Six years ago Kauai author Heidi Siefkas’ world came crashing down. The morning after she found out that her husband was having an affair, a 1,000-pound tree limb fell on her when she was taking out the trash, breaking her neck. Siefkas survived, but during the lengthy recovery process she was forced to resign from her travel industry marketing job. In a short span of time she lost her health, her independence, her career, her marriage. She lost everything.
Today, the Lihue resident is preparing to officially release her second book “With New Eyes” in September. “With New Eyes” is a sequel to her very personal, emotionally raw memoir “When All Balls Drop — the Upside of Losing Everything.” Together, the two books tell the story of her devastating loss and her journey to move forward. She is working on a third book, and already has a deal to turn the first two books into movies.
Siefkas, who now makes adventure a central part of her life, celebrated completing the second book in June by hiking the full length of the Kalalau Trail so she could go camping in the valley for the first time.
The author and adventurer sat down with The Garden Island to talk story about the accident and becoming a successful self-published author.
Press rewind six years to fall of 2009. I had everything. Happily married to a Brazilian executive chef, homeowner in Broward County, Florida, keeping up with the Joneses. We had been together about 10 years, so long enough to have the training wheels off and get married and then I had this travel industry job that took me all over the world. Then on one of these travels I ended up in the Hudson River Valley, New York, I took out the trash and I went blank.
I don’t remember feeling a thing, hearing a thing, or seeing a thing, and the next thing I remember is five days later and my mother, who doesn’t live in the Hudson River Valley, is next to the bed as well as my husband, and I had no idea why I was there, what had happened, and they put the pieces of the puzzle together for me, which was a 1,000-pound tree limb from a healthy tree on a normal fall day, no rain, no wind, clobbered me out of the blue.
That wasn’t a good morning, even before the accident.
The day before the accident happened, I was up in Poughkeepsie, New York (where we had been temporarily living while my husband was going to culinary school) and I just felt that something wasn’t right, and as a woman I decided to look around, and the first thing was I looked on his computer and looked through the Internet searches.
How did that make you feel doing that?
Insecure, uncomfortable. I didn’t feel necessarily it was a breach of our privacy, because he shouldn’t be doing anything that I would feel uncomfortable about. But I found a letter from this other woman talking about how they had had an affair for more than a year. It goes into the gory details that no one wants to know about.
And then this accident happened, and you were in the hospital. What was that like?
I had to be dependent on the man who had wronged me most.
You would have thought that most husbands, given a second chance to make up for a major wrong, would have done everything they could to make it right. And he didn’t.
Did other people know?
I did not tell anyone until about six months through my recovery because I knew I had bigger fish to fry. I had my health to concentrate on, and the marriage betrayal, I would get to that when I could muster up the focus to deal with that. I was in denial.
You confronted him about that?
Oh yeah. Yeah. He just didn’t admit to it. The day that the tree hit me was his day to come clean to me. Instead of him coming clean to me, the tree hit me.
So what was that like, going through recovery while knowing about the affair?
I was in a neck brace. It was extremely painful. To sit, stand, lay, everything was as if you’re in that uncomfortable row in the airplane where you can’t recline — that’s what I lived every day for five months.
I confronted him and because he wanted a stall, he said when you are completely healthy, and we’re back in Florida, we’ll talk about this. So you bet I was like crossing off the days until I got back to Florida in our own home when I could finally hear it.
The homecoming was going to be so sweet because it would be my own bed, our own home, nothing had changed, everything could start up again.
But he never came clean when we got down there, so I had visions of maybe forgiving him and maybe getting past this because we had gone through, you know, a life-altering accident where I almost lost my life and maybe this marriage is worth working on.
Homecomings aren’t always as sweet as you think. They’re very bittersweet. I was a different person walking in that same house.
Why did you eventually decide to move to Kauai?
The move to Kauai was following Mr. Right (TGI note: Mr. Right is a helicopter pilot Seifkas met while on one of her post-accident travels, whom she wrote about in her second book).
I already had planned to move to Kauai without necessarily a job per se, and not looking for one either. I said I’m going to take the first three months to just re-read the journal entries, concentrate on writing, that is my goal for moving to Kauai — this inspirational place and I just hit it hard.
What was it like writing the book?
People always say that writing a book is therapeutic. It’s therapeutic after it’s out. But during the process it’s more painful, or it was more painful for me, than the actual experience, because I had a team, where it was a doctor and pain medications, or a therapist telling me things are going to be OK. When you are writing the book and going through all of those emotions once again, you don’t have that network at all.
Writing it was painful. It made me crazy at times.
Are you employed in something else right now or are you a full-time author?
I have a hybrid career so I introduce myself typically as an author and an adventurer. The author part — two books down. The adventurer part is because I worked in the travel industry and I absolutely have just this insatiable appetite for it, whether traveling on my own accord or helping other people travel.
In order to make everything synergistic, I choose to travel for income, but also it provides me the perspective I need, as well as stories for future books.
Is the writing bringing in income, or is it about building your name as an author?
The income is a 50/50 split. Revenue from speaking, royalty sales, and what I’m really banking on this year is that “When All Balls Drop” — the first book — is transitioning to film, and when the film rights are sold that means I will recuperate the investments that I’ve done for both books
What is the new book about?
“With New Eyes” covers basically creating this life 2.0, emotionally, professionally, and what I do throughout is revisit places that were part of my past, as well as places that were not part of my past, to continually test — almost as a litmus test — parts of my life to see what parts are going to work, what parts aren’t going to work.
Where did the title come from?
I went back to the house in New York, and I saw that same tree with new eyes. So that’s where the second book title comes from, visiting that tree.
And you created your own holiday?
It sounds weird because people say get over it, get beyond it. I started doing the one-month holiday because that would at least give me reinforcement for the lesson I learned. Every month on the 27th I like to do something outdoors and physical.
In your ideal world, who would play you in the movie?
I would love to have a Jennifer Anniston play me, although I was younger when the accident happened. I also like Amy Adams and Olivia Munn.
I would like the person that plays me in the second movie to be the same person as the first book. That’s what I’m hoping for and that is what I am aiming for.
The company that has partnered with me in L.A. is called Voyage Media. Lifetime movies, Hallmark, TV-film-of-the-week is their genre.