Welcome to another episode of “10 Words or Less,” in which I ask brief questions of interesting people and ask brief answers in return. Today’s guest has is not easily classified: He’s an author, a professional speaker focused on wellness, and an official spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, all while he keeps his day job working for Canada’s largest telecom. His book is “From Survivor to Thriver, The Story of a Modern-Day Tin Man." Remember, “10 Words” is an ethic, not a limit, so to those of you at home, please, no counting. If you think it’s so easy, let’s see you do it, especially on the fly.
This is an edited version of the interview. If you prefer, watch the full video interview.
Name Brian Campkin
Born when, where Dec. 3, 1960, Trenton, Ontario, Canada
Resides now Whitby, Ontario
Job "I work for Rogers Communications. My role is an inside sales manager, selling their portfolio of products to small business."
Family circumstance "Married, three daughters, eldest is also married, and I have a grandson."
Something you learned before age 10 that still matters "Your word is your bond."
An early influence outside your family “Bullying. When I was in grade school, I wasn’t the biggest kid in the class, but I had a sense of humor and could run fast, and both of those got me out of a ton of trouble. Even being the smallest, I still came to their rescue. It’s just something I won’t stand for."
A historical figure you particularly admire "John Lennon. I like where he came from, I like where he got to, I don’t like how he ended, but that wasn’t his doing. That was a bully."
Your defining moment "I think it was having to take on heart disease. It changed who I was, how I thought of things, how I reacted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m a lot better than I used to be, with a broken heart or not."
Your broken heart? "I was diagnosed with heart disease in 2007. At the time I was 46 and in the best shape of my life, or so I thought, and I was on the tennis court and couldn’t breathe. Five weeks of tests and an angiogram later, it was determined that of my four main arteries, three were clogged at 100 percent. I was firing on one cylinder."
Before surgery, rate your health awareness, 1-10. “Seven."
And still, until the tennis court, you weren’t aware of this defect in your body "I wasn’t aware that heart disease could be prevalent through your family history and genetics, and that’s what hit me. My dad went on a vacation to Florida in 1991, and the day before he was to return at the age of 61, had a massive heart attack and died. I didn’t realize that that was in my gene pool."
Did he have other risk factors that might have masked the genetics? “Yeah. He was a smoker, he was overweight, he didn’t exercise, he didn’t eat that well. Different generation, right?"
Something that surprised you about having surgery “What you’re able to bounce back from, and how fast. They had me up and walking pretty quick. To be wheeled into that operating room and have your heart in the hand of a surgeon and his team, that’s faith."
Something that surprised you about the recovery "That first sneeze hurt like a son of a gun, and it came out of nowhere."
Did you always have a speaker inside of you? "Absolutely not. I almost failed Grade 5 because I wouldn’t do the public-speaking assignment. I almost failed Grade 10 Theater Arts because I wouldn’t do an improv. I only took that program because I followed a cute girl into it. And I couldn’t finish my speech at my own wedding because I was too shy."
Is it helpful to have a near-death story, when you speak? "The reason I share my story is I speak from two voices, if you like. Out of one side of my mouth is the voice of hope. To those who’ve been diagnosed, I’m proof that there’s life after the knife. For those that haven’t, I can teach them the guidelines of prevention, to can keep them away from 'treatment trail,' if you like."
A significant way you’re different today "When you go through something like this, you tend to see things differently. Driving to work, I don’t get fussed about someone cutting me off or a bus getting in front of me. Am I perfect yet? No. But I just find a good radio station or a good thought, and just go there, instead of letting all those insignificant things in life bring you down."
Something surprising about writing a book "People always say, ‘How long did that take? It must have been daunting.’ The story was burning inside, so to release it was the easiest part. The hardest part is as Joe Public, just some guy out of Whitby, Ontario, getting a publisher, and someone that believes in your story. I wrote it in four months, part-time, mostly on weekends, and it was actually it was actually a great therapeutic exercise. I’d forgotten some things."
Will you write another? "People want to know if there’ll be a sequel. I’m hoping there won’t be an event that causes that. Right now, the answer would be no. I want to make a success of this book."
What would success look like? "I want to be part of curing heart disease here in Canada and abroad, and 'create more survivors,' which is the mantra of the Heart and Stroke Association of Canada. They've supported me, by the CEO writing the forward, I have a heart-healthy recipe at the end of each chapter, and I’m lucky to have their logo adorn the back jacket as well."
Something people don’t understand “There’s a stigma of 'this won’t happen to me.' We just believe that this only happens to other people. Yet, a good friend of mine, two weeks ago, I had to go to his dad’s funeral. He suffered a massive stroke at home. He'd just retired, was just starting to enjoy the grandkids, and who knows what was on the other side of that. I want those stories to go away."
A goal you haven’t reached yet Still haven’t gotten not the top of my tennis ladder, but I’m working on it. When I had that shortness of breath on the court, I was in the lower division, working my way just to the top of that tier. This past fall league, I did make it to the top tier, and ended up 6th of 36. I was told I would never play tennis again, so that’s why there’s a burn."
A question I should have asked but didn’t "Why the Tin Man?"
And the answer is? “My youngest was about 12-13 years old when I was diagnosed, and her favorite movie was “Wizard of Oz,” so I explained my situation like this: I was the Tin Man and my heart was broken, and I had to go see the Wizard, who was a surgeon, and he was going to fix me. She said, ’So they’re going to cut you open, move a bunch of stuff around, and make you better?’ I said, “Yeah, you pretty much nailed it.” She said, ‘OK, can I go play?’ I shared that story once at the Heart and Stroke Foundation and it took off like a bush fire. Now when I go there, they don’t say, ‘Hey, Brian.’ They say, ‘Hey, Tin Man.’"