening was Art’s last rocket launch… no more planned details of the next mission. Quite possibly no more smiles.

For the next 24 days we watched his grandchildren come to his bedside, gently take his hand and thank him.  And still, even in the toughest of times he brought a gentle smile to their face with his loving grace and quiet kindness.

Thank you Art for being a wonderful, giving, loving and genuine Grandfather to our children. We love that you loved them.


Art was a physically strong man, much stronger than his slight frame might lead you to believe. I have to admit my awe at his ability to windsurf the ocean with men forty years his junior. His grip, even as recent as three weeks ago, was one of the strongest I’ve ever experienced. He was also a very stoic man. In his final months and weeks leading up to his passing he experienced lots of pain but worked very hard to not even show a tiny bit of it.

Earlier this year, in spite of the mounting pain, Art decided to take “just one more trip”. This time, it was to Australia. And so they set out on yet another adventure. I think Art was an experienced traveler before he met Darlene but together the two of them definitely managed to cover a big chunk of the globe: Africa, Egypt, Cambodia, China, Israel, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Venice, Turkey, etc., etc., etc.

I think they visited all these different places because Art had a tremendous curiosity about people, their history, their culture and how they fit into the big puzzle of this world. It wasn’t enough to read about it or watch a show about it – he had to experience it for himself. This desire for an authentic experience provided them many, many “quality moments”. I know these memories will help fill the hole Darlene feels in her life right now.

Some say “show me a grateful man and I’ll show you a happy man”. Aesop said, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls”. Art seemed to be very grateful all the time. Even doing simple things for him like helping fix their computers and Internet connections (which break all the time – grrrrr) produced a very sincere expression of gratitude. One of the reasons Art could be grateful like he was is because he was also a very generous man. He generously spent precious time and effort to take care of those around him.

It was interesting to watch an evolution of sorts. It was wonderful that in the last few years Art started to hang around near the door when we were leaving after a visit. At these times we tend to give lots of hugs and “I Love Yous” and Art started to quietly join the line for his turn. At first it was a bit awkward for him but over a little while he became much more comfortable and in the last few months really leaned in to the hugs.

In the days leading up to his passing, Art and Darlene were still a happy couple, even more in love than ever before. It was beautiful and inspiring to come into the hospice room and see them sleeping, mom lying in a recliner chair next to Art’s bed, holding hands and gently snoring in rhythm together. Or, even when he could no longer speak, to see the brightening of Art’s eyes and the grin on his face when mom would come back into the room at the hospice from doing chores at home. While some couples grow apart over time, it was a blessing to watch them do exactly the opposite.

With Art now gone I’d like to express my gratitude to him.

Art, I’m grateful for the tremendous love you had for my mom, for the amazing companion you were to her, for the memories you created with her and for the soft and gentle ways you looked out for her and supported her so very well.

I’m grateful for the way you included my entire family in your life, the generosity of your spirit and the warmth of your companionship.

I’m also grateful for bringing us into your family, and bringing them into our lives. David, Linda and their families are very dear to us. I sincerely hope we can stay close with them.

Art, you’ve only been gone a few days but you are already greatly missed. Safe travels kind sir. I hope our paths will cross again sometime.