On May 17th of 2007 my niece Addyson Kelley was born. The second beautiful daughter of my wife’s youngest brother brought great joy to the family. The happy state was soon rocked when a relatively new blood test performed at her birth revealed that she was at risk for Cystic Fibrosis. Follow up tests in the days that followed confirmed our worst fears, that she indeed had the disease.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the most common, fatal hereditary disease in the United States. One in 2,500 American children is born with CF, with approximately 1,300 new cases diagnosed each year. While tremendous strides have been made in the management of the disease, at present, only half of those with CF survive to age 30. Additionally, the treatment and management of this medical problem is very expensive, occasionally exceeding the lifetime caps of many insurance plans.
Our family was in crisis. Reeling from the medical facts we were all learning, the pressure on Addyson’s immediate family was tremendous. Along with the obvious worries of the nature of the disease were the financial burdens of what the insurance would cover and what it wouldn’t, as well as where the funds would come from. A special vest that would assist in Addyson’s chest physical therapy cost $17,000.00, and the daily enzyme replacement therapy also came at a great expense. It was a very difficult time, in which all family members racked their brains on how additional funds could be raised to help.
Just shy of 15 years earlier, my adopted son Cornell came into the world. He also had a rough start. Born 4 months early at 23 weeks, he only weighed 1 pound, nine ounces. He spent the first 15 months of his life on a ventilator and fed through a G tube. As a crack baby, his prognosis was terrible. Most doctors thought he would never walk or talk. We entered his life initially as foster parents, and what has transpired is a miraculous gradual recovery involving numerous surgeries, some near death experiences, lots of therapy, and tons of love. While the effects of this medical condition have created some learning challenges and delays, today he is a happy, handsome, emotionally strong 18-year-old boy. He is one of my prime sources of motivation, and his story I have told from the podium too many times to count.
One night over dinner, my wife (Kim), two daughters (Kaitlyn-13 & Kristen-10), Cornell, and I were discussing Addyson’s medical issues, as well as the financial pressure on the family. The children immediately seemed to grasp the seriousness of the problem. My son began to talk about a boy he saw on T.V. who he saw shooting baskets to raise money for a charity. Upon further questioning, he described a child who obtained sponsors, and shot thousands of free throws, raising tens of thousands of dollars in the process. When I asked him if he thought he wanted to shoot free throws, he simply said “No, but I can hit a lot of golf balls!” Because Cornell has become somewhat of a legend at our local club in his ability to hit hundreds of range balls over hours at a time; I was stunned at the prospect.
So the vision was set. We would help Cornell obtain sponsors, arrange the venue, and then he would hit as many consecutive drives as humanly possible over a twelve hour period. Nearly every day, all summer long, he hit hundreds of balls gaining strength and calluses. A flyer was made, it went out on the web as well as being mailed to all my friends and contacts. A friend who owns a local paper did a story about his fundraiser. As the news spread, the sponsorship came rolling in. People were given the opportunity to write in an amount (a bronze sponsor), choose 50 cents per ball (a silver sponsor) or choose one dollar a ball (a gold sponsor). We even had one person (William Mays form National Dental Network), who elected to be Platinum sponsor at an astounding two dollars a ball!
So on August 30th, 2007 we made arrangements with Cedar Point Country Club to host the event. Balls were stacked in pyramids of 204, a tent was pitched for shade, a section of the range roped off, the media was contacted, while both friends and family made there plans to come out at various times of the day to cheer him on. Direct sponsorship the day of event came in just under $10,000.00, while the amount per ball came in at 31 dollars apiece! We stacked up 5 pyramids hoping that if he could somehow hit 1000 drives we would have a chance to raise 40 grand for the cause. Cornell had hit 1020 consecutive drives by lunch. He was like a machine smacking one slight draw after another right down the middle of the range. Dripping with sweat, gloves on each had, with emerging blisters he stayed on task not complaining for a second about any discomfort. $40,000.00 by lunch! We were dumbfounded.
After lunch, a shower and a change of clothes, the balls were re-stacked and he returned to the range in the heat of the day. As the temperature rose his pace slowed, but the quality of his contact remained pure. His sisters, cousins, friends and family kept him hydrated and as cool as possible. Even a local TV station came by for some film and an interview.
Just before 6:00 PM nearly 11 hours after it started, blistered and exhausted, he hit his last shot, a drive that traveled over 200 yards, once again right down the middle. He had hit 1, 628 drives, raising $64,000.00 dollars for his cousin and Cystic Fibrosis Research (a 70/30 split). ALL IN ONE DAY.
Since the event, I have spent countless hours reflecting on what transpired on that beautiful August day. The people that witnessed what my son did will forever be touched by the focus, discipline and vision of what they observed in his pursuit. They saw someone push himself to his absolute limit to help another human being. The moment, however, when I became clear about what was driving Cornell, came during his television interview when they asked him why he was hitting all these balls. The boy who would never walk or talk, the one with learning disabilities, responded immediately. His answer was simple, clear and to the point.
“When I was a little boy lots of people helped me through it, and now I am here for Addyson. Brian and Amy (Addyson’s Dad & Mom) have always been a good Uncle and Aunt, and I know this day is going to be hard on them. I just want today to be special for Addyson and the other people with Cystic Fibrosis”
Call it his vision, his purpose or his own personal mission statement, Cornell was completely clear about why he was put on the earth on August 30th, 2007. While not able to describe the feeling, I think that he believed that everything that had happened to him up to that point in his life prepared him for that very moment when he would make a difference for his cousin.
The question is: How do we find that same sense of purpose day in and day out in our own lives, in our business, in our personal relationships, and in our pursuit of a balanced, healthy, and happy life? And for those who have been fortunate enough to have experienced the rush of being completely clear about their role on this earth, how do we sustain that feeling? As we meet and surpass our goals, how do we remember to reset the bar, aiming higher?
I tell Cornell’s tale, because it is a beautiful, simple story of what can happen when we get clear on our purpose. Many people go their entire lives without ever stepping back long enough to clear on their own personal mission. Yet it is THE MOST IMPORTANT decision we can make.
Great visions benefit humanity. Cornell’s focus on helping his cousin and other sick people propelled him to a place he wouldn’t have been able to reach if it had simply been about golf. Similarly, the best business models are the ones that benefit mankind. Profitability, as well as emotional and spiritual rewards are always by-products of great visions, ones that make the world a better place. It is important to remember that the world is better, when we touch the life of just one other human being.
Passion is the fuel of great visions. Passion propels you around obstacles, sharpens the mind, and fills the heart with joy as the work progresses. It is also a great barometer of how good the Purpose/vision is. For if an endeavor lacks passion it is probably not a purpose worth pursuing. Passion cannot be manufactured or faked, you either feel it or you don’t. The key is to pursue things that you are passionate about.
Once again it is difficult to know exactly where Cornell’s passion for this event came from. There is no question that he could feel the worry and concern within the family, and the inherit fear of the future for his newborn cousin. I also think at some visceral level he related to the road that this child was about to travel. He asked hard questions about what exactly happens to Children with CF. He knows what it is like to struggle to breathe, and to stare death right in the face. I think Cornell’s passion was born from the empathy he felt based on his own life experience.
Passion is critical when things get tough. Every path is filled with potholes, obstacles, and things that will knock you flat down. For Cornell it was blisters, heat, sore muscles, and any number of things that could have made him stop when it got difficult. One of the coolest moments of the day came on the way to the club early in the morning. Cornell and I were alone in the car driving along. He was quiet for a long time when he finally said“Dad, how long will it be before I start to hurt?” He knew pain would be involved, but he was ready for it. While I know he was hurting throughout the day, he never once complained. When one has a great purpose that is combined with great passion, we develop the ability to ignore the discomfort and do extraordinary things.
Where does someone get the discipline and persistence at this point in his life to work so hard? The answer is found in the clarity of his vision and the passion that he feels for it. It is a vision of wanting to help Dentists have the tools necessary to take extraordinary care of their patients. A vision that will allow his students to not only predictably solve esthetic, functional and biological problems, but to do so on a solid business model so that we have the time to leave our practices and be great spouses, parents and citizens. He cares so deeply that Dentists have a chance to be successful, that it drives him to still work countless hours, while many of his peers have long since been retired. While Cornell and Pete have very different purposes, the one thing they share is a selfless goal of making the world a better place, not just for themselves, but for others. They both understand when you positively affect the life of even one other person; the world is forever different. Both are profoundly motivating, both are tremendously passionate, and both lead to a persistent behavior that gets things done. Persistence is very difficult when purpose and passion are missing. Yet it is the net result when they are present. The most successful people on the planet are able to stick to tasks longer then most because they are clear on purpose and excited about it. Dr. Peter Dawson, my friend and mentor, is working as hard today in his late 70’s as any time in his life. Finishing his latest text book a few summers ago, clearly one of the best Dental text books ever written, I marvel at the discipline it took to write, rewrite, edit and ultimately publish such an outstanding piece of work.
If there was a fourth P, it is to focus on the possibilities in life. If someone would have told us nearly 14 years ago when we brought Cornell home, that Kim’s brother Brian would be married and have a daughter with Cystic Fibrosis. And that someone in the family would raise $64,000.00 for the family and CF Research, Cornell would have been the last on anyone’s list. It would have seemed absolutely impossible. We had some very smart people completely writing him off. Some suggested that an “institution” was the best place for him.
How often are great visions & purposes completely snuffed out by people who give there opinion based on nothing more than pure conjecture. I am not suggesting that anyone was trying to do anything when they made their predictions all those years ago, but they were DEAD WRONG. I believe that vision and purpose are uniquely gifted to each of us, and it is our job to find and protect what we have been sent here to do.
If my time with Cornell has taught me anything it is to believe in possibilities. His is a story of hope, an up from ashes story that inspires and amazes us. And while life has its very difficult times, it is a gift that should be cherished and savored. Purpose, passion and persistence are ingredients that are available to us all. It is our own personal chance to find how we can make the world a little better place, and then our choice to go after it. It simply takes some introspective soul searching to find our path, and then action to go for it.
Cornell is 18 years old, and in the 1 percentile for size and weight. While muscular and strong, he is less than 5 feet tall, and barely 80 pounds, very small for his age. But as long as I live, I will never forget August 30th, 2007, the day I watched a very special person harness the power of purpose, passion and persistence. On that day, I was in the presence of a giant, my hero, my son, Cornell.
John Cranham, DDS
Clinical Director, The Dawson Academy
Dr. Cranham was an honors graduate of the Medical College of Virginia in 1988. He’s an internationally recognized speaker on the esthetic principles of smile design, contemporary occlusal concepts, treatment planning, restoration selection, digital photography, laboratory communication, and happiness and fulfillment in dentistry.
As The Dawson Academy’s acting Clinical Director, Dr. Cranham is involved with many of the courses and provides continuing education to dental professionals across the globe. He spends approximately two-thirds of his time in private practice and the other third as an educator. He believes this balance keeps him on the leading edge of both disciplines.
A published author, Dr. Cranham is committed to providing the highest quality patient care, as well as developing sound educational programs that exceed the needs of today’s dental professional.