Twenty-six years ago, my mission in life was to win a New York State Wrestling Championship.
I committed myself to a lifestyle, I made the sacrifices, I put in the time, I starved myself, I even shaved my head.
I had the hunger, the desire, and the determination, but I came up short.
For many years, after I graduated it seemed like I got nothing out of my six years of total dedication to the sport. That the trade-off of what I gave and what I got in return to this sport was way out of whack.
I hated wrestling for it.
To put every ounce of your soul into achieving something and to get nothing out of it in return was beyond my comprehension and I just could not justify it in my head.
Until, I had adversity in my life.
And slowly but surely, I started realizing how much the sport of wrestling actually has given back to me.
Much more than I ever knew.
I don’t know if we each have a destiny,
Or if we’re all just floating around
Accidental-like on a breeze.
But I think maybe it’s both.
Maybe both are happening at the same time
August 21st, 2009
“Jess, why don’t you come sit down and watch this movie with us?”
I asked my daughter in an attempt to spend more time with her before she headed back to college. In a few days, she would be returning to the Fashion Institute of Technology for her sophomore year.
“It’s Serendipity, with John Cusack.”
“I think I am just going to go to sleep for a while…”
Jess said as she spun around the wooden banister and headed up the stairs to her bedroom.
That didn’t sound right.
Usually, Jess would say, “I’m going to bed – goodnight,” why did she say, “I’m going to go to sleep for a while?
That was weird.
Without anything else to go on, other than my parental radar, I dismiss the slight change in her “good night” wording and convince myself Jess is just tired after coming home from a ten-hour shift at work, where she has worked the whole summer in a retail fashion boutique in the Hampton’s.
In a few seconds, my parental radar’s antenna comes back down to earth, and I get involved in the movie once again.
“Serendipity, it is one of my favorite words. It is just a nice sound for what it means a fortunate accident. Except, I don’t believe in accidents. I believe fate is behind everything. I think fate sends us little signs, and it is how we read those signs that determine whether we are happy or not.”
“What was that?” I ask my wife, BettyJane, as I immediately do what any normal person does when they hear a noise in the middle of the night.
I wait for the second noise to confirm I heard the first noise.
There is nothing but an eerie silence.
I am still not convinced the silence negated the first boom, so I get up and put on the outside lights to the house.
I look outside.
Everything seems fine.
I check the garage – everything looks normal.
No other noises.
I’m satisfied there is no home invasion in progress, the car is not being robbed, and my family is safe, so I sit back down on the couch and continue watching the movie.
As soon as I sit down, I hear the second, louder noise – this time
BettyJane jerks up off of the couch and dashes upstairs, instinctively yelling
“JESS! JESS! JESS!”
We didn’t know it at the time, but the first BOOM was Jess losing her balance and falling into her closet door.
The second THUD was her closet door collapsing and hitting the wall, and sliding to the ground.
I follow BettyJane and her instinctive motherly hysteria up the stairs.
We both get to the top of the stairs at the same time.
In the hallway to Jess’s bedroom, we see our twelve-year-old son, Travis, holding his sister’s limp body in his arms.
As soon as Travis sees my wife and me, he drops his sister’s body and backs up to the edge of the wall, like someone would do after they accidentally shot someone and stood over the dead body.
He is in shock.
I remember saying over and over again as I tried to lift Jess’s limp body from the ground. Her body is like liquid Silly Putty; every time I try and raise her, her body finds an opening and plunks to the floor, without any form.
Travis is motionless.
My seven-year-old daughter, Cassidy appears on the top of the stairs with our house phone. My wife yanks it from her small hands and starts dialing for help.
I momentarily look up and think to myself that Cassidy, standing on the stairs, looking at what is happening, looks as innocent as Cindy Lu Who when she saw the Grinch stealing the last bulb off the tree.
And just like the Grinch, I think up a lie, and I think one up quick, “Jess is just not feeling well – why don’t you just go downstairs, we will be down in a while,” I tell her as deceptively as the Grinch said to Cindy Lu.
She looks back at me as disbelieving as Cindy Lu Who looked at the Grinch as he slithered up the chimney.
As I am speaking to Cassidy, out of the corner of my eye, I see Jess attempting to use the wall to gain enough balance to stand.
But she creates enough room between her body and the wall to make an opening for me to insert my arm and help her up.
I get her up.
She leans on me.
Her face is six inches from mine.
Her beautiful hazel green eyes have turned morbidly black with dilation.
Jess’s body starts shaking, trembling.
She is seizing.
Her eyes roll back into her head – all I see now is the whites….
Her body gets real stiff. I feel if I were to move her, I would break her.
“I got to go – I got to go…” I yell out.
I bend down, put my left arm between Jess’s legs while my right arm grabs her elbow, and I put her in a fireman’s carry hold, and I run down the stairs.
“Be careful, don’t slip, don’t slip – take each step,” I say to myself as I run frantically down the stairs.
I get to the bottom of the stairs.
Her body feels different.
She is covering more of my back and less of my shoulders.
I kneel down and gently lower my head to take her body off my back and shoulders.
I place her on the cold, tile floor inside the front door.
She has stopped breathing.
I immediately pinch her nose, open her mouth and start performing CPR.
“This is not happening,” I think to myself, as I blow air into her mouth.
I put my right palm on my left thumb, and I start pressing on her chest.
I keep repeating the process for what feels like forever.
I feel a tap on my shoulders and hear, “We’ll take over from here.”
The EMT’s are here. Thank God.
They open up their EMT medical box. They apply an oxygen mask to Jess’s face and do something to Jess’s chest, and within a few seconds, they have her breathing again.
Wow. That was scary.
A few minutes go by, and Jess seems to be coming out of it.
I walk outside for some air. I needed to stabilize myself after the heart-pounding events of the last few minutes.
I hear, “Hey buddy. Buddy, over here.”
Two police officers are waving me over to them.
I walk over to them.
One of the officers puts his arm around me, starts to walk me in a direction away from the other officer and says,
“Hey, buddy – the next time you call 911 make sure someone is not breathing, you hear?”
And he walks away as if I annoyed him.
I didn’t have time to say “F&*k You” to the officer; I see my daughter being brought out of my house, and down my front stairs on a gurney. The EMT’s are not rushing. They are calm, and they are by her side. They head toward the ambulance in the street.
I think to myself, “A tragedy has been averted.”
Why else would the officer say that to me, if we were not out of the woods?
“Is anyone driving in the ambulance with us?” the EMT inquires.
It immediately dawns on me that Maverick, my fifteen-year-old son, is not home, and we need to call someone to come over and watch Cassidy and Travis, who is still in shock.
“Call Rich and Terri,” I yell to my wife as she is lifting her leg to get into the back of the ambulance.
“Ok, I will. I’ll meet you at the hospital. Don’t stop for Jujubes,”
BettyJane says as the ambulance back door slams shut and she disappears.
Things have to be OK if she is quoting Seinfeld, right?
When I get to the hospital, Jess has already been transported into a partition in the Emergency Room; BettyJane is outside of that partition looking in.
Five doctors are working on Jess.
They seem to have her stabilized.
Everything is under control.
A few minutes go by; both BettyJane and I are watching every move inside that room.
Doctors start leaving the room, one at a time.
In a few minutes, the last doctor leaves the room.
That is a good sign.
Now there are only a few nurses in the room with Jess.
They start leaving also.
Now there is just one nurse in the room. Jess is stable.
Wow – that was scary.
BettyJane and I continue watching the one nurse in the room.
She picks up an IV Medical bag, hangs it from Jess’s medical pole, which is attached to her arm.
Then she leaves the room.
Jess must be stable if she doesn’t need anyone by her side, I think to myself.
Twenty seconds goes by.
DING, DING, DING, DING…
Every bell and red alert start to go off, and Jess is shaking uncontrollably. Her head goes up and down, violently hitting the mattress over and over again.
A swarm of doctors and nurses rush into the room.
What just happened?
BettyJane rushes into the room and confronts the nurse who hung the medicine on Jess’s pole.
“What did you give her?”
“What did you give her?”
She gets no reply, so she rushes to the garbage pail where one of the doctors unhooked the IV bag and tossed it away.
“What is this?”
“What is this?”
She asks as she picks the IV bag out of the garbage.
A doctor walks up to her, takes the bag from her hand and escorts her out of the room saying, “We need to work on your daughter now.”
BettyJane obliges and comes by my side outside of the room.
As I look into the room, I see the frantic pace in which everyone is working, and I realize I have entered a place where no person ever wants to be.
I have entered hell.
My wife realizes this also.
She offers up a deal to the Gods:
“TAKE ME INSTEAD”
“TAKE ME INSTEAD”
There is nothing more blood curdling than a mother’s cry and scream when her child is in danger.
I look up, and I see the nurse behind the ER desk is crying.
At that moment, BettyJane decides to sacrifice herself to the gods in place of her daughter.
She decides to do a Tosh.O trust fall, with no one behind her to catch her – to seal the deal.
Luckily I am within five feet of her when she decides to do this and somehow I avert her crashing backward, head first to the floor.
I lift her up, catching her just inches from the floor.
Her body is limp, and she is repeating the words “I’m OK,” “I’m OK.”
I know she is playing possum with me, hoping I would leave her alone so she could attempt the trust fall again without my being there.
I am wise to her strategy, and I hold her in my arms.
She sinks through my arms and withers to the floor.
“Get the white curtains.” A doctor commands.
“Get the white curtains and close the ER!”
“Move everyone out of the ER – NOW!”
Did he just say, “Close the ER?”
The nurse at the ER desk, who has to be a mother, is overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness as she has the same look on her face that Patrick Swayze had in Ghost right before the spirits arrived.
I immediately sense it.
“Ohhh noo. NOOOO,” I yell.
I force BettyJane to sit to avert another attempt to sacrifice herself.
It has been 2 minutes since the red alert.
A Jamaican priest walks over to me and says,
“I would like to administer last rights to your daughter before she dies. She only has a few minutes. Without it, she will not be able to get into heaven.”
I look at him square in the eyes and say, “If you don’t get out of here, I am going to kill you, and you will be the one needing last rights.”
He continues and continues and continues. He puts his hand on my shoulder and starts saying, “Forgive him, Lord, he knows not what he is doing.”
I reply, “I know exactly what I am doing, and I am giving you a five-second head start.”
He moves away.
I look up, and I see my mother and mother-in-law walking into the ER.
Terror is on their faces. I now have to console three people.
The priest attempts to convince my mother, who is a Eucharistic Minister, to allow him to administer last rights. She tells him to get away from her before she punches him.
He moves on.
It has been 3 minutes now.
Come on, come on…
This can’t be happening.
“It’s over,” I thought.
Wait – I see movement from inside the room. I can hear them talking.
Please don’t say it – just don’t say it.
Just don’t say, “Time of Death.”
The doctor is coming out.
I brace myself for what I feel has to be the inevitable speech,
“I am sorry we tried everything that we could…”
Dr. Clarence walks out. My wife and I have nicknamed him that because he looks like the Angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and he says, “We went well beyond what we should have done. She is an eighteen-year-old girl. We tried everything we could to save her.”
No No No No No No
But he then said, “We had to put her into a medically induced coma, it is the best we could do.”
“A medically induced coma?”
I’ll take it – ten seconds ago I thought Jess was dead.
“Does she have at least a 1% chance doctor?”
“Yes, she has a 1% chance.”
“How long will she be like this, doctor?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“For a while.”
Every parent should get this book. It is a quick read but be sure to block out 3 hours or so because you won’t be able to stop.
A book that changed the way I look at life. My wife and two 14-year-old boys have also read the book and we all agree that it is not only an inspiring story but one that is life changing. A very quick read and one that is difficult to put down. This is a must read for anyone that has kids. It is a reminder of just how precious life is. You do not have to be a high school wrestling fan to enjoy this book.
As a coach, a father, a husband, and just someone always striving to have a positive effect, this book hit me on a million different levels. I bought this book because it had a wrestling title but I did not have great expectations. Like most others who reviewed this book, I could not put it down and it had a profound impact on me. After reading this book I regularly find myself now moving beyond the thought of sacrificing one part of my life for another, and simply saying “I want both”. Thank you, John, for writing this book!
Jason Bross, Founder – Pinning Down Autism
This will be my next gift to my entire family and friends.
Tom Magnani HHH wrestling 1979- 2010
I couldn’t put this book down from start to finish. It was beyond inspiring. An amazing story of love, dedication, hope and the will to never give up. I am proud to have read his families story.
on March 20, 2013
I have known the Passaro family for many years through competing against them and trying to prepare my kids to wrestle against them (a very daunting task) but I did not know about the tragic events that they have gone through until I read this book. I started the book and completed it in one sitting, I could not put it down. As a parent of three boys myself I totally felt the pain that the author was going through, the struggle to help his daughter while trying to keep his family with a modicum of normalcy was gripping. This book is an inspiration to anybody who knows how to love their family and would move heaven and earth to save them if they were in trouble. I highly recommend this book, whether you’re a parent or not, this story will find a place in your heart. Bravo to you and your family Mr. Passaro it has been a pleasure and an honor to hear your story!!!
on March 17, 2013
You need to read it! It’s a great book for anyone!
“Amazing awaits when you work hard enough.”
“Champions muster up a little more.”
“There is something inside of you that is greater than any obstacle.”
Great book for athletes, students, parents, teachers, coaches. Great book for all….hopefully each will be as inspired to share it with young people so they can be equally inspired. Many blessings to John and to his family…Miracles are coming…you just have to believe.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone and any family that sometimes finds that life doesn’t always go the way you have planned. The Passaro family and how they have handled themselves in a life changing situation has touched and inspired my entire family…Both myself, my husband and our three children could not put this book down. Thank you to the Passaro family for sharing some very private moments with us. My entire family has each taken something from this book which I am sure we will always remember.
I read this book from front to back in one day. I am not a person to sit and read a book but this one kept me very engaged. I take value in the experiences John has lived in this book and when it comes to my children I am on their team and i will “take the hit” when it comes to them. So glad I took the time to read it.
You don’t have to be a wrestler or fan of wrestling to appreciate this book. I read this book as a wrestling coach at first. By the end, I was reading it as a father. I have read it twice, and intend to read it again. Congrats John, not on your book, but on your ability to live the life you were dealt and to enjoy and get the most out of it.
Debbie McCabe April 10, 2014
All I can say is I can’t believe I didn’t buy it 2 years ago. I didn’t put the book down until I finished reading it at 1:30 am and had to work today.What an inspirational story! This book made my day. It makes you realize how life is short and a gift to cherish. I already recommended this book to my co-workers.Can’t wait to read John’s next book. Thank you, John. You and your wife are truly loving parents, unconditional love, who are deeply in love and who will do anything for your children. Keep the faith.
Buckle your seatbelt for an absolute rollercoaster of emotions ride.!!!
Every parents worst and best dreams for their family are felt in this book.
You will not be able to stop reading and yearn for more at the end of this terrific “TRUE” experience of Family.
It’s a very strong story of an average American family and how a couple of 6-minute events challenge and change the track of life from smooth and straight to a twisting rollercoaster. Jessica is Amazing. Touched by GOD. Mavericks determination and focus through unusual hardship is inspiring. Mr. and Mrs. Passaro with teach you the definition of Unconditional LOVE.
Great Book Gift.