Edward Eckenhoff first came to my attention a few years ago. I didn't know who he was until I read a story about him that caught my attention and earned my admiration. Since that time, Ed has been a major source of inspiration and motivation for me. There are no fluff or phony handshakes or broken promises or bandleader smiles. You see, Ed is the real article. Ed is everything that is good about life wrapped up in one precious package.
This week, Ed will be honored by B'nai B'rith with a dinner in his honor as he is recognized with the National Healthcare Award. I'm going to try to tell you a little bit about him, and although I know I won't do justice to him with just a few words, I'm going to try.
Imagine, if you will, a young man just finishing his freshman year in college at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. It is 10 p.m. on the last day of school and the man has retired to bed. The man's roommate arrives home after visiting his girlfriend in one of the sorority houses on campus, only to realize that he left his wallet at his girlfriend's house. The roommate wakes up the young man and asks him to join him on the drive to the sorority house.
"Join me. It will be our last ride together this year," the roommate pleads.
The young man suspects that his friend has been drinking but thinks he must be OK to drive.
Twenty minutes later, the car is upside down and off the side of the road. The roommate is dead and the young man, Ed, is lying in the middle of a cow pasture with a broken spine.
That drive was the beginning of a great saga that continues to this day, and God willing, for many years to come.
Ed's reflection on the accident and what occurred to him is noteworthy.
He makes no excuses about the fact that he was on the dean's list his freshman year, but as he puts it, he was on "the wrong one." Like so many of us at that stage in our lives, Ed lacked focus and was meandering through life without any goals or definite plan. He now believes that the tragic accident he survived was a blessing in disguise. He refers to it this way, "It was a very fortunate turning point in my life."
As a matter of fact, from that time forward Ed Eckenhoff has never looked back and has managed to accomplish things that others only dream about. He earned his bachelor's degree from Transylvania, a master's degree in education from the University of Kentucky and eventually another master's degree, this one in healthcare administration, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
He has done more than dream his dreams; he has made them a reality through his enormous courage, persistence, drive, integrity and ingenuity. But he hasn't been alone.
One of Ed's brothers is a world-renowned architect who has designed a number of hospitals and healthcare facilities and now is designing a home for Ed and his wife in Naples, Fla., for when Ed decides to "come off the field of play."
Ed's youngest brother is one of the top anesthesiology scholars in the country, doing work at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.
Ed lost his twin brother eight years ago to acute lymphatic leukemia. Before his death, he enjoyed a distinguished career as a research entrepreneur. His most famous invention, "the patch," is used for all kinds of products. Before his passing, Ed's brother had more than 100 patents to his name.
Ed has mentioned how important his father was; he was a role model for Ed and his brothers. He served as dean of the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine for many years and had distinguished himself as a renowned medical educator and scholar. Ed's dad passed away two years ago.
Then there's Judy, Ed's wife, whom he met when he was the administrator of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. At the time, she was the supervisor of the occupational therapy department. They dated for a couple of years and eventually married. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of observing them at a social occasion knows that theirs is a true love story that grows stronger as the years pass.
After their marriage Ed was approached about developing a world-class rehabilitation hospital in Washington. The rest, of course, is history.
Ed Eckenhoff has made his dreams come true. The National Rehabilitation Hospital is a model of excellence and ingenuity recognized all over the world, and the person responsible for its birth and growth is one of the most admired individuals in healthcare-Ed.
I asked Ed what his formula for success is, and this is what he told me: "We all have dreams and I believe it is important to make them come true. But in order to make dreams come true, you have to adjust your own thinking and accept others' ideas and thinking so they accept what you are trying to do." The other thing he made clear was that even though the National Rehabilitation Hospital is successful, he and his colleagues are always on guard against complacency.
That's good advice for all of us.
A turning point can come at any time,
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Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com