LIHUE — On Sept. 27, 2009, Heidi Siefkas was visiting upstate New York’s Hudson River valley. She was happily married. A globetrotting marketing and public relations executive.
She had everything.
“In one fell swoop a 1,000-pound tree limb fell — healthy tree — while I was taking out the trash,” Siefkas said. “Broke my neck and I was unconscious for about five days in the hospital.”
Life as she knew it came to a screeching halt. She spent six months in a full immobilization brace — no showers, no traveling, no driving.
“All I could do is walk, and I used that as my meditation and as a way to reframe my circumstances,” she said. “Given time to think, I wondered about my life’s path.”
Was this was a freak accident, simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was it an opportunity for change?
“Come to turn out, I was at the right place at the right time,” she said.
Ultimately, Siefkas decided she wanted to work for herself and concentrate on writing. She also came to realize that she was in the wrong relationship after uncovering that her husband was living a double life. The two were later divorced.
“In spite of all the bad things that happened simultaneously all in one fall and winter, there’s an upside to losing everything, which was the perspective that I gained from the experience,” she said.
Five years after the life-altering event, Siefkas shares her story of survival in a memoir called, “When All Balls Drop: The Upside of Losing Everything.”
The takeaway of the book is a mantra Siefkas uses daily — “Looking up.”
It’s a double entendre, she said, about being aware of your surroundings and positively spinning situations and circumstances.
“It may seem like the end of the world right now, but it may actually be an opportunity.”
Siefkas has learned she doesn’t have to settle for less than she wants or deserves, or juggle balls she doesn’t want to juggle. Since the accident, she’s gone skydiving, bungee jumping and scuba diving.
“It gave me a zest of life,” she said.
That renewed spirit of adventure ultimately brought Siefkas to the island of Kauai, where she met and fell in love with a helicopter pilot following a flight lesson. She found the island so inspiring that she moved here in August of 2013 to piece together her book from countless journal entries.
The 270-page memoir is hopeful, positive, humorous and has “just enough sass,” according to the author.
While the three direct blows — losing health, career and marriage — would likely leave most people depressed, Siefkas was able to pick herself up, restore her health and repair a broken heart, and move on.
“I think there is a lesson in the book for everyone,” she said. “The audience, I would say, would be geared more toward females, anywhere from 18 to 80-plus. But I think most people can relate to one of the three things that is going on. Or if they haven’t that they will at some point in time be faced with a health scare, a bad relationship — whether love, friendship — and then job.”
She describes her book as a hybrid between Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love,” Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” and Lisa Genova’s “Left Neglected.”
The lessons don’t just apply to people dealing with a full-blown life catastrophe like Siefkas’. They work for dealing with small fiascoes, as well.
“Fender bender while picking up kids at school,” Siefkas said. “Or, let’s face it, traffic from Kapaa to Lihue, you know? When you get frustrated and you’re like, ‘OK, I need to look up about this!’ Why? Because it’s Friday, or it’s beautiful out and I can see Sleeping Giant.”
Siefkas admits that writing something so connected to her persona has been stressful, not only for herself but the people closest to her.
Readers learn everything about the nine-month period following the accident, as well as about Siefkas’ upbringing, her parents and her friends.
“You’re basically getting down into your skivvies for a worldwide audience,” she said on writing the memoir. “That means not only your mother, but a second cousin removed, as well as some woman in Juneau, Alaska, who is part of a book club and decided to read ‘When All Balls Drop: The Upside of Losing Everything.’”
“It’s very raw,” she added. “I guess I’m willing to do it because I think it’s a story worth sharing.”
Originally from small-town Wisconsin, Siefkas is an author and adventurer. She lives on Kauai and also calls the Midwest and South Florida home. She will officially release “When All Balls Drop” on Sept. 2, just before the fifth anniversary of the life-altering event.
Siefkas is working on a sequel to her memoir.