February is American Heart Month. This month raises awareness and educates people on how to prevent a heart attack. Many people list cancer as the condition of which they are most afraid of being diagnosed with in their lifetime, but statistics show that, in reality, more people die each year from heart disease than die from cancer. In fact, 1 in 4 people die from heart disease every year. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women and the number one cause of death for women. Approximately, 610,000 people die every year from heart attack.
Apart from not recognizing its prevalence, many people do not even recognize that heart disease is a disability. I met people who survived a heart attack who tell me, if they know of a person living with a disability; they will refer them to Bender Consulting Services. There are unemployed professionals right now, living with heart disease, who do not realize that they qualify as individuals with disabilities and Bender Consulting Services could help them gain competitive employment.
When I founded Bender Consulting Services in 1995, in the early years we had six to eight employees. One of those early employees, Tony Demase, used to tell me he was my “lucky employee.” Most people would be very surprised that Tony believed he was “lucky.” Tony survived nine heart attacks and had a very difficult time gaining employment due to the gaps of time in his resume. As you might guess, these gaps were due to the recovery time from the heart attacks. If he told an employer he survived nine heart attacks, he knew they would never hire him.
Hiring Tony was one of the best decisions I made. He had a great attitude all the time and was so appreciative of his job. You may have employees without disabilities who frequently miss work—not Tony; he never missed work. I still remember when Tony was not feeling well and insisted on being at an evening training session at our offices. I said, “Tony, why are you here?” He said, “Because it is my job.” That was Tony.
Tony worked for Bender Consulting Services for three years. Tragically, heart attack number 10 took his life. Tony’s loss was devastating to the entire staff of Bender Consulting Services. At that time, we had never lost an employee. We decided to do something to remember Tony for years to come. Conceived of and voted on by employees, the Tony DeMase Award is presented annually at the company picnic to a Bender employee who has exemplified a great attitude at work, contributed as a team player, and demonstrated gratitude for employment.
The heart of the matter is that people with disabilities can work and will make great employees!