Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend Cigna Athlete Leslie Goldgehn

Leslie GoldgehnAs the race weekend approaches I want to share with you a story of inspiration from Cigna.  Leslie Goldgehn is 65 years old and a reside of Larkspur, California.  She is a college professor in a role that requires critical and analytical thinking and the ability to stand for long periods of time.

One day when she was headed into class, she received a call from her mother in Houston that her father’s health was declining rapidly and probably would not make it until her next visit two weeks away. Immediately after class, Leslie made a reservation to fly out the next day so she could take care of her father.

Upon landing in Houston, Leslie got into a prearranged limo for the hour ride to her parents’ house. About two exits away, Leslie called her parents to say that she was almost there. Within seconds, the limo driver passed out. She desperately tried to wake him up from the back seat. With the car moving at 85 miles per hour, it crossed the southbound lanes into the median and head first into the northbound traffic.  It was not long until the limo hit an SUV in a high-speed head-on collision.

Concussion, traumatic brain injury as well as broken bones in her ribs, neck, hands, and lower back were just some of the injuries she faced. By June, she came home to San Francisco still badly injured physically and emotionally.  At that point, she embarked on intense physical and psychological therapy, which she continues to this day. She couldn’t cook, drive, read, or engage in normal every day activities, including getting herself dressed.  She felt helpless, scared, worried and alone.

She continues to heal from the various broken bones and torn ligaments and tendons. The fact that she survived a C1, C2, and C3 neck break is quite miraculous.  Despite the neck brace, body brace, and wrist braces, her outward appearance looked in good shape giving many people the impression she would make a full recovery.

“I might have looked fine, but I wasn’t,” said Leslie. “The traumatic brain injury and lingering pain from broken bones made everything impossible. I have a whole new level of empathy for people with brain injuries or what I call ‘can’t see it’ injuries.”

With her grown children rearranging their schedules and neighbors and members of her synagogue pitching in, she found the support she needed to have meals delivered and be driven to doctor and physical therapy appointments.

By Fall semester 2016, she felt ready to attempt a return to work part time and Cigna vocational coach, Karen Franz, called to offer assistance. Every disability customer’s needs are different, so Cigna vocational coaches help customers achieve their health and return to work goals by providing: access to rehabilitation resources including ergonomic office equipment, software, education and accommodations to help customers stay safe and be productive at work, including encouragement and support, such as resume writing and job placement assistance.

“In that situation, I did not know what I needed. Karen helped me figure that out,” said Leslie. “She was very patient, positive, and helpful. I never dreamed I would get that kind of support.”

Cigna provided a steering wheel accessory to help Leslie with driving and a special hook to help her get out the car more easily. Karen offered a dictation software to make typing easier and a sit-stand desk and stool to help manage back pain.

Healing is an ongoing process and Leslie has learned that it has its ups and downs and set backs. However, Leslie will be making the next push to work full time this fall 2017 semester. She has continued building her strength by walking her dog, swimming, being religious about her physical therapy, doing more things around the house, developing a bit of a social life again, and deepening her spiritual practice.

Further helping Leslie build her strength, Karen also suggested Leslie try the Cigna Customer Referral Program with Achilles International, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate in athletic events. The referral program is just one example of Cigna’s promise to partner with customers “Together, All the Way” along their unique health journey.

As a special recognition of Leslie’s hard work recovering, Cigna offered her the opportunity to participate in the Disneyland 5K on Friday, September 1, as a symbol of the journey she’s taken to get back to work.

“Participating in a race represents a healthy milestone on the road to recovery, but it’s also about independence,” said Karen. “Cigna believes that, as you gain physical strength, you’ll also build confidence, which can positively affect all areas of your life, including your work performance.”

“Every so often I needed Karen’s help reminding me about the little milestones. She helped me focus on what I can do and flip my thinking around to recognize how far I’ve come,” said Leslie. “With my injuries, I know I will never be 100% back to my old self. However, this journey I’m on is about little milestones and there are many finish lines.”

Thinking about how far she’s come and the race and fall semester still ahead of her, Leslie paused to consider what’s been driving her onward.

“Facing oncoming traffic and the car that we hit head on, I thought about my mom – I didn’t want her to bury my dad and me. I thought about my adult children, Kim and David – they still need me and I have so more to share with them,” said Leslie. “And, today, I also think about my job knowing I still want to stand up in front of the classroom and teach and inspire students. My father passed away while I was in the hospital. I will be dedicating my race to him.”

I hope to see and meet Leslie out on the 5K course this weekend.  When I shared stories last January of athletes pursuing races despite the trials they were facing, I was even more inspired when I saw them in person out on the course.

About the Author

Pamela Frost

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