Every year when my son's birthday comes up, I'm reminded of how I entered this industry and I figured there may be some people who don't know that story. In honor of the biggest hero in my life, my son CJ who turned nine today, I figured I'd share it on this blog for the first time.
In 1997 I had a healthy and beautiful son named Christopher James and while I was a young mother at 20, I was really excited. I had no idea that two weeks later my life would completely change when my son suffered a massive infant stroke (cause remains unknown).
Being told that my son would never walk, talk or have any more ability than he did at six weeks old when the stroke and resulting brain damage were finally discovered was bar none the worst experience of my life.
He spent the first two years of his life in and out of the hospital with tests, illnesses and a plethora of other problems and I spent a large portion of those two years almost living at the Ronald McDonald House near the children's hospital two hours away from my home.
Early on during those two years, my dad changed my life completely (something neither of us realized at the time) when a computer arrived at my home, with a note that he thought it might help me do research on my son's condition.
I found out quickly that there was little information available on the web. I wanted desperately to find people who were going through what I was going through to find out the best ways to help my son, as well as deal with my own grief and frustration.
In 1997 I made a small webpage about CJ that told the story of his stroke. In the months that followed, I received countless emails from other parents relating their own personal experiences with childhood stroke.
In 1998, I expanded on the original webpage and formed the Pediatric Stroke Network – the first national support group for parents and families of pediatric stroke survivors to ever register with the American Heart Association.
During 1999 and 2000 a lot of spotlight was put on childhood stroke, which in turn created awareness and eventually resulted in research that hopefully will prevent other families in the future from experiencing what I and so many others have. I am proud that CJ and the Pediatric Stroke Network were able to be a part of that via interviews in USA Today, Inside Edition and Stroke Connection Magazine among others. We were also able to be a gateway to connect media outlets like People Magazine, Good Morning America and many others with children and families that met their interview criteria.
I started to figure that maybe there was a way this site could start generating income, aside from the people who sponsored the site costs in exchange for a link on our sponsors page. I didn't want to make a huge profit; I just wanted to figure out how I could continue to devote 60 hours a week to this site and still cover my household bills.
After a little bit of searching, I stumbled onto affiliate marketing – one program in particular. It was through the message boards for this company that I stumbled upon the two people that changed my life forever.
I received a private message from someone who had been watching my posts and thought I was picking up internet marketing concepts pretty quickly. He introduced me to another guy who is one of the most genuine people I've ever met in my life. They both told me “you've got a natural knack for this and we'll do our best to help you develop it”.
I'd gladly put the names of these two men in neon lights, but they're both private people, and I respect that. But I will say that these two men changed my life and I will be forever grateful for that. At the insistence of one of these men, I attended Boston PubCon in 2003, another event that changed my life and introduced me to some of my best friends, both in this industry and in life.
I realized that monetizing PSN wasn't something I was comfortable with and it would be easier to remain a volunteer director and simply work on developing a new business with affiliate marketing on the side. I spent the next 6 months busting my ass making affiliate sites, and it started to pay off in the engines. Shortly after, I was blowing away any income expectations I had ever dreamed of when I started. And my career in this industry went on from there. I feel very fortunate that I've been able to develop a successful career in Internet marketing that has allowed a single mom like me to support three children, one of whom has special needs.
The Pediatric Stroke Network is still in existence today being run by a very dedicated woman who took over the site for me in early 2002 when I realized that I couldn't direct the group and run my business and continues to push for awareness and offer support as it has to thousands of families over the years. (I have had no involvement
in the website aside from giving donations in the last four plus years during which time it has undergone a lot of changes.)
Most people don't realize that stroke is not limited to adults. I know I certainly didn't when my son was diagnosed as having had one at six weeks of age. Strokes can happen at any time in life – including during childhood, infancy and even in utero.
My son was severely affected by his stroke. His stroke was bilateral, which means it occurred on both sides of the brain. Bilateral strokes are often more damaging to the brain and unfortunately for my son, that statistic held true.
As a result of his stroke CJ has spastic quad cerebral palsy, profound mental retardation, an uncontrolled seizure disorder (sometimes referred to as catastrophic epilepsy), gastroesophageal reflux, cortical visual impairment and a gastrostomy tube along with some other minor medical issues. All in all, he has the mental and physical ability of an infant.
Even though I have a successful career and a business that I love, I'd trade it all in a heartbeat for my son to have been able to be healthy and live the life any parent hopes for their child.
My son is my biggest hero in life. He is my biggest inspiration and even though he isn't aware of it, has been able to touch so many lives with his warm smile and sweet disposition.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CJ!
(Note: CJ can't express his wishes, but if he were able to, I'm sure he'd request that anyone wanting to give him a birthday gift consider donating to the Ronald McDonald House, the place he knows he and other children around the globe can count on as their home away from home.)
Updated: Please consider support the Stroke Walk to help prevent other kids from experiencing what he has.