Everyone understands the significance of mom and the type of impact moms have in our lives. My mom was a tremendous person who had a profound impact in my life.
The sixth of twelve children, she was born in 1947 into a poor family in a rural part of Jamaica. The reality of her surroundings – a tiny one-room house, no electricity or running water, walking miles bare feet to school on dirt roads – made her dream to one day become financially independent and in a position to help others - monumental. My mom attended Seaview Primary School over 50 years ago and she fought hard to create a better future for herself – moving to the U.S. at age 22; working and going to school; obtaining a degree in hotel management; earning a scholarship for a hotel management program in Germany – having a successful career in hotel management---she was a woman who despite achieving success, never ever forgot where she came from. This woman, my mother, was Lynne Mitchell and I am inspired to give because of her legacy of love.
At the age of 62, my mom was diagnosed with Familial Amyloidosis. For 2 years prior she was in and out of the hospital on a regular basis, often with life threatening symptoms and the doctors had no answers for us. I remember the day the doctors finally diagnosed her condition. I remember how relieved I was to finally have a name for what was wrong. Until they explained what it was. You see, Familial Amyloidosis is a rare genetic condition that she was born with. Her entire life her liver produced abnormal proteins called amyloids - that for 6 decades deposited in every organ, muscle and tissue of her body. At age 60 she began to experience heart failure and a host of other serious medical problems. Up until age 60, she was a healthy, vibrant woman. I called her the energizer bunny because she could never sit still. She was always doing something.
I remember after her diagnosis, doctor after doctor told me, 'Take your mom home and get her affairs in order, there is nothing we can do.' I stood on a mountain of no’s before I got one yes. And that yes came from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The Mayo Clinic said, 'Bring your mom here, we will evaluate her.' The typical treatment for patients with familial amyloidosis is a liver transplant - because the liver is the factory where the bad proteins are made. But in my mom’s case, the amyloids had practically destroyed her heart so her treatment was a HEART AND A Liver transplant.
There’s so many different things I learned from my mom’s illness, so many highs and lows – so many life and death situations. One thing I learned was the power of hope because to keep my mom going when things were getting extremely difficult; to keep her going in order for her to continue to fight when her body was becoming so frail, I found that the most important thing was giving her an ounce of hope. Similarly, the most important thing for the family was to have an ounce of hope. Somebody once said that “Hope in the future gives you power in the present.” It was so important for us just to have hope in the possibility that the transplants could go through for my mom, and that the Mayo Clinic was going to be able to do better than all the different hospitals that were able to do absolutely nothing.
My mom used to always tell me, “Don’t just say you love, show your love.” When she was in Rochester, MN waiting for her heart and liver transplants she had medication being pumped into her heart 24/7 to keep it beating. She had a little battery-operated machine strapped to her at all times. We had to put new batteries in every single day because we could never take a chance that the batteries stopped working. She could barely walk. But she was still trying to find a way to show love. And during this time my mom adopts not one, not two, but three kids in Jamaica. She had started the process before she became ill and after she was diagnosed, she refused to give up on her dream to give these kids the hope of a better future. And I won’t forget this. There was a point where my mom had to fill out some paperwork and she had to send the paperwork back to the government in Jamaica for the kids she was adopting. And the post office was a 5-minute walk from her apartment. But because of the fact that she is frail and she needs a new heart, she can’t do anything excessive. And for her – a 5-minute walk was excessive– but my mom decided she had to get this paperwork off – because you can’t just say you love – you have to show you love. It took my mom over 30 minutes to do a 5-minute walk because she had to - walk and stop; walk and stop; walk and stop - just to put those papers in the mail. And it’s when I look back at those types of stories that I get what my mom always meant when she said, “don’t just say you love. “
After waiting nine months, which took an even further toll on her body as her health continued to deteriorate, my mom with her weakened body walked into Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital after she received the long awaited call that a matching donor had been found for her. She received her transplanted organs but post transplant, she suffered and endured many major and life-threatening setbacks and spent nine months in the hospital: five of them in the Intensive Care Unit and at least two of those months on life-support. On June 20, 2012 (her 65th birthday), my mom was able to leave St. Mary’s hospital and board a plane (albeit wheelchair-bound) and we returned home to South Florida. When we arrived at Miami International Airport, as I embraced her, she whispered to me with tears in her eyes, “I love you, thank you for everything.” She was grateful for the opportunity to be back home and more importantly to reunite with family and friends. She never however got the opportunity to enjoy her life. Still physically debilitated, wheelchair bound, dialysis dependent and unable to walk or take care of herself, my mom concealed her tears, but continued to share her smiles. She fought the good fight up to the end, never complaining and never wanting to be a burden. In September 2012, due to a massive infection, she died.
My mom, this person who had me be who I am, I have lost her, however, what I haven’t lost is the kind of heart that she had. And what I have come to realize is that it’s not about what life takes away from me, it’s about what I do with what’s left.
Now, as I think about how beautiful and amazing my personal journey has been and what I have been able to accomplish:
- Having had the privilege of going to the University of Chicago and Northwestern University Law School;
- Marrying the love of my life and raising two wonderful boys together;
- Working for major law firms and companies such as AutoNation and Burger King;
- Becoming the General Counsel for Bacardi North America;
- Traveling all across the world;
- Being in meetings with highly influential people;
- Becoming a person of influence myself and being able to do so many different things.
I was 3 years old when my parents left Jamaica and 8 years old when they returned. And for those 5 years that my parents were away, I lived in the same rural community my mom grew up in in the same conditions - with no electricity and no indoor plumbing and an outhouse for a bathroom. We drew water from a tank. Cooked outside on coals. I walked miles to school and I went to a one-room schoolhouse just like Seaview. So I am 100% clear that there is barely any kind of distinction between me and the kids that are back in that same rural area in Jamaica today; the one thing that I got that they don’t have is opportunity. The one thing that kept my family going was the fact that we had hope. And so when I lost my mom, I decided to create a non-profit charitable foundation called the Lynne Mitchell Foundation and this foundation honors my mom's legacy of love. I started the foundation three months after she died. Our Mission: Loving Children . . . Changing Lives. We are hard at work in the same rural community in Jamaica where my family is from giving hope and opening doors of opportunity for children by offering high school scholarships, school breakfast, lunch, transportation, and building programs, back packs, and school supplies.
What I am doing through the Lynne Mitchell Foundation is creating opportunity and sewing seeds of hope. Because back in that same rural area in Jamaica there is another Marlene, there’s another Lynne, and the only difference is opportunity and hope. And going back to what somebody once told me: that hope in the future gives you power in the present – I know that in order to empower these kids right now, I have to help them to see some hope for the future. And so how do I do that, I do that through education. I do that by actually giving them opportunity. And so I want to do something massive, something big here, but one thing I know is that I can’t do this by myself. The Foundation is looking to continue our work in this rural area in Jamaica and give these kids the kind of education that can allow them to change the legacy of their last name; to give them the kind of education that’s going to allow them to provide for their families; to give them the kind of education that’s going to allow them to completely change the landscape of their life. And it starts off with one thought, one foundation; one gift at a time.
Review from #MyGivingStory