My insurance career is not the typical story of taking over a family business, or growing up and remaining in the same town my whole life. Instead it is a journey that changed courses as life threw me many trials and tribulations. I hope you don't mind if I share with you my family's story. I will start with where and when my insurance career began, then the second stage involving a move and meeting my wife, Suzanne, which leads to two more moves both of which involve illnesses to three family members. I will finish with the creation of Allegheny Pacific Insurance Services in September of 2007 and I hope that my story will help you see how the three goals of Allegheny Pacific were shaped by my experiences.
It begins in Orange County California in 1982 when I became a Farmers Insurance agent. There I shared an office with Allegheny Pacific’s now Vice President, Roger Van Matre. Roger and I have been friends ever since, in fact, he still lives in the same house in Riverside to this day and he was in my wedding! I was a young single man who couldn't seem to find love in Southern California. Then, in 1987 a friend of mine from college was hired at our state’s capital, and he invited me up to see the area. Well I fell in love with the area and especially Tahoe, so in 1988 I sold my Farmers insurance agency and moved to Sacramento. This is where I met my wife Suzanne. Suzanne is from a small Northern California town called Burney. We dated for about two years and got married in September of 1989. During this time, I opened an independent insurance brokerage specializing in Big-Rig trucks called Network Truck Insurance Services with the tag line “only old-fashioned in service” which meant I was going to stay on the cutting edge of technology yet strive to maintain personal service with my clients.
This is when the first of the three family illnesses changed my life. Suzanne's father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so we decided to move to Redding in order to be closer to him and her family. It was just 1990, so this change occurred quickly. Suzanne and I were able to purchase our first home in Redding, and this is where our family gets planted and grows. The first child to be born was a girl we named Krystina and she was a happy healthy baby. Things were going great with the business, so we bought a bigger house and had our second child, a son we named Jacob, who was born prematurely at twenty-nine weeks weighing all of two pounds! Redding did not have a facility that could care for a newborn as early as Jacob, so he was born at UC Davis hospital in Sacramento. He was so tiny that his hand could not even wrap around my pinky finger. He was in the UC Davis Neonatal Intensive Care unit for almost a month, there he became big and healthy enough to be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Redding’s Mercy Hospital.
Jacob was there for another three weeks until he was finally allowed home. This was 1995 and a small baby this size was no easy feat, we even made the cover of Mercy magazine. Jacob’s premature birth was the second illness that I have referred too. This effected Network Truck Insurance Services in a big way. Suzanne had started leaking amniotic fluid at 20 weeks, so she had to be on bed rest in order to protect the baby. The difficulty is that Suzanne not only cared for Krystina who was one-year-old at the time, but she also handled the accounting for the brokerage. In her absence I had to take over all of her roles on top of the ones I had already. Plus, I had to take care of Suzanne as well. This tough time lasted for almost three months until finally Jacob came home and Suzanne could come back to work. At the time I did not think anything could be worse than what we went through with Jacob, but I had no idea what the future had in store for the four of us.
It was the summer of 1999 and Suzanne was expecting again, and through the first trimester everything was going great. However, because of Jacob's premature birth UC Davis put us on a high-risk pregnancy list, and after the first trimester UC Davis sent a nurse to do a level two ultrasound. That was when we discovered that Sarah had a rare congenital heart defect known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome or HLHS. This is a condition where the heart's right ventricle does not develop. Simply put Sarah has half a heart. We began to seek second opinions as we could not believe that after what we went through with Jacob lightning could not strike twice. We finally came to grips with the diagnosis and accept that not only did lightning strike twice, but the second strike was much more severe. We began to research our options and found three. First, was the unthinkable for us, terminate the pregnancy. After having two children whom we loved so dearly it was just unthinkable for us to make this decision. The other two was with a heart transplant or a series of palliative surgeries. In 1999 the only hospital in California doing pediatric heart transplants was Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California. Sarah’s situation at birth would be acute and extremely critical as she would need immediate surgery because Doctors could only keep her alive for about a day. It was explained to us that waiting for an infant heart could take much longer than that and we were afraid that the odds were not in our favor. This coupled with the requirement that we must move to Loma Linda and live there before and six months after the surgery made this choice nearly impossible. We then met with a pediatric surgeon named Dr. Frank Hanley at UCSF Children’s Hospital. He had been performing a series of three open heart surgeries for children with HLHS for many years. Many of these children were doing very well, so our decision was to go with the three surgeries and San Francisco was much closer to our home. Knowing how difficult things were when Jacob was in the hospital, and knowing Sarah’s illness would have us going through more invasive and longer lasting battles with open heart surgeries three times in eight years, we made the decision to sell the insurance business.
Sarah was born on March 22, 2000 at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. However, what was supposed to be open heart surgery with an average stay of one month turned into a nightmare three month stay in Room 1 of the UCSF Pediatric Intensive Care unit. Sarah was unable to breathe on her own when the ventilator was removed. This was attributed to increased pressure because Sarah’s right ventricle was about 10% developed and in most HLHS babies it is non-existent. The answer the doctors finally came up with was to send Sarah in for her second surgery early. A surgery intended to be done at three to five years of age was being done on Sarah at three months. Sarah became the youngest patient ever to have this surgery, and after her surgery she was able to breathe on her own. Yet again lightning strikes and during Sarah’s recovery she has a stroke that left Sarah with right side hemiplegia. Sarah's recovery was so rough that the doctors at UCSF with our agreement decide to put of the third surgery until it is absolutely necessary. Due to Sarah's physiology her health would deteriorate over the next ten years until finally lifesaving surgery is needed, but UCSF decides that the procedure is too risky and refers us too Stanford where Dr. Katsuhide Maeda agrees to perform Sarah's final open heart surgery. After a one month stay Sarah makes it through and is now the healthiest she has ever been. Sarah is now sixteen years old and through the years Sarah has spent more than two hundred days in ICU's with mom taking the daytime shifts and dad taking most of the night times. There are many more stories to tell, and if you would like to read some of them you can go to www.thesarahannefoundation.org
Sarah recovering from her Fontan surgery at Stanford Hospital Nov. 2011
One of the other issues that made our lives even more difficult was my small group medical insurance plan that contained large deductibles and co-pays along with increased premiums after Sarah’s birth. The insurance company raised our insurance premiums so high that we could no longer afford to pay them anymore. That is when I made the decision to go back to school and get my teaching credential. I had arranged a sale that would keep me working in the business for one year. During that time, I went to National University and was successful in securing my K-12 teaching credential in science. I had also received a grant from the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship with a requirement that I teach at a low performing school. In 2001 there weren’t any low performing high schools in Shasta County. That is when I secured a teaching position in Lower Lake, California, so in 2001 we moved to Lake County, California. This location was better for Sarah because UCSF had a clinic in Santa Rose which was an hour’s drive away. I knew that securing a job as a teacher would do two things. First, it would get us a group medical policy without cost to us, second, it would lower our deductibles and out of pocket expenses. However, this was only a temporary fix because a starting teacher’s salary is extremely low. The only way we made ends meet was the monthly payments from the sale of the business that would run out in five years, so I knew I had to prepare for this situation. I decided to continue with classes to secure my master’s degree from National University as well as obtaining an administrative credential form Sonoma State University. Then I could become an administrator in hopes that I could make enough money to support the family. However, during my five years as a teacher I decided education was not the place for someone who was used to being the boss and making decisions in a quick and efficient manner. This is when I decided to go back into the insurance business, but this time I was going to create a brokerage that was so cutting edge using new technology that it would be paperless and have the ability to work remotely from anywhere even while I was in the hospital for those long stays as well as have clients able to access their information on-line. In September of 2007 I started Allegheny Pacific Insurance Services, Inc. with the following goals:
- Each policy and the coverage within that policy are intended to provide protection for or from specific risks, and we want to educate you about those risks, so you can choose the coverage level that is right for your specific needs.
- Personal Service:
- Although technology can be good, it can also have the unintended consequence of removing old fashioned personalized service. That is why we are committed to be sure you have access directly to your broker who knows you; rather than calling an 800 number and speaking to a different person every time you call.
- Make A Difference:
- We have decided that making the world a better place while we go about our business is better than separating the two. That is why we support The Sarah Anne Foundation with a $20.00 donation for each person our clients refer to us. Please visit www.thesarahannefoundation.org to see what work we are doing.
Once again, thank you for choosing Allegheny Pacific Insurance Services to handle your insurance needs. Your business is greatly appreciated!