In Awe of Someone Else’s Exploits

Author with Dr. Scott Parazynski


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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It has been said quite appropriately many times—“Never compare yourself with anyone because it will make you feel less or inferior.” But that was not what I felt while listening to Dr. Scott Parazynski.

I had the honor and privilege of being invited to the 2018 Leadership Forum of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington DC this January 2018. The event was a formidable gathering of the various leaders of the world’s biggest society of heart specialists. Numbering almost 200, the event gathered the ACC Cardiovascular Team, ACC Leadership Academy, incumbent ACC governors, incoming ACC governors-elect, incoming Cardiology section chairs, training program directors, ACC chapter executives, incoming cardiovascular team state liaisons, incoming Trustees and Presidential Team and the members of the Assembly of International Governors (AIG) Steering Committee. (I am a member of the AIG Steering Committee – representing the Asia Pacific region.)

Dr. Scott Parazynski was the keynote speaker of the forum. He capped a day of lectures and breakout sessions that included discussions on strategic planning, innovation, managing conflict, systems-of-care for emergencies and leadership by communication. This physician, all around athlete, astronaut, mountain climber, global explorer, book author and father provided the most appropriate counterfoil to the leadership issues discussed throughout the meeting.

He defined another kind of leadership – as he led in many extreme endeavors and unparalleled adventurism. In his talk, he described and relived his many exploits—as an astronaut driven by his early exposure to NASA by his father and his subsequent all-encompassing yearning to be an astronaut someday. He relived his heart-pounding adventures— five missions in outer space including seven spacewalks unrivalled by any other before he ended his 17-year NASA career. He chronicled his timely and courageous work to repair a solar panel that could have led to fatal accidents in space.

He spent a good number of minutes talking about his quest to reach the peak of Mt. Everest—how he agonized from severe excruciating back pain secondary to a ruptured intervertebral disk that ultimately led him to abandon his quest (and break his heart) after 59 days of trekking to reach Camp 3 (just a few stations away from the mountain peak that had remained his ultimate aspiration). Then he astounded everyone when he described how he labored to go back again to Mt. Everest after a surgery and two years of physical therapy and medication. Talk about persistence, grit and determination.

From NASA to space then to the world’s highest peak, he then went on to explore and descend into level zero of Masaya Volcano—a treacherous lava lake in Nicaragua. With all his conquests and exploits, one is just about to conclude that this guy is not human – prompting someone in the audience to ask during the open forum – “Is there anything else you cannot do?”

He vividly retold all these experiences in his book The Sky Below – which chronicled other interesting dimensions of his remarkable journey – including how he trained to be a cosmonaut in Russia, how he raised a beautiful autistic daughter and how he finally found true love.

After his talk, he was rewarded with a standing ovation by the enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. This man clearly had greater achievements and adventures than what anyone could aspire for in one’s lifetime (or even lifetimes). He clearly defined – not only tenacity and stamina, but also ambition and skill.

I surmised that nobody felt small – or less. The talk was actually uplifting and rewarding as it demonstrated how one’s passion and driving spirit could push anyone to accomplish anything and everything in life. I was just in awe that someone like him, a colleague in the medical profession (he is an emergency physician) could accomplish this much – in so little time.

Truth be told, his life is deservingly one for the books. It was a blessing to listen to him and relive his experiences. Swarmed by instant fans and adorers after his talk, he gladly obliged to sign every book and pose with any selfie-taker. I was one of them – shamelessly, unabashedly.

May 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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