RE: Puppy Pic OTD

For those of you who have read A Message from the Heart, consider this the prequel:

On December 30, 2013, my father had a left ventricular assist device implanted in his chest.  An LVAD is a battery-operated mechanical pump that functions as portable life-support for folks in end-stage congestive heart failure.  When the heart becomes too weak to work on its own, the LVAD manually pumps blood from the heart to the body via an external battery pack that connects to a port passing through the individual’s abdominal wall.  The intervention is often used as a “bridge procedure” for heart transplant candidates who have exhausted their treatment options and anticipate long wait times on the transplant list.  This extraordinary device saves lives by not only allowing candidates to live long enough to receive a match, but also to wait for their transplant from the comfort of their homes rather than the confines of the ICU.

While the LVAD was miraculous in many ways, my family understood that it came with a laundry list of risks, and it was merely the first step in my father’s journey to receiving a heart transplant.  Prior to receiving clearance to have the bridge procedure done, he had been in the ICU for thirteen weeks and his condition was rapidly deteriorating.  He had coded more than once when his doctors tried to perform far less invasive procedures, so his doctors weren’t confident he could tolerate a 6-hour open heart surgery.  Even if he survived the operation, his risk of life-threatening complications such as stroke, GI bleeds, and thromboembolism became greater the longer he had the LVAD.  His health would obviously be far more stable with the LVAD than without while waiting for a transplant, but his projected wait time on the transplant list was up to four years, so we still weren’t sure if the device would buy us the time he needed.  Moreover, while we were hopeful about his quality of life improving enough to go home, we realized there were many unique considerations that went into making accommodations for him once he left the hospital.  We would need to buy a back-up generator for our home in case we lost power so his batteries wouldn’t die.  We would need to have his clothes altered to thread his tubes through his shirt so he could conceal his heavy batteries in his back pockets.  We would need to buy a special showerhead, washcloths, and buckets so that he could learn to wash himself without getting his batteries wet.  We focused on the wonderful prospect of my father receiving the gift of life, but couldn’t deny feeling overwhelmed that no amount of planning could prepare us for the uncertainty of the road ahead.

The night before the operation, I sat with my father at the foot of his hospital bed.  Although he was hooked up to over a dozen IVs and could hardly sit up, I remember him pointing to a bridge outside his window and telling me how grateful he was to have such a beautiful view of the New York City skyline from his room.  He always managed to find small joys in his day.  Despite spending so many months in the hospital that he began referring to it as his “NYC office” to his colleagues, I don’t think he ever actually identified as a patient.  He tried so hard not to look sick in front of me, which always made me feel guilty because I knew it drained him of the little energy he had.  But on this night, I saw his irrepressible spirit soften for the first time.  He propped himself up in bed to shred passwords to his confidential work files.  He wrote down where his assets were located and compiled a list of people for my mom to contact “just in case”.  It was hard to believe that this was the same man who used to toss my chubby little seven-year-old body a thousand feet in the air at the lake where we used to swim together, even after the thousandth time I begged him for just one more turn.  This was the same man who, when I was eleven, lifted up two teenage boys by the backs of their shirts at the mall when they tried to steal my Bath and Body Works shopping bag full of bubblegum scented body glitter.  The same man who, when I was 23, taught me that in times of conflict, strength in character will always prevail over physical strength.  Though I was disheartened knowing there wasn’t anything I could do to change my father’s circumstances, I knew I could give him strength by reminding him why he was fighting.

There are three things my father loves more than anything in the world: his family, his job, and puppies.  Knowing that the first thing he would do if he made it through surgery would be to check his iPad to respond to work emails, I made a deal with him that night.  If he promised to survive his operation, I promised to email him a picture of a cute puppy first thing in the morning every single day between his LVAD and his heart transplant.  That way, no matter how weak he felt on any given day, no matter how frustrated he was that his quality of life was restricted, and no matter how anxious he was that the next time he raced to the hospital would be for a stroke rather than a transplant, he would have at least one reason to smile waiting for him when he woke up.  In a situation where I had so little control over the future and couldn’t be by his side each step of his recovery, this would be my way of showing him that no matter the circumstances, he was the first person I thought of when I opened my eyes each morning.

On December 30, 2013, my father followed through on his promise, and I followed through on mine.  So by the time he received his new heart on December 4, 2014, I had spent nearly a year making a routine of hitting the snooze button on my alarm, rolling over to grab my phone, and queuing up his “Puppy Pic OTD” email.  It had become such a habit that I decided not to stop after his transplant.  Now, exactly 900 days (and 900 puppies) since his LVAD surgery, I have not missed a morning.  Though my puppy pictures are a minor and admittedly insignificant gesture that have no implication on his health, they continue to serve as a reminder that his family will always help him find strength when the going gets “ruff”.


If you have a puppy you would like to be featured as his “Puppy Pic OTD”,
please email me at!


Defining Moments

Defining moments are events that influence the way we interact with the world around us.  These experiences give context to the landscapes of our lives by shaping the prospective paths we travel.  Though we try to map out directions that lead down perfectly paved roads, defining moments are the inevitable detours we face along the journey.  Sometimes they cause us to lose our bearings, and other times they guide us to bridges and tunnels that connect to beautiful uncharted territory.  Though bumps in the road influence the lay of the land, ultimately we are the navigators who dictate where we go, how we get there, and who to bring along for the ride.  Simply put: defining moments put us at a crossroads where we are challenged to choose our course.  The decisions we make at those crossroads don’t merely build character; they reveal character.  These are important lessons I’ve learned from defining moments in my life:

My best friend and I were riding the school bus home in sixth grade.  We had gotten a test back that day and I was playfully teasing her about how smart I was because I received a higher grade.  She was a good sport about it and shrugged off my comments by lightheartedly boasting about how many extracurricular activities she did and how she still found time to study.  Not to be outdone, I immediately snapped back to remind her how many clubs and teams in which I participated and that I didn’t use them as an excuse for my grades.  In an instant, I had managed to turn a tongue-in-cheek conversation into the Sesame Street equivalent of a dick-measuring contest…and all before we reached the first stop on our route!  She replied calmly in a firm tone I had never heard her use before. “There are other ways to show you’re smart, Kayla…like knowing when to stop.”  Then she moved to the seat in front of me, leaving me to sit by myself and reflect upon what she said.  I called her to apologize as soon as I got home, and thankfully this valuable lesson didn’t come at the expense of our friendship.

Moral of the story:
A smart person cares about the spelling and definitions of words, but a wise person cares about the impact and consequences of words.

I had been elected student council President by my peers annually ever since elementary school.  By the time my sophomore year of high school came around, I was comfortable representing my class and since I hadn’t done anything particularly offensive during my terms, I didn’t feel a beseeching urge to convince anyone to re-elect me.   I coasted through campaign season with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be President anymore; I just didn’t want to have to keep working for it.  My opponent that year was not only extremely bright, motivated, and qualified, but she was also among the most likeable, sincere, considerate girls in our school.  Moreover, she brought a fresh perspective and eagerness to prove herself that my campaign devastatingly lacked.  She was Catwoman…and I was Garfield.   Needless to say, democracy prevailed and the better candidate won.  While losing the election was a blow to my ego, instead of being defeated by defeat, I took it as an opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything.  If we want something, we must work hard to earn it.  Moreover, even if we earned something today, it’s not promised tomorrow.  In our careers, friendships, and marriages, we must never settle or get too comfortable.  Greatness isn’t achieved by those who passively wait for it to come to them, and nobody gets an award just for participating.

Moral of the story:
Wanting something does not make you entitled to having it.

My final defining moment wasn’t an epiphany as much as it was a transformative phase that taught me many lessons worth taking to heart, so to speak.  In 2013, my father was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and needed a heart transplant to survive.  In addition to the complex regulations that restrict transplant candidates from even being waitlisted, there’s a vast shortage of viable donors with hearts to give.  With statistics showing 22 people dying every single day waiting for organ transplants, my family did our best to remain hopeful that my father wouldn’t become a statistic.  After a year of waiting, he miraculously received a match.  Meanwhile in a paradoxical turn of events, shortly after my father’s heart was fixed, my heart was broken by someone I loved.  When it first occurred, I had to retrain myself to operate without my best friend by my side, as he had been an integral part of my existence for many years.  This was especially challenging amidst the fragility and uncertainty of my father’s condition because the reassurance of having any constant variable in my life would have been comforting at that time.  Moreover, I felt guilty burdening my parents with my sadness since my father’s recovery was far more critical than my non-life threatening problems.  I found myself at a crossroads where I was faced with two options:  I could be miserable about what I had lost, or thankful for what I had gained.  And when I framed it in that light, I realized no one was important enough to make me lose perspective that the first man to carry a key to my heart was back in my life; my father.

Moral of the story:
Hearts are not a dime a dozen, so take care when someone gives you theirs—figuratively or literally.

Gym Shorts: Volume 2

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.


Wearing a push-up bra on the treadmill is like putting Shaquille O’Neal on the foul line; no matter how hard they try to pull themselves together, the situation will likely result in choking.


Every gym has a member who notoriously doesn’t wear enough deodorant.  If you don’t know who it is at your gym, then I’ll let you in on a secret…it may be time for you to apply some more Secret.


Headphones are to gyms as wedding rings are to dating websites.  Even if you all pay to be there, you probably shouldn’t talk to the people wearing them.


They say, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”  But I’m like, “Then where will I make my midnight snacks?”


Gotta run!

A Lesson from 2015

Imagine yourself standing in an open field on a warm, sunny day.  Off in the distance, a candle is lit.  Though you know it’s out there, the light it produces is unremarkable in contrast to the radiance of the sun.  You’re sure you could find more candles in the field, but you don’t take time to look for them, nor do you experience the palpable warmth of the flames they yield because you are immersed in daylight.

Now imagine standing in that field on a cold, dark night.  A single candle glows in the distance.  Though it’s a small source of light, it vividly pierces the pervasive darkness.  As you look around, you notice many candles have ignited around you.  Each candle shines with clarity and intensity, allowing you to easily distinguish their sources while collectively feeling their warmth.  Distance doesn’t seem to make a difference either, as even the candles placed considerably outside your reach help to break apart the shadows.  Eventually, you realize that even though darkness is still present, enough light surrounds you to guide you back to your path.  As you move forward, you have a newfound appreciation that if you don’t take time to fan the flames of those candles, you may eventually lose your way again.

In 2015, I learned that sometimes we need to endure periods of darkness to remind us to take stock of the powerful sources of light in our lives.  To my family and friends:

You are the candles that help me find my bearings when I’m alone in a dark field.

You are the fog lights that elucidate the limitless potential that exists on the far side of a storm so that I can keep driving forward.

You are the cigarette lighters that feed my addiction to personal growth so that I may become a better friend, sister, daughter, and partner to each of you.

You are the dazzling, irreplaceable diamonds that money could never buy.

You are the bolts of lightning that electrify my spirit with side-splitting laughter.

You are the LED bulbs that make me look good after I say something unflattering.

You are the green traffic signals that give me permission to unapologetically be myself.

You are the stars in my sky that remind me that from anywhere in the world, I can always depend on you to shine brightly in the dark.

There are no metaphors or analogies to adequately express my gratitude for the light you each bring to my life.  Thank you for being who you are; no one holds a candle to you.

No One Wins the Blame Game

I used to believe that having an argument was the first sign of an unhealthy relationship.  I perceived a disagreement as a symptom of incompatibility, and I equated an absence of fighting with the absence of conflicting opinions.  I now have a better understanding that any meaningful relationship stems from honest and direct communication, which may realistically spark challenging conversations that produce friction.  Perhaps a more reliable indicator of a healthy relationship isn’t how often two people fight, but how they fight.  Now, it’s not my place to pass judgment about the content of another couple’s spat or dismiss their communication style as long as it works for them.  Like I always say; there’s an ass for every seat.  That being said, I’ve established a few simple ground rules to follow whenever I feel a brawl brewing with a buddy.

Avoid using “always” or “never” statements.

Always/Never statements are seldom 100% accurate.  Making broad, exaggerated accusations are more likely to evoke defensive reactions from others than they are to stir up thoughtful introspection.  For example, saying “You never clean the bathroom,” creates an opening to deviate from solving your problem to debate whether the person who finished the roll of toilet paper ought to replace it, or if it’s the duty (no pun intended) of the next person who uses the bathroom.  At best, trivial technicalities like those are indirect contributors to the underlying issue, and since they don’t support you reaching a resolution, they’re rarely worth discussing.  The goal shouldn’t be bashing your partner or proving that they’re wrong; the goal should be establishing common ground to prevent an isolated incident from becoming a recurring crisis.

Start your sentences with “I” rather than “you”.

Starting a statement with “you” can sound critical amidst an argument, and making allegations about a person’s behavior can leave the other person feeling attacked.  When you start a sentence with “I”, you give yourself an opportunity to explain your interpretation of the situation.  In turn, the other party has the opportunity to listen and offer an explanation of their intent so that you can identify if a disagreement exists, or if there was simply a misunderstanding.  Instead of stooping to name calling or insulting someone’s character, take ownership of your beliefs by using phrases such as, “I sense that…”, “I’m trying to…”, “This is how I feel when…”, etc.  Doing so gives the other person insight into your side of the story without making them feel condemned so that they’re more likely to respond with empathy, or at least try to be objective about the situation.

 Identify what you’d like to get out of the confrontation before you start it.

Why are you upset?  What would make you feel better?  Know the answers to those questions before addressing the other person, and don’t bring up any topics that don’t aim to achieve reconciliation.  Picking insignificant fights to antagonize the other person will only escalate a small battle into a full blown war.  Though a snide, irrelevant jab may feel good in the heat of an argument, it will ultimately direct the conversation further from a desirable outcome for either of you.

Remember: if the person you’re fighting with is important to you, you probably don’t want to hurt them.  If the person you’re fighting with is not important to you, then don’t waste your breath confronting them at all.

And I’m always right, so if you disagree with me, then you’re just a stubborn idiot.

…See what I did there?

Gym Shorts: Volume 1

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.

Treadmill etiquette ought to be treated no differently than urinal etiquette.

  • At minimum, leave one vacant machine as a courtesy buffer between yourself and the nearest person
  • Keep your eyes forward
  • No small talk
  • For the welfare and protection of yourself and your cohorts, under no circumstances is offering a handshake appropriate

Finding out the gorgeous man by the squat rack thinks you’re cute:
Like waking up on Christmas morning

Finding out the gorgeous man by the squat rack thinks you’re cute…when you’re in a relationship:
Like waking up on Christmas morning and reminding myself I’m Jewish

Finding out twenty-three minutes into a painfully one-sided conversation with the gorgeous man by the squat rack that the shallowest brooks babble loudest:
Like telling my entire first grade class Santa isn’t real

When a skinny woman fears weight training because she doesn’t want to get “too big”, it’s like an overweight woman fearing weight loss because she doesn’t want to get “too skinny.”  Neither extreme is healthy, but it’s equally as challenging to achieve a physique on either end of the spectrum.  Getting swole takes as much discipline, consistency, and determination as getting slim.

Gotta run!


The human brain is hardwired to detect meaningful patterns amongst seemingly disconnected sequences of events.  Our interpretation of those patterns influences the way we perceive and interact with our surroundings.  On one hand, the associations we form act as shortcuts that allow us to perform tasks more efficiently.  On the other hand, sometimes we can be too hasty in spotting a connection, which causes us to make sweeping generalizations or assumptions about people in a prejudiced and discriminatory way.  I’ve been guilty of passing judgment in situations where I might not have the full story, and if jumping to conclusions were cardio, I know plenty of jealous girlfriends you’d think were training to become decathletes.  In an effort to become less judgmental, lately I’ve been spending time reflecting upon unconscious patterns and biases I’ve formed that limit my scope of the world around me.

Whenever I set out to change one of my habits, I typically start to notice when other people exhibit the behavior as well.  For example, the other day I was sitting next to a woman who was scrolling through Facebook on her phone.  She scoffed at a picture someone posted of a salad and muttered, “Well from the looks of her, that’s not all she’s been eating.”  Now don’t get it twisted; I’m not opposed to roasting a narcissist who can’t make a friggin’ ice cube tray without documenting every step like they just won The Next Food Network Star, but this woman’s comment made me stop to think about how quickly she made an assumption about her friend’s eating habits based on her appearance.

Before I explain why I was troubled by her comment, I have a quick question for any readers who feel so inclined to make snide remarks about overweight people at the salad bar, the gym, or any other health-conscious environment: Do you also go to the pediatrician’s office to mock sick children?  Because that’s about how constructive and encouraging your statements are to someone who’s actively taking steps to improve their condition.  I also think it’s worth noting that there’s no way to look at a person and immediately be able to say why they’re overweight…or even what their health status is, for that matter.  Rather than defaulting to a generalization that associates all overweight people with being gluttonous, I used what I witnessed as an opportunity to consider some alternatives:

  • Does this person potentially eat well and exercise regularly, but have a food allergy, metabolic disorder, or chronic pain that makes weight management especially challenging?
  • Is it possible that the individual recently suffered a traumatic personal loss that’s caused their exercise regimen to take a back seat while they address their mental wellbeing?
  • Despite still being overweight, could this person have already lost a significant amount of weight, lowered their risk for chronic disease, and established a plan to shed the final pounds?
  • Could this person be taking any steroids or medications to treat a serious illness that have side effects of weight gain? If so, is it possible they’re just grateful to be waking up in the skin they’re in, cellulite and all?
  • Does the person live in an urban food desert without access to an affordable supermarket, forcing them to buy groceries at a convenience store or gas station without healthy options?
  • And lastly, is it possible that the person is genuinely just a slob who lacks the foresight, willpower, or conscientiousness to make more responsible personal choices?

My objective isn’t to ask people to second guess their intuition.  For instance, if you see a windowless van with a hand-written “FREE CANDY” sign parked across the street from an elementary school, go ahead and contact local authorities before you climb into the trunk expecting a basket of banana Laffy Taffy.  My objective is to bring more awareness to patterns, associations, and preconceived notions we carry in hopes that we can let go of the unfair ones and treat people we encounter with more compassion.  And in the meantime…maybe keep your salad pictures to yourself.

“I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.”

I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.

I take it with me everywhere I go, unable to put it down.

Though the cup is light and I am strong, its burden weighs heavily on me and becomes increasingly inconvenient to hold as time passes.

The same cup of coffee that once warmed my giving hands has now left them raw and exposed; too tender to accept the embrace of an outreached palm.

I keep my wounds covered so that one day they will heal, but even my protective clothing is stained by careless spills.  They wear me like a badge of your recklessness.

I move slowly and stand guarded, as anyone I bump into runs the risk of getting burned, too.

I can’t simply pass this coffee off to someone else to enjoy; this coffee was for you.

I can’t sip it until it’s gone, as even the slightest indulgence leaves me sputtering, incessantly choked by the bitterness of your betrayal.  The taste of deception lingers on my breath, drying my cracked lips with every shallow, exasperated gasp.

Some days the cup feels half-empty; other days half-full.  But every day that I hold onto you, the heavier your weight feels.

I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.

And though the love that I carry is too extraordinary to be recycled…you, oh stale one, are entirely disposable.

So out with the rest of the trash you go.

A Message from the Heart

Each time I’ve tried to write about my father’s heart transplant, I’ve found myself spending more time tapping the backspace key than I’ve spent assembling coherent sentences.  As soon as I start to type something personal, it feels like I’m setting the scene for a melodrama on Telemundo.  If I try to say something less personal that I think could be useful for anyone who needs support coping with adversity, it comes across as a diluted and generic cliché.  In my father’s inspiring story, I struggle to find my voice as merely a supporting character, and I don’t know how to explain to an outsider how profoundly his journey impacted my life because I don’t want to take away from what he endured and make the experience about me.

So how do I begin to illustrate the engrossing, gnawing sense of urgency that swallowed the hollows of my stomach when I wondered whether it would be the day my father received a new heart, or if it would be the day he simply couldn’t fight anymore?

What’s the onomatopoeia to describe the sound of the eerie, unnerving silence that engulfed my family’s home every time the phone rang, praying in those moments that it was his fateful call about finding a match?

Is there a Latin derivative for the contradiction between desperately yearning to fast forward to a time when this nightmare was over, but simultaneously being so terrified by the uncertainty of the future that I wanted to press pause on our lives forever?

How do you spell the word that describes the unremitting resilience and emotional strength my father exuded, even as his physical strength deteriorated, after cyclically receiving disappointing news?  Can you use the word for “never once complained or assumed the role of a victim” in a sentence, please?

Who can tell me how to rationalize the crushing guilt I felt for waking up, going to work, sleeping in my own bed, and retaining some degree of normalcy while my mother so selflessly put her most basic needs aside to unconditionally support her husband in the hospital every single day?

How do I explain the process of trying to make peace with the fact that my family’s miracle came at the expense of another family’s tragedy?

But what I struggle with most is finding words to describe the overwhelming pride I have in my family for finding hope amidst such dire circumstances and becoming even stronger and more united.  And there’s unquestionably nothing in Webster’s dictionary to explain the ecstasy of once again hearing my father’s infectious, hearty laugh that I thought I had lost forever to the sound of weak coughs and EKG beeps.

Because my words have failed me and because a little blog entry only cheapens how I’d like to honor everyone affected by my dad’s heart transplant, please accept this tattoo as a symbol of the permanent mark it has left on my heart.  It’s not only a celebration of my father’s life, but also of his donor’s life, who became a life-saver at the tender age of eighteen.  It’s a thank you to my mother, whose unwavering strength became my source of strength during a very emotional year. And above all, it’s a constant reminder that embedded at the heart of every tragedy is a seed that stores the potential to grow something beautiful.



A special thank you to Dia Moeller, who created this beautiful custom tattoo that so perfectly captures what my words could not.

If you’d like to become a registered organ donor, you can do so here.

Developing Resiliency

In your lifetime, you will inevitably face adversity.  Sometimes you will have limited control over the cards you’ve been dealt, and sometimes you’ll be the joker who shuffled the deck.  In any event, even when the chips are down, developing resiliency will keep you ahead in the game.  Becoming a more positive, adaptable person isn’t about perfecting your poker face.  The strongest, most well-adjusted people don’t hide or deny their feelings.  On the contrary, people with resilient spirits experience hardship deeply and wholeheartedly…but they translate those experiences into wisdom they can use to push forward.

If you wrote a story about your life, would you play the hero or the victim?

It’s true that we don’t always have control over negative circumstances.  These situations are especially frustrating, as there’s not always an explicit lesson to be learned.  However, even though you can’t always be in control of your circumstances, you can always be in control of how you respond to them.  No one but you is responsible for your happiness or sadness.  Victims become whatever happens to them.  Heroes are what they choose to become.  Empower yourself by becoming the author of your life story.  Rather than trying to fix your past, which cannot be changed, use your experiences to build a brighter future.  Become the type of hero you would want to read about.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

It’s easy to get caught up in one aspect of your life that isn’t going well.  When this happens, look at your life like a pizza pie.  You wouldn’t eat flour, yeast, or salt by themselves.  But when you add them together and bake them into a crust, you create something truly delicious that’s equipped to receive boundless, desirable toppings.  Similarly, while there may be a component in your life that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, life as a whole can still be great.  Take stock of all the ingredients in your life you’re grateful to have and remind yourself not to take them for granted.  Family, friends, good health, financial security, passions, and self-worth are all key ingredients in the recipe to a rich, satisfying life.

Believe that when life takes one thing away, it’s creating space for you to receive something bigger and better. 

The trade-off likely won’t be immediate, nor will it necessarily feel the same.  For example, material items, technology, and even jobs are relatively replaceable, but relationships and loved ones are not.  Being resilient doesn’t mean forcing yourself to try to fill that void; it means finding peace with today and having faith in tomorrow.  Generally speaking, good things happen to good people.  When bad things happen to good people, they view them as opportunities for growth and potential for better things to come.

And when all else fails, remember that tough times don’t last; tough people do.