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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meet CSA Spotlight, Bert Schwartz

I became a CSA in 2012. My initial study was through the online portal, but after several attempts to clear my schedule in order to devote the full attention needed to review the course materials, I found the disruptions too overwhelming and re-scheduled the week long course in Northern Virginia. Taking the class in Virginia created an environment that allowed great camaraderie with fellow students and feedback in discussions from others with diverse backgrounds. This created interesting perceptions and points-of-view which added to the enrichment of the materials being presented. To say that the leaders of the CSA course were exceptional does not go far enough! The enthusiasm, the warmth and obvious desire to enlighten the class with their knowledge and experience was phenomenal. Although I have earned advanced degrees, the CSA course was without question the most enjoyable and invigorating educational experience that I ever had. The difference is probably due to the compassion that others have in their hearts to be there for others, but whatever the motivation, it is certainly worth the time and the effort. I have to say that I believe the entire class soaked up all of the information like a sponge. Finally, upon taking the exam, I left feeling that I had done well; and in fact, I did pass and earned the right to represent myself as a CSA.

My first career path was in manufacturing apparel and I followed that road for 21 years until the viability of producing apparel in the United States was not profitable. As I traveled to continue my work in the apparel industry, severe degenerative disc disease forced me to curtail traveling, and ultimately working at all. As I was now bent over 90 degrees from the waist and the breathing and moving period became increasingly difficult. I was fortunate to have a very talented orthopedic surgeon at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who was able to ultimately perform a risky, but life changing procedure. On March 1, 2006 at 7:00 a.m., I was in surgery. After about a week or so I was able to stand up straight and look forward for the first time in almost 17 years! I had been sleeping in a recliner for three years prior to surgery but now that too could change. At some point during my surgery, or post-op in ICU, I had a vision of seeing myself healthy, physically fit and active, and leading a productive life - and that became my mission. When I was released to begin physical rehabilitation, I went after it like a mad man!

After 6 months of physical rehabilitation I was RWA (Ready, Willing & Able) to get back to work in the manufacturing business. For 18 months, I emailed resumes to companies in the industry and received responses like: “Thanks! We’ll be in touch.” I came to realize that this meant, “You’re too old and too expensive…and you have gray hair!” Ageism had never been in my vocabulary before but it finally hit me in the face. I was feeling too good at this point and was not about to let the world put me down as useless! I had some terrific post-operative care and some, well, not so well. This led me to reflect on my history of surgeries and recoveries.

The “Boomer” population is huge, we are turning age 65 at the rate of 10,000 people per day. It has become a topic in every media source. I decided to open my own business to help other people and knew that at my age starting from scratch would be very risky, capital intensive etc., so I looked to franchising and ultimately purchased a HOME HELPERS® and DIRECT LINK® franchise.

My mother had been living in Florida for the last 30 years and we were not able to see her as often as we would have liked. She had a full knee replacement at the age of 88 and a hip replacement at age 91! To say that she was a trooper is an understatement. She, like so many seniors, did not want to give up her independence. She persisted in attempting to perform ADL’s that were not safe for her condition. So, at the age of 92, she broke her other hip while trying to pick up a piece of Kleenex. She had been living with my brother since she was 90 years old and I asked for her to come to Pittsburgh to stay with me and my family after her recovery. My poor brother and his wife needed respite!

The experience that I had with my mother for the last months of her life was wonderful; beyond words to describe but also a confirmation that I had made a great decision to become involved in a business that helps other people and particularly, seniors. They have so much to share and to pass on to the younger generations

The second hip surgery was difficult for her and her recovery was not progressing as well as the first one. She had difficulty with walking, very little stamina and only of short durations. Incontinence became an issue of great embarrassment to her. I just tried to make light of it by reminding her that she used to change my diapers when I was little, and it was now my turn to return the favor! She didn’t really buy that, but she needed the assistance and so it was until she passed on January 26, 2013.

I had the confirming experience that caregivers need their time to mourn when a client/patient passes away. The care and attachment grows quickly and deep for the non-family caregiver just as the love for our own family member never fades. As a business owner, employing people to give care and compassion to our clients/patients is just as important to give that same care and compassion to our caregivers. That to me fulfills the mission!

Bert Schwartz, CSA
Bert was featured in the June 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors