Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It’s Giving Tuesday! A Goal Finally Reached After 20 Years… A Time for Change

Giving Tuesday is a time to show support for favorite causes and charities. Most people who know me know that I’m a vocal advocate of veterans and people with disabilities. As a veteran with disabilities, related causes and charities are something I support unabashedly whether it’s the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) or Special Olympics (www.specialolympics.org). 




My daughter Sapphire has Downs, so it’s another reason that giving back, supporting related causes and charities for people with disabilities, is so important to me personally and my family. One of my daughter's favorite causes is Day of Champions. She's participated in every Day of Champions from the first to the most recent one, the 13th, in May 2015 and my family has been there as well. This year the Kiwanis Club stepped in to help and provide assistance, making the event an even better one for the nearly 600 kids with special needs who participated.



Another cause that I support are books for schools, libraries and families. Anyone who knows me probably knows this too. 

What you may not know is that every year since my first book was published in 1995, I’ve quietly been giving away books to schools, libraries, communities, charities and other organizations. It started with the publication of my first book Electronic Publishing Unleashed, which was quickly followed by Web Publishing Unleashed.

As part of my contracts and payment, I received 25 copies of each book from my publisher. This was written into my contracts. So a few days before publication I suddenly had box after box of these big, doorstopper books. Weighing in at around 1000 pages, there were 5 or 6 books to a box and I had no idea what to do with all those boxes of books.

Each book had a cover price of $49.95 so 25 books was $1250 at retail. Selling them probably would have been a great way to generate cash and pay my bills, especially as these boxes of books were quickly followed by other boxes of books, like my books FrontPage Unleashed and Windows NT Pocket Consultant.

I didn’t want to sell the books, however. I kept two copies for my library, gave away 2 or 3 copies to readers, and donated the rest to organizations where the books would be put to good use whether these were schools, libraries, learning centers or whatever.

Over the years, I expanded the book giving to include my fiction works and other works by RP Media authors. As I have about 100 or so professionally published books and even more published through RP Media, this has meant giving away thousands and thousands of copies of my books to schools, libraries, learning centers and other places where the books could be used to help others. As year by year RP Media matches my giveaways with the books of other RP Media authors and has a library of over 1,500 titles, the total reach is even greater.

I’ve received lots of heartfelt thanks from those I donated books to but none more so than from students in classrooms in Puerto Rico who never before had books of their own. Entire classes wrote their individual Thank Yous and it made all the hard work worthwhile.

Digital has opened up entirely new ways to ensure everyone has access to books. Through Ripple Reader, Epic and others, I’ve been able to participate in programs to provide free access to books for classrooms and teachers, but one of the most unique efforts I support is Project eShelf, which provides free access to hearing and speech impaired children in Scotland including St. Columba's Girls National School in Douglas, Cork.

My goal when I began this work was basic: simply to give back in a meaningful way. Over the past 20 years, these efforts have meant giving away over $1,000,000 in books to schools, libraries, communities, charities and other organizations worldwide. 

When I started this work all those years ago, a $1,000,000 goal was unfathomable. It seemed a great reach, but it was accomplished one step at a time. Baby steps at first, then larger steps and new paths opened. The goal reached and with less means to provide support, I will quietly step away from the effort now, though my books will remain available in specialized free access programs for schools and libraries.

My hope though is that I’ve inspired you who are reading this to pick up where I leave off. Want to give back and support books and reading? There are many ways you can do this right now:

First Book (www.firstbook.org)
Books for Kids (www.booksforkids.org)
Reading is Fundamental (www.rif.org

These organizations are nonprofits that provide books to children. There are many others as well, and much you can do if you want to forge your own path as well.

I also encourage you to support Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) and Special Olympics (www.specialolympics.org).

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, March 9, 2015

From the Incubator to the Crib: When Joy Turns to Heart-Wrenching Sorrow and Sorrow Gives Way to Acceptance

Raising a child with disabilities requires patience, compassion, understanding. The difficult circumstances made my wife and I question having other children. Still, when my wife got pregnant unexpectedly, we saw it as a blessing and a joyful surprise. Even more joyful was later news that everything with the pregnancy was proceeding normally.

A normal pregnancy is a term doctors use, as opposed to an abnormal pregnancy. This time, all it took for me to fall in love with our child, was an ultrasound picture taken at about six months, showing our child’s beautiful face and cute, little fingers. Until that picture, I had doubts about whether this really would be a normal pregnancy for my wife and our child. I wished it to be, but that doesn’t make it so.

I could tell my wife was just as relieved as I was and we seemed to be in the home stretch, until everything went terribly wrong. My wife was rushed to the hospital in preterm labor. The doctors did what they could and gave her medication to try to stop the labor.

It was a tense 24 hours, with lots of pacing and hair pulling, but my wife and child made it through and the preterm labor was halted. My wife was sent home from the hospital and ordered to stay in bed for the next few weeks.

Bed rest isn’t something we were unfamiliar with. My wife was prescribed bed rest several times during her previous pregnancy.

Bed rest worked until it didn’t and my wife was rushed to the hospital about a week later. This time, the doctors were unable to stop her preterm labor. My wife gave birth in a hospital room swarming with doctors and specialists.

At barely 32-weeks in utero, our child, who we later named Jasmine, was born way too early. Jasmine was tiny and blue, and she wasn’t breathing. She was handed off immediately to a neonatal specialist who tried desperately to clear her lungs and get her to breathe.

I cried, and I’ll admit to crying to whoever asks, when she finally breathed. But I never got to hold baby girl Jasmine that day and neither did my wife.

My wife and new daughter spent several days in the hospital together. At barely 4 pounds, Jasmine was in the neonatal care unit, inside an incubator, and my wife was in a hospital recovery room.

When my wife was finally discharged from the hospital, I’ve never seen anyone look sadder than she did when she had to leave baby girl Jasmine behind.

Day after day, week after week, we visited our baby girl in the hospital, watched her in the incubator. My wife would stay all day and often into the evening.

Several weeks passed before we could actually hold baby girl Jasmine. Eight weeks would pass before we could finally bring her home. Those days and nights were an agony, but nothing compared to the heart-wrenching moments when Jasmine wasn’t breathing.



Until next time

Robert Stanek


Monday, January 19, 2015

Raising a Child with Disabilities: How Love, Compassion and Understanding Can Conquer Tragedy

After the birth of my son, Will, my wife had another difficult pregnancy. The medical recommendation was an abortion, or how the doctors put it: “A premature ending of the pregnancy using a surgical dilation and curettage.” That was the day my wife and I learned our child had genetic defects that could bring lifelong problems including congenital heart problems. That was the day my wife and I chose life instead of death and asked the doctors to stitch her uterus so she could try to carry our child to term.

NOTE: This post is a follow up to Tragedy, Hope and New Beginnings, which discusses the effects of toxins and poisons military members and their families are exposed to.

The doctors told us if we did this there would need to be more testing, other procedures, and that we likely would still lose our child. The doctors told us of a life of medical expenses, hospital visits, and likely more surgeries. My wife and I allowed the procedures that would ensure our child’s health but we never wanted to know the results of the tests. We never wanted to know the exact, devastating diagnosis.

Why? Because our child was more important to us than the devastating diagnosis or how such diagnosis could be used to help us “make the right” decision. The right decision to us was to have our child, as long as our child’s health and my wife’s health were not in danger.

Until that moment, I thought I’d lived through difficult days. As a child, I’d been hit by a car while riding my bike and dragged beneath it. I’d seen my step-father die in an explosion and soon after, my sister, Bridgette, from an undiagnosed brain injury suffered in the explosion. I’d been deployed to conflict zones and survived numerous combat and combat support missions.

But that moment—that day—was one of the most difficult of my life and it was followed by months of difficulty, with the pregnancy, with stress and worry. That year was also the first of many to follow where our medical expenses topped $30,000.

There were many more scares during the pregnancy and times when our child was almost lost to us, but six months later, my daughter was born. I took one look at her and named her Sapphire, because to me, she was as precious and wonderful as the gemstone which is her namesake.

The doctors saw only her devastating diagnosis as they whisked her away. I saw five fingers on each tiny hand, five toes on each tiny foot, beautiful brown eyes, and a cute button nose. I saw Sapphire, my daughter, who I loved instantly and unquestioningly.


 
 
 

 

 

 

 
Until next time,
 
Robert Stanek