Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What If

This one requires a little bit of context and a caveat for Unum employees: stop if you’ve heard this one before. I was very kindly asked by our Corporate Communications area to write a piece reflecting on my, let's say, "situation". I was happy to do it, and what I put together follows, along with the headline and bookends written by my colleague in Corp Comm (what I've decided to call it). She has a blog too. I happened to go into the office this past Monday -- the same day my story hit the intranet and the corporate newsletter, as well as largescreen monitors throughout the building lobby -- as if anyone really needed to see my face that big.The response has been very nice, only encouraging my continued return to work. And the link all the way at the bottom has a really nice picture of Gus and me.

A story of hope and healing from one of our own

How the work we do and the culture of our company made all the difference for a colleague

Monday, Dec. 19, 2011

By Ken Shapiro, project manager III

When I started working at Unum approximately five years ago, what I knew about the company was limited to: they’re a major employer in the Portland, Maine, area, they sponsored the fireworks-spouting lighthouse which would sprout up behind the centerfield fence when the Portland Sea Dogs hit home runs, and they sold disability insurance.

My knowledge of disability insurance was limited to my wife's maternity leave. This explains why building business acumen has been on my development plan for many years running. I would not, however, recommend how I've gone about achieving that goal – by needing my disability coverage more than I could have predicted.

I suppose we’re in a business of “what if.” Not that we want to be fearmongers, but five years ago I would never have imagined how honored and grateful I’d be to be both an employee and customer of our company. As an employee, it gives me great pride to know how important our work is to the lives of people going through some of their darkest times.

So how did I get here? Almost two years ago, I learned I had been growing a cerebral aneurysm for as long as 10 years. Approximately a year ago, after brain surgery to remove the aneurysm and a subsequent stroke which left me hemiparesic on my left side, I began my long road to recovery and the trek through physical rehabilitation to a return to work in a role which fortunately does not call upon areas of my body heavily affected by my stroke – meaning I spend most of my working time at the computer and have found adaptive equipment (such as the dictation software enabling me to write this) which aids my efforts.

As much as I've come to appreciate the value of my short term and long term disability policies, I've come to appreciate even more the support rendered to me by my friends and co-workers in the Benefits Center Learning and Performance Development area.

They have offered incomparable good wishes and encouragement to (literally) get me back on my feet and back to work. My disability benefit specialists and our in-house return-to-work staff have also provided support which made the transition from hospital room to home to office that much easier.

What was an incredibly difficult year for me and my family was ultimately made enriching through the generosity of friends and co-workers and an ever-extended community of kindness. I've seen this in visits to New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland, through simple connections on Facebook, as well as through comments on the blog I use to chronicle my experience.

I hate to claim mine as a cautionary tale, since there really is no measure of prevention involved. I am just one of the lucky few granted an opportunity to reflect on the ways our lives are interconnected when “what if” happens. Yes, I am lucky; in part because I’m coming out the other side and also because I get to say this:

Thank you for everything you do to help people like me. Know that even if you don't provide direct services to the people who depend on these benefits, what you are doing makes a difference.

Read more about Ken’s journey on the New England Rehabilitation Hospital website.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story with your colleagues, Ken. It means so much to so many. And, hey, we call it Corp Comm, too, so you're right on there. :-)

  2. Hey Ken,

    I'm glad you got the chance to share your story with the people who keep you gainfully employed. From what I've read about them on this blog, they seem like tremendous folks! I'd like to thank them too for all they've done and continue to do for you, Jamie and the boys. See you at brunch if not before!


  3. Ken, keep working!! I'm a PMR physician working at Unum (I'm sure you're sick of seeing doctors. sorry!) and your story is great!! Sure, lots of advances in adaptive equipment can help with return, but really your going back to work is your drive to go back/be productive/support your family great work ethic. Probably in part due to working in the field for a while and knowing that the services offered can really help.
    I was on disability for a bit too (Breast cancer with chemo/radiation while employed with UNUM) and was able to work part time during most of it (survived and returned to work). Your story really speaks more of drive and hard work than mine and I hope you continue always to work towards "the other side." Never give up!! Though we age, it's the drive that really keeps us going!! You have it and don't ever lose it! I'm happy that Unum provides services to help people get back to work and has services/resources/suggestions that help. And not just because it gets people "off claim", but because it's really the right thing to do. People should be productive and support themselves if they are able. Unum helps. And I'm happy to be a part of it too.