I am truly excited to be a part of Headspring, not only as COO, but now as President of Headspring Healthcare. Headspring is a strong advocate of the stakeholder model, which means we evaluate all decisions based on the value they will create for one or more of our stakeholders, without detracting value from any of them. This win-win-win approach is part of what attracted me to Headspring. They’re a purpose-driven company, truly focused on amplifying the positive impact they make.
Our launch into the Healthcare realm brings this sense of purpose to a whole new level. Working in Healthcare is a privilege. It’s an important mission. And for me—like for many of us in the industry—it’s personal. Here’s the story behind why creating products that improve or save people’s lives is so very important to me.
When I met my wife, Judi was a divorced, single mother with a blond, spirited 2-year-old daughter, Meggie. My earliest, best memory of Meggie is her standing on our brass bed, yelling at the top of her voice “you’re not my Daddy.” It took us months to become a family and she fought it all the way. But then, at that moment, with her on our bed, I resolved to win the heart of this little girl and her mother. It may sound strange to remember this event, but as time passed, Meggie’s disease took her speech and her mobility. It’s as a 3-year-old that I remember Meggie at her best: a rambunctious, vocal little girl. Several months later, we moved to Connecticut. Judi reminded me of Meggie’s first words at our new house: “Walt, you’re my Daddy now.” And so I was.
Meggie was unique, not the least for being a Sanfilippo’s child. Had we stayed in central Pennsylvania, had we not moved near Yale and the Shriver Center, I doubt she would ever have had a diagnosis. Judi described Meggie at this time as a “spitfire.” The doctors called it acute hyperactivity and part of her condition. I called it fast. Meggie had hands of lightning, grabbing, touching, and upsetting everything she could reach. We put her in the shopping cart at the store to have a hope of slowing her down. Not really. Judi and I developed our teamwork by catching, replacing, and soon anticipating what Meggie would grab next. We ruined a lot of store displays, but finally figured it out.
Store patrons were not always so lucky. Passing by the pickles was a man bent over in sweatpants and a t-shirt. The shirt had ridden up, exposing a bit of flesh often attributed to plumbers. Meggie, faster than we could catch, reached out and stuck her finger into the exposed fold, causing the man to jump forward into the shelf of pickles, as Meggie pulled his sweatpants down to his knees. What can you say to an angry, pickle-juice-covered, disrobed man? “Oops, sorry,” and a badly suppressed giggle.
Our favorite story happened in a hamburger joint. As we passed, a man with a hamburger in hand was ready for his first bite, Meggie reached out and pulled the burger from him. I caught her hands; Judi grabbed the burger from Meggie and put it back into the man’s hands before he even moved. Again, “Oops, sorry.” You had to admire the teamwork.
When the State of Connecticut didn’t have a program for Meggie, when her school district couldn’t provide what she needed, what could we do? Judi called her teachers and started a school. Now, 25 years later, the LightHouse School remains a place where small miracles occur daily. It serves 100s of kids and adults that have no place to go. It’s staffed by wonderful, caring teachers, aids, and specialists that make a difference in special lives. Several parents donated homes to the school, so other parents could get an occasional rest from the needs of their children. Never underestimate the power of Super Moms to change the world.
Other professional educators and doctors were less lucky in their interactions with Meggie. Two stories are worth retelling.
Judi and I were married a few years after we moved to Connecticut. The day before the wedding, Judi insisted we have formal pictures taken at a studio about an hour’s ride from the house. As we were driving home, Judi turned to me and said “did you pick up Meggie from school today”? Of course, I had been with her all day, and yes, we left Meggie at school for two hours. Her classroom teacher had taken Meggie to the office of Director of Special Services, a wonderful man named John. John and Judi had recently been fighting over the cost of services for Meggie, John dutifully wanting to reduce the cost to the town and Judi not only saying “No,” but asking for more. When we got to John’s office, Meggie had turned a neat, prim office full of small memorabilia, into one of those places struck by a tornado. We apologized over and over and took Meggie home. A few weeks later, at the next round of service negotiations, John opened with a new proposal. It went something like, “What do you want? You got it.” Thanks, Meggie.
The second story is “the new dentist and nine fingers.” You see, Meggie used to bite when she got frustrated. This brand new dentist greeted us by saying, “No need for parents to come in. We’re experienced, we’ll handle it.” We tried to explain it to him, but….as we’d done many times before, Judi and I sat down in the waiting room and waited for the inevitable. From the other side of the door, we heard “Now Meggie, don’t bite, now Meggie, now, now, YEOOW.” I think a different dentist finished her cleaning that day.
The night Meggie passed away, Judi, Meggie, and my parents went out for dinner. When we finished, getting Meggie out of a crowded restaurant was very much like when she was a little girl. I guided her between the chairs, Judi watching her hands and the relief once we were through. By then, Meggie was not able to get into a car alone. I picked her up and lifted her into the seat. It always surprised me how easily 100 pounds of kid lifted. And so it was with Meggie. The burden was always light. Not because it was easy, but because we loved her.
Meggie is buried in Judi’s hometown, in a soft, quiet place. Meggie enriched our lives in so many ways, making each person better having known her. I know that is true for her sisters, her grandparents, and Judi. For me, Meggie brought me from a self-centered young man to a loving father. She taught me a gentle patience and love, in her own, unique way. Like the music of Mozart, her beauty was not in loud, grand accomplishments, but in the small, simple turn of phrase. I loved her very much.