Minnesotan Public Radio August 1st 2024, Kauai Hawaii
Hometown Hero – Michael Puffer
Good evening everyone this is Parry Fanelli with Minnesotan Public Radio. Our hometown hero tonight is Michael Puffer who is a longtime friend of mine, former teammate and baseball player with a legendary right arm capable of throwing any runner out from any distance and a survivor of and a caregiver for his lovely wife who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). He is one of those people that is always looking for someone in need and finding a solution to help them in the best way.
Earlier this week Michael was awarded the caregiver of the year award from the world’s largest and most influential Brain Injury organization – called Team555. I met up with Michael at his condo in Kauai Hawaii after the event last week in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Parry: “Good afternoon Michael! It’s been quite a few years since we have seen each other. I think it was our 10 year class reunion way back when? “
Michael: “Yes Parry I think that was it. That was a long time ago. Hey, do you remember your nickname when you were DJ-ing on that local radio station? WQPM? “
Parry: “Yes I remember that – I was Bono on the phono! And you were the Q-town clown!“
Michael: “Yes that it, some of the best times in my high school days.“
Parry: “Yes mine too. I hear you’ve travelled around the world, lived in many places in the US and just tonight you were recognized by the largest Brain Injury support organization in the world. It has a unique name “Team555” Tell us how you got there and also about the organization with the catchy name. “
Michael: “Ok Parry, it’s a fantastic story and one I love to tell. Not so much about me but how the organization came to be and how it grew to be the largest and I think the best support infrastructure for people and animals who suffered traumatic brain injuries. “
Parry: “Michael how did this all start? “
Michael: “My lovely wife Maria was in a horrific car accident back in October of 2014 and she suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and a spinal cord injury. Our whole lives changed in an instant. We didn’t know if she would live or how much damage there was to her brain and or spinal cord. My wife is doing well now but it wasn’t always that way and the flame that started the roaring fire that is now Team555 began in the days, weeks and months after her accident. “
Parry: “That is great that she is doing better now. How did this tragic event bring Team555 into being? “
Michael: “The first hours and days after the accident were really a blur as we were still in shock and wondering about her wellbeing and how our life would be after such a shock to our family. The first few nights we had to stay very close to the trauma center in Minneapolis but we couldn’t stay in her room and the waiting room is not meant for sleeping, eating, etc. The hospital had an apartment that we could rent. We would have paid any price but the price $350 per night.We stayed for 3 nights. We also had to pay for parking, meals and relatives had to come up with airfare immediately to come and see Maria in those crucial first hours, days and weeks. It also meant I wasn’t working during those first important days. “
Parry: “$350 a night, meals and not working can be a burden on a family. How did that work out? “
Michael: “I really don’t remember but we did it. We used some savings. A local church that we are not a member of came by and blessed us with a check and some of my daughter’s friends and teammates held fundraisers to buy gas and grocery gift cards. Other friends and family made meals that we could re-heat. I’ve never enjoyed Lasagna so much in my life! But in our case most of the family was in the Minneapolis area but there were relatives that flew in from Michigan and New Jersey that also needed rooms to sleep in and meals to eat. After the 3 days in the hospital apartment we stayed with family friends about 30 miles away. “
Parry: “That’s amazing how so many people pulled together for you in that time of crisis. “
Michael: “In many ways we feel blessed to have had so much support during those crucial first 5 days or so. But there did come a time that nearly broke me. I believe it was day five or six and my wife was still in the ICU in a medically induced coma and I had to get up off my knees from praying and tell my wife goodbye because I had to go back to work. It was an incredibly tough moment in my life. I cried all the way home. When I got home I closed the door and looked around. Then it hit me again like a runaway freight train. I had to leave the love of my life, the mother of our two daughters in the most critical time of her life alone in the ICU because I had to go to work. I vowed at that time that would never happen again. “
Parry: “I can see that really affected you. Do you need a few minutes? “
Michael: “Thanks Parry but I want to continue. There is more that I want to get to.
Parry: “Alright Michael. Tell me more. “
Michael: “During the next few months there was always that give and take between staying at the hospital, working and doing the normal things a family does such as grocery shopping, taking my daughter to school events, doctor appointments, and hospital consultations among other things. I was blessed to have family and friends to fill in for me so I could be with Maria or they would pick up my daughter when I got stuck in traffic on the way back from the hospital. “
Parry: “How long did this going back and forth to the hospital go on? “
Michael: “In our situation it was about 4 months commuting the 60 miles to/from Minneapolis and then 2 months back and forth to a closer facility. I know of many others in similar situations and the loved one’s hospital stay can last from many months and even years. And the commute could be much longer also.“
Parry: “How did things go when Maria finally came home? “
Michael: “It was a blessing to have her at home but it was still a financial difficulty on us. Our insurance did not cover home care and I had cut my work schedule in half and my dad and a cousin come to our house 3 days a week because Maria needed constant supervision and had to be fed and cared for in all ways.“
Parry: “Is this still the case that she needs constant supervision? “
Michael: “No, she is doing much better now and I can leave her at home as I go to work. I usually go home for lunch and I ask friends and relatives to stop in a check on her if I’m going to be gone longer. “
Parry: “Is you home life settling in a bit? Or is it still chaotic?“
Michael: “We’ve settled into a pattern or maybe it’s a phase. As time went on I reflected on the significant time periods and events since that fateful day and that’s where the Team555 concept came in to my mind. “
Parry: “Tell me about that the origin and growth of Team555. What does Team555 mean? Is it an acronym? “
Michael; “Yes, the Team are the wonderful survivors, caregivers, family and friends and the 555 stands for the time periods I mentioned. “
Parry: “Ok. “
Michael: “The first “5” is for the first 5 days after a traumatic event and in this case it was the first five days after Maria’s accident. We were scrambling, frightful, scared and having to spend a great deal of money in a short period of time. We had to be away from home, on the road and living out of suitcases. Eating out, missing work, school, burning gas and being away was our life in that time. Friends and relatives were in a similar state having to travel on a moment’s notice. Many of us had children and or pets to be looked after and other responsibilities. The two biggest needs were time and money. Whether we had the time or not we had to be there at first but all of us were pulled away at some time due to work and other obligations. All of us spent a great deal of money that probably wasn’t budgeted for. What if we all had the money for the first five days or so? We could stay onsite and not worry so much about missing work or worrying about the money we were spending that was out of budget. “
Parry: “You are so right Michael. Money isn’t everything but during events like these it is crucial. So that is the first “5” What is the second one for? “
Michael: “After the first five days or so our life kind of settled into a pattern. For others it may not be five days but I think the pattern is similar. The next time period the second “5” was for the first 5 months. After things settled a bit after the first five days there were still many ups and downs but as Maria improved things started to calm down. Not normal as we once knew it but becoming settled into a pattern. The costs came down a bit but the longer term financial outlook was uncertain. I wasn’t able to work my normal schedule and Maria wasn’t working of course and would probably never work again. That need for more money was still there but I could work any more hours. “
Parry: “Again finances are so very critical in a family in this circumstance.“
Michael: “Yes absolutely. I was still able to get some work in but what about people in the case where the main breadwinner is down and the stay at home parent is now faced with a looming financial disaster or the main breadwinner has to stay at home to care for the loved one that was hurt. They may not have the right insurance coverage or have the money to pay the premiums any more. Unfortunately for many it all boils down to money. We all need money for daily living, rent, mortgage, insurance and so many other things. “
Parry: “So the first five days or so are all about chaos and scrambling to just be close and get people there who need to be there, feed them, find a place to sleep, gas money, airfare etc. And during the first five months or so some type of pattern sets in where the realization of how dire the medical and financial situation really is? Is that correct? “
Michael: “Yes Parry that is what I went through. Every situation like this is unique. There may be some differences but the patterns are similar. “
Parry: “What is the third “5” for? “
Michael: “The third “5” is for the first 5 years after the event. At some point in those five years another pattern set in for me. We got used to just squeaking by. No more vacations, eating out was truly a luxury and the kids had to do without many things because of finances. I still found ways to have fun and spend quality time together but the financial impact was deafening. All spending had to be checked and watched. Car repairs? Not this month. New volleyball shoes? Maybe we will get some from the thrift store where we got most of all our clothes. Not that there is anything wrong with thrift store goods but sometimes it is nice to pick out the right pair of shoes that fit well and a jacket that doesn’t smell like mothballs. “
Parry: “Does it ever get any better Michael? It seems like this story isn’t going to end well. Money isn’t the be all end all in life but we need money to live don’t we? Is there a happy ending somewhere in this story?“
Michael: Yes Parry there is a glorious and incredibly happy ending in every way. I have the time and financial freedom to live the life I was destined for. It took me a while to find something that transformed my life and provided me with more than enough money and time I so desperately needed but enriched my life in ways I can’t always comprehend. It was something I had all along but didn’t know I had it or how to access it. It’s also something everyone and I mean everyone has but most people don’t know they have it and how to access it.
Parry: “Well that is the end of part one of this interesting and intriguing interview with Michael Puffer. Tomorrow we will find out about what that something he had all along but didn’t know he had it or how to access it and how he did access it. Part two will air on tomorrow night’s edition of Hometown Heroes in Minnesotan Public Radio.”
Parry: ”Michael you said that you found something that transformed your life but it was something you already had? That is intriguing, what did you find that you already had and how did that transform your life?
Michael: “I can see in you what I’m talking about. You have been living the life of your dreams because of your focus and desire on that.”
Parry: “What do you mean?”
Michael: “When did you first think about a career in radio broadcasting? I’ll bet you were very young because in the 45 years or so I’ve known you you were always focused on a career in radio journalism. And you wanted not just a career but a distinguished career. I remember you reading a book by Dan Rather on his career as a TV journalist and remarking on his long distinguished career. I could see in your eyes that was what you wanted in your life. It was your perfect focus and desire on you goal or what I call your “Definite Purpose in Life” that lead you to the great and distinguished career you continue to enjoy.”
Parry: “That is so right Michael it seems like I have always known what I wanted to do.
Michael: “In a few months after my wife’s accident I began to pray like never before. I was praying for answers and guidance to find a way to put our lives in order. Out of the blue came an answer that caught me off guard when a close friend mentioned the Master Key System and it immediately caught my attention. I was looking to grow my business so I could create more income but all that did was take me away from my wife more as I was always working. My friend explained that what I wanted in life was already in my possession all I had to do was get my mind and thoughts to believe it. At that time I committed myself to learning about the Master Key System and following its teachings.”
Parry: “How does that work Michael?”
Michael: “I began to learn about how my mind, and yours too, worked. I was sending the wrong signals or thoughts into my subconscious mind also nicknamed as “subby”. I found out I was looking at things from a deficit mindset instead of an abundance mindset. I was only looking at my problems and hoping to just get by each hurdle and think that would somehow solve all my problems. What I found out was that if I always focused on the problems I would get an endless supply of problems to overcome. When I overcame the problems I felt happy but almost always said to myself I hope I get passed the next problems. In other words I was always looking for problems because of the immediate satisfaction and relief after overcoming the problem. I was sending signals to my subby that I love to solve problems and therefore my subby would bring more problems to me so I could solve them and I would be happy again. It became a never ending cycle of despair, problem, solution and temporary happiness. I looked at myself and professed to others that I was a “Problem Solver” and therefore my subby kept bringing me problems to solve because that is what I was reinforcing in my thoughts and words. One day it hit me that I really am an “Intuitive Solution Provider.” Boom that was it! Repeating a positive statement about my purpose in life. That simple revelation changed – improved – my life and the lives of countless others.
Parry: “How did your life improve?”
Michael: Things started happening to me personally and in my business that I can’t really explain why or how. Personally my self-confidence grew tremendously and I was able enjoy the increased income and free time like I never had before. I wasn’t worried about every little thing in my life. I embraced change and started finding the silver lining in every situation. When something came up expectedly I would pause and think to myself “This too will pass” and it was so! AIt seemed like all the answers I needed just showed up right when I needed them. I bounded out of bed in the morning ready and willing to take on the day. That definitely was not my normal routine before the Master Key Experience. My income doubled and doubled again in just a year and a half.
My business exploded with better paying work that led to even more income but with less hours put in by me. I developed partnerships and the partnerships flourished bringing in a lot more money for me and my partners but without me spending any more than 12 hour a week working. I found families that were in the same “555” situation as I was when my wife was hurt. Those relationships have helped grow Team555 to the incredible and life supporting organization it is today. These family’s incomes were replaced and in many cases doubled or more, these families are thriving now because they have the time and money to support the whole family and find others that needs our support too. And the thing I am most proud of is that between my partners and I and Team555 we donate over $100,000 every month and over 1,000 hours are put in by volunteers every month to families in need of our services. And it keeps growing!
Parry: “That is fantastic Michael!”
Michael: “It is truly amazing what we can do when we have a positive mindset to accomplish every task with a happy knack because we know that we know that we know we can do anything we put our mind to. Yes we can have anything we desire as long as it is good for you and does not take away anyone else’s good and is done in service to others.
Parry: “What about you personally Michael what has this Master Key System done for you”.
Michael: “It all boils down to letting me be me – the best of me. When a thought enters my mind there is no time wasted in getting into action. If it is a negative thought it is immediately ignored and replaced with a positive thought like walking along the beach with my lovely wife Maria in front of our gorgeous condo on the beach in Kauai or playing with my grandkids in the pool at our beautiful house on Anna Maria Island in Florida. If it is about work or helping someone I immediately take action. I am so happy to have a “Do it now” attitude and I act on that all the time.”
Parry: “I want to thank you for all you are doing and hope to see you again soon.”
Michael: Thank you for spending time with me Parry. Before I go I want to ask you a favor. If you ever find someone who needs help our services or they just want to talk to someone who has gone through a rough patch please give them my phone number I would love to help them out. We are in all 50 states and Canada too. No one will be turned away.
Parry: “I sure will Michael. Hope to see you soon.”
Michael: “Pick your destination my friend, Southern Florida or Kauai Hawaii and I’ll keep the light on for you.”
Parry: “This is Parry Fanelli with Minnesotan Public Radio, Thank you for joining us tonight with our Hometown Hero Michael Puffer.”