Brian Travers tells the story of being born with osteogenesis imperfect, otherwise known as brittle bone disease. His condition led to many trips to an orthopedic surgeon who inspired Brian to become a physician. Brian worked hard and graduated from medical school but became disabled during his residency. After suffering through severe economic hardship, Brian became a disability insurance broker to prevent what happened to him from happening to anyone else.
Brian is well known for creating the “window mask.” The window mask helps those with hearing impairments read lips, customer service workers provide friendlier service, and teachers connect with their students.
You can learn more about Brian’s businesses at these links:
Brian Travers (00:00):
I ended up defaulting on my student loans and things just got from bad to worse. I lost my car, I lost my home. I literally became homeless.
James Crook (00:11):
You are listening to The Broker Advisor Podcast, where we explore the surprisingly fascinating world of the healthcare professional disability insurance market. Our goal is to find insights to help brokers succeed in this lucrative and rewarding marketing. We thank everyone who listened to season one, but now it’s time for season two, where we hear the stories of healthcare professionals who developed a disability during their careers, and how disability insurance played a part in those difficult situations.
James Crook (00:44):
Today, our guest is Brian Travers MD, a very successful disability insurance broker, stay-at-home dad, and mask inventor. Brian was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone disease. His condition led to many trips to an orthopedic surgeon, who inspired Brian to become a physician. Brian worked hard and graduated from medical school, but became disabled during his residency. After suffering through severe economic hardship, Brian became a disability insurance broker to keep what happened to him from happening to anyone else. To learn more about Brian, you can find his websites in the description of this podcast.
James Crook (01:24):
Brian, just so people can learn a little bit about you, why don’t you explain your background a little bit…
Brian Travers (01:30):
James Crook (01:30):
… and then we can get into the details.
Brian Travers (01:33):
Yeah, absolutely. Well I was born and raised back in Rhode Island where I’m from, and my entire life growing up is I wanted to become a physician. I was born with a rare bone disease that put me in the hospital for the majority of my life growing up. I broke my first bone at six weeks of age and it started then, and here I am at 54. I still break bones on a regular basis. But in any event, that was my mission. And unfortunately after I graduated from medical school, I developed another issue with the bone disease I have with hearing loss. And when I lost my hearing I couldn’t continue with my studies in my residency training, and things became difficult emotionally and financially.
Brian Travers (02:34):
That’s when I kind of learned through my peers that went on in their residency about the importance of insurance, which I didn’t even know what it was so I transitioned into the insurance field based on my experience. And then as you’re aware I suffered another incident that had me tied up for a few years and that required me to move here to Florida where I presently live with my family, and that also allowed me to transition to my favorite role of all, as a full-time stay-at-home dad for the past 10, 12 years. My daughters are now 18 and 14, and so with that I’m able to transition back into insurance and get back into the medical market and helping other physicians with their disability insurance, yeah.
James Crook (03:28):
Gotcha. Okay, great. No, thanks for talking about that. So did you say you broke your first bone at six weeks?
Brian Travers (03:34):
Yeah. So basically I have a genetic disease called osteogenesis imperfecta and what that means is that my body doesn’t make collagen. And collagen gives tissues tensile strength, and without that your tissues are very fragile. And it’s not just bones, it could be your tendons, your muscles, joints, everything. But people have different variants of it and their bodies are affected differently, but for me it was my bones are like Ritz crackers so to speak. They’re very fragile.
James Crook (04:07):
Brian Travers (04:08):
So I was just kicking in the crib and I broke my femur at six weeks of age and that was it.
James Crook (04:14):
Oh jeez. That’s difficult.
Brian Travers (04:14):
So if you can imagine how active kids are, at a very young age, so I would just bump into something and break an arm, or my brother would hit me and I would break a bone, or I would punch him and break an arm.
James Crook (04:30):
Brian Travers (04:32):
So I was very fortunate in the sense where I had a wonderful orthopedic surgeon. His name was Michael Skallow and he just put me at total ease. Every time I was with him and I just knew that, early on in life, that I knew when I grew up I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to take care of kids, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon and I wanted to make people comfortable the way he was doing to me. So even for example in fourth grade, in my science fair project-
James Crook (05:08):
Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that anyway.
Brian Travers (05:09):
… Yeah. I did it on how an open heart transplant surgery is performed. I had two cookie sheets with a clay model on each cookie sheet of the thoracic cavity, and I basically demonstrated with much precision and was using a scalpel I got from my uncle, who is a physician, how that’s performed. So of course that took me to the state fair and even the judges at the state fair were kind of looking around like, “This kid has got a scalpel in his hand.” There’s my parents, proud as can be, like, “Pay attention to my son, you’re going to miss something.” But that’s basically what had happened and it also required…many of the fractures were very serious and required surgeries as well. I’ve had numerous surgeries, so it was a tough journey growing up.
James Crook (06:02):
I’m just assuming and hope that you won that science fair.
Brian Travers (06:07):
Actually I came in third. I came in third.
James Crook (06:08):
Brian Travers (06:11):
The second year in my fifth grade-
James Crook (06:13):
But they … wait. In fourth grade, did someone discover cold fusion or anti-matter? How did you lose?
Brian Travers (06:20):
… Well, I don’t know. It’s kind of interesting. I had friends that did it on flowers, on the moon, on whales, they had an 8-track of whales. But the second year I toned it down a bit with no scalpels. I just did a Campbell’s soup can as a regular heart and a whole tomato can as an enlarged heart, and I was trying to demonstrate arteriosclerosis and I got second place with that. So I was proud of that and I think I still have those-
James Crook (06:52):
Brian Travers (06:52):
… those ribbons in a frame. My father and mother had those on the wall for many years. Very proud.
James Crook (06:58):
I’m kind of frustrated that you didn’t win first, because when I-
Brian Travers (07:01):
Yeah. I know, right. Right. Tough competition even back in the 70s.
James Crook (07:05):
Oh yeah. No, for sure. When I was in fourth grade, I remember doing the science fair. I wasn’t really into it. But my project was like which flashlight battery lasts longest? And I took first, so it just doesn’t seem very fair that I could take first for that, and you’re telling people how to perform open heart surgery and you take third and I take first.
Brian Travers (07:31):
Yeah really. It was tough judges too. I still remember the fourth grade, one kid even, he made his own hovercraft, believe it or not-
James Crook (07:42):
Brian Travers (07:43):
.. that he stood on. But he was disqualified because he couldn’t get the hovercraft through the front door of the community college where the competition was, the state fair. And he was crushed. And we’re all inside at the fair and he was outside crying, but still going up and down in his hovercraft.
James Crook (08:03):
Were you in a school for geniuses or something?
Brian Travers (08:05):
No. No. No. Just a little private Catholic school. It was a great school.
James Crook (08:10):
Okay. Well, that’s much more impressive than any competition I faced. Wow.
Brian Travers (08:17):
James Crook (08:17):
Okay. That’s a great story. I laughed when I read that. It’s just fascinating. Okay, so you’re growing up and I love what you said about you had this great orthopedic surgeon who really made you feel at ease and supported you through several of these injuries. And that would be tough. I’ve got two little kids and I can’t imagine my daughter doing one of the many things she does and breaking a bone. That must have been tough.
Brian Travers (08:55):
Yeah, well it’s an autosomal dominant disease and so I inherited it from my father. And I knew when my wife and I, when we were planning to have children, we knew it was a 50/50 shot.
James Crook (09:10):
Brian Travers (09:10):
One of the pathognomonic findings of this disease osteogenesis imperfecta is blue sclera, the white of your eye is missing, because that’s actually collagen that makes that up. So in me or other patients that have osteogenesis, they have a blue sclera. So when my daughter Madison was born, I was there in the delivery room and the first thing I did when I was able to hold her is I looked in her eyes and sure enough, she had a blue sclera. I knew she was born with it. And she’s 18 now and she’s doing quite well. She’s only had about five fractures, which is much better than me. I had over five by the time I was two years old, but yeah, she inherited it. And so I can’t even imagine what my parents went through, because I’ve had over 100 fractures, and my daughter, like I said, she’s doing great, she’s only had about five.
James Crook (10:12):
Yeah. Yeah. Five compared to 100. That’s much better. But still, I mean, for a normal kid that’s a lot.
Brian Travers (10:21):
James Crook (10:23):
Not to say it’s not normal, but for someone who doesn’t have that condition, that’s crazy.
Brian Travers (10:29):
James Crook (10:29):
Okay. And I want to come back to the blue sclera. I want to know why you named your-
Brian Travers (10:37):
That was literally even the logo you’ll see, it’s blue. But I just thought when I started, when I transitioned into financial services, it’s much like when you are in your residency training. You work for a hospital, you have to train for four years. And as you are aware, with insurance, when you’re going in, you need to have two years of training. So when I started in the insurance field my business focus is basically it’s I started lecturing through residency training programs under the umbrella of the agency I worked for.
Brian Travers (11:17):
But I would say at the end of my lecture, I would let them know that just like you guys, you’re working in this program training, I’m training here, but in two years I’m going to be out on my own and I’m going to name my business Blue Sclera. And they’re like, “How could you go wrong. We’re all going to know what that means when we see the blue sclera. When we see the eye we’re going to think of Brian Travers and disability insurance.” So that was my play on that, that I think from a branding standpoint I just thought that would be invaluable.
James Crook (11:50):
Yeah, you should come to MGIS and you can be the executive director of marketing and I’ll work for you. That’s a good idea.
Brian Travers (11:58):
Yeah, and it served me well. While I was unfortunately … I don’t want to say unfortunately. Fortunately I had two great productive years where I traveled around the country and I’d lecture to residency training programs. That’s how I built my business. And unfortunately I got sick and that took me out of play. But they all knew when they saw that logo, well it’s the DI guy, it’s the disabled doctor. So it took off.
James Crook (12:28):
Yeah. No, and that’s really cool. Well anyway, moving back in time a little bit, so you go through med school. So I think I read that you graduated from med school, correct?
Brian Travers (12:41):
Yeah. Yes. Yes.
James Crook (12:42):
Okay. So you graduated from med school, and so you didn’t … This is interesting to me, so you went through med school, but you hadn’t really even been taught about disability insurance to that point.
Brian Travers (12:53):
I knew nothing about disability insurance. I did not know what it is. I didn’t know what it was. I had no idea. And honestly, I graduated in 1995 and I had a student loan debt at that time of about $80,000. I was forced to put my student loans into forbearance. I’m just going to use round figures. Instead of paying $800 a month, I paid $200 a month. I’ve made that payment faithfully for five years. I’ve never missed a payment. So I’ve basically paid $12,000 into my student loan. After five years when the forbearance ended, my balance grew to about $118,000. It’s called, I learned … something else I didn’t learn in medical school was negative amortization. And it was at that time, I ended up defaulting on my student loans, but things just got from bad to worse. I lost my car, I lost my home. I literally became homeless, and I happened to be working at a hospital that’s back in Rhode Island that’s affiliated with Brown and the medical school there and the residency training programs.
Brian Travers (14:12):
So that was in the year in 2000, and that was the first time I heard what disability insurance is. When a resident heard about what happened to me and the first thing he asked me was, “Did you have DI?” And I’m like, “What is DI?” So it was with that simple question, I went to the computer that night, looked up disability insurance. I literally stayed up all night absorbing everything and by the next morning I’m like, “If I knew what this was in the very least and if I had a chance to vote. Yeah, I want it. I see the value or not.” But I didn’t know what it was. This would have at least prevented the financial hardships I was dealing with. And then that was the interesting part where for the next five years I still worked at the hospital in a diminished capacity, but every six weeks I had a new group of medical students coming through. I shared with them what would happen to me.
Brian Travers (15:11):
Every July I had a new group of residents coming in. So for five years, I just shared my story. I didn’t talk about disability insurance, I said what it was. You need disability insurance, I didn’t know what it was, this is what happened to me. And I talked about defaulting on my student loans, not having money to eat, not having money to put gas in my car and then end up losing my car. And it was in 2005 where one of the residents, I believe her name was Heather, and if she didn’t ask me or make this statement, this may have never happened. But she said, after I gave my little talk to the group of residents, she said, “Why can’t we get this through you? This is your calling.” And that’s literally what opened up that new avenue. I think you’re right. I think you’re right, I should do this.
James Crook (16:05):
Yeah, I mean, that’s just quite a story. Were you married at that time yet?
Brian Travers (16:13):
The interesting thing was, when things were the worst … When I say the worst in 2000, I graduated in ‘95, I went into forbearance, but it was a day by day, week by week, month by month deterioration in my emotional and financial life, and at that point in 2000 I had lost everything, and I was living with a friend, believe it or not-
James Crook (16:36):
Brian Travers (16:38):
… and I just happened to come into contact with a woman who I said, “I’m living with a friend. I defaulted on my student loans. I’m in rough shape.” And she was like, “Yeah, if you’re done, we can move on, because I think you’re great.” We ended up getting married. We started our family. And a testament to her is again with Madison being born and she had osteogenesis, so it was difficult obviously to put her in daycare. So my wife had to stay home and basically take care of our daughter. And here I am working at a job at a hospital, it wasn’t paying all that well and I’m trying to survive. Things got very tough. Of course, we’re talking about 2002, three, four, whatever.
Brian Travers (17:32):
So I’m like, “Why don’t I try pharmaceutical sales?” Who better to sell a product line to MDs than somebody that’s an MD? So the Monster board website, which was just new at that time…so I basically put up my resume. I had at that time, just say the top five pharmaceutical companies tripping over themselves the minute they saw my resume and they saw that designation MD, right?
James Crook (18:06):
Yeah, that’s a good feeling. Yeah.
Brian Travers (18:08):
Yeah. But wait, I’m getting there. So they didn’t bother emailing back. They would call. My wife would listen to the messages. But then I learned about how your credit report is so important with your life, because then they were promising me everything. But then the minute they ran my credit report, all of a sudden I didn’t fulfill the first obligation of the hiring process-
James Crook (18:39):
Brian Travers (18:39):
… my credit score. Not one company called me back and it was a woman from Eli Lilly, who a year later, maybe not even a year, about seven months. She was kind enough to tell my wife and I that basically no one’s touching you because of your credit score. You’re simply, you’ve been reduced to a number. And she was right. So the battle…just a testament to my wife that she was in this journey with me and she never left my side. She’s still here. My best friend.
James Crook (19:13):
Yeah. I mean, that’s really amazing. I mean, yeah. I don’t know what to say to that. That’s a touching story.
Brian Travers (19:25):
James Crook (19:26):
I mean, that’s tough. I mean, you get student loan debt. It can just be destructive and nowadays it’s even more.
Brian Travers (19:35):
Everything. Everything. When we started our family we were living in a very small apartment just her and I, and then we wanted more space and guess what? I couldn’t get a place to live because of my credit score. So my father, my dad, stepped in. He would get his name on it so I could get a place to live. All right, so that’s one thing. When I tried to contact the electric company to have the electric switched over to my name, guess what. Because my credit score was so low, I’d have to put down a $700 down payment.
James Crook (20:08):
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a lot.
Brian Travers (20:10):
And then of course you can imagine what it was like when I tried to get a bigger car, a family car, for a car seat in the backseat. Thank God for dad. But then the interesting thing too, as I learned, it wasn’t just the pharmaceutical business. It was the Monster board that believe it or not, when that resident said, “This is what you should do with your life,” I didn’t transition to insurance right at that time, because I was too focused on keeping my family afloat.
Brian Travers (20:41):
But it was an insurance general agent that came across my resume on Monster and said, “I saw you on the pharmaceutical, but I assume you’re probably already spoken for, but I wanted to reach out and take a chance.” He had no idea that no one would hire me. And I just said, “Well, actually I was thinking about disability insurance. I would talk to you.” He was like, “You know what, we’re a life insurance company. You could write all the disability insurance you want and just write your life insurance through us.” I went with them. I went through the paperwork. I did the application. I did their training, and they wouldn’t hire me because of my credit score.
James Crook (21:25):
Brian Travers (21:26):
One of the top five life insurance companies. I don’t want to say who it is, but-
James Crook (21:29):
Brian Travers (21:29):
… they wouldn’t. And of course I said, “How can this be?” And they were just like, they think that desperate times people may do desperate things. I’m like, “I’m not working at a bank. I don’t want to be a bank teller. I just want to go to a hospital, take applications.” And it wasn’t his doing, it was just his superior boss out of state, and luckily the next company refused me as well, but the third was a charm. And even that third company, they said, “Yeah, we’ll take you, but you can’t get your securities license until you clean up your credit score.” I said, “All right. At least my foot’s in the door. Great.”
James Crook (22:12):
Yeah. Well that’s good. Yeah. No. So is it only for those types of professions that they’re checking your credit score?
Brian Travers (22:23):
James Crook (22:24):
Oh wow. Okay. Well, that’s good to know.
Brian Travers (22:29):
I mean, it’s just not your profession. Like I said, housing. I couldn’t get a house.
James Crook (22:32):
Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah. No.
Brian Travers (22:36):
I couldn’t get the electricity turned on in my name. Forget cable. But I couldn’t even get the phone. Nothing would be in my name because as I learned your credit score is everything.
James Crook (22:48):
Yeah. I was aware of those other uses, but I wasn’t aware that it would impact your job search. That’s totally news to me.
Brian Travers (22:57):
James Crook (22:57):
So I guess I learned something new. So one question I have, so when you suffered that disabling event, when you were in residency, I read in an article that you couldn’t use a stethoscope, so you couldn’t complete your training.
Brian Travers (23:16):
James Crook (23:18):
Is medicine more inclusive today? Would that kind of disability hold someone back from completing their residency today?
Brian Travers (23:25):
Well, I think it would depend on the issue, in this case of the hearing loss. In my case, because I still had oral exams that I had to complete as a resident, meaning that I would have to use my stethoscope to listen to lung fields, an abdomen, whatever.
James Crook (23:47):
Brian Travers (23:49):
I was able to use a hearing aid at that time to hear a little bit, but I would have to take the hearing aid off, and when I took that off I could not hear a thing.
James Crook (23:57):
Brian Travers (24:00):
Nowadays, I’m pretty sure that they have these modern stethoscopes. I believe 3M might be a company where they have … I could be wrong, but I think they have a stethoscope that if I were to, years ago… when I took my hearing aid off, perhaps I could be able to hear. I don’t know for sure, but that’s something I would have tried. But, I think at the end of the day medicine is what it is. You still have to be able to care for a patient. You still have to go through the process. So, even if somebody were to lose their hearing today, a resident or a medical student and they were not able to benefit from any type of technology stethoscope, I think that would hinder their career moving forward.
James Crook (24:51):
That’s interesting. So yeah, disability insurance still very important today, obviously. Yeah, okay. Well, that’s good to know. So we talked about the student loan. You had that and how devastating that was. And then you started to talk a little bit about your entry into becoming a broker. And you said it took off. So I would love you to talk a little bit about that.
Brian Travers (25:20):
Yeah, so basically what had happened is I was working at a place called Rhode Island Hospital, back in Rhode Island, and they are a major hub with the Brown Medical School, and so there are residents through all of their programs. So I worked there for five years. I knew all of the departments. I knew everyone so to speak. So when I transitioned to insurance, I basically went one day I was wearing casual clothes, all of a sudden, with a Rhode Island Hospital badge, and then I showed up with a suit and a business card. Honestly, that’s what happened.
Brian Travers (26:04):
And then I would simply go to chief residents, and literally the first chief resident I went to was the emergency department there and I said, “I’m here to talk about DI. I’ve been doing this for five years for free basically.” And we both chuckled at that. And I just told him my story like I’ve just told you, basically. That was the CliffsNotes. I said, “This is what happened to me.” And I said, “You have, right now, which you’re probably not even aware of, is that you have disability insurance right now but it’s quote unquote group coverage. You need individual coverage. So here’s my job. Here’s how we’re going to work together.” And he became my first client and thanks to him, literally, just his wife is a chief resident in another program. I got in over there.
Brian Travers (27:00):
Within a very short period of time it snowballed to I was at all the hospitals affiliated with Brown, then I was up in Massachusetts with all of the Harvard schools. That’s basically how it happened and next thing you knew I was off traveling out of state to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and even down to Maryland at that point.
James Crook (27:26):
Yeah, so just through that first client you … word of mouth. I mean, I guess that’s a good marketing lesson is if you’ve got a great story, it makes things a lot easier.
Brian Travers (27:40):
Yes. When I would meet one-on-one with each resident, I’ve always asked every single one, “What made you decide to move forward?” And they had the same, basically the same common theme is, “What you said makes sense, about the planning, and obviously what happened to you could happen to me. So I’m trying to be proactive. You’ve basically made this proactive.” So that was very gratifying.
James Crook (28:18):
So, and you said something that’s interesting and also in that Power Point, you forwarded me. One of your last slides talks about the different between group and IDI, and you mentioned to that first resident, “You have group coverage right now.” And I’m assuming that was through the organization he was with.
Brian Travers (28:39):
The hospital, yes.
James Crook (28:40):
Yeah, the hospital. So what are your thoughts on that and why did you encourage him to get IDI?
Brian Travers (28:48):
Well, because of the, again, my own … I mean, this came after the fact when I became disabled a second time, which we’ll get into. I had group coverage and that group coverage was offset and that’s one of the things I would talk about.
James Crook (29:07):
Brian Travers (29:08):
I would say, “The coverage you have now through your hospital, it’s group coverage. It’s taxable. Your benefit could be offset, it could be changed, it could be canceled anytime.” And low and behold, I learned that when I became disabled the second time. The group coverage I had through the insurance carrier, instead of paying five figures a month, I received $50 a month.
James Crook (29:35):
Brian Travers (29:36):
James Crook (29:37):
Brian Travers (29:38):
Yeah. So that-
James Crook (29:40):
Maybe off-air you could tell me who that contract was through, when we turn the recording off.
Brian Travers (29:47):
Yeah, right. Right. Yeah.
James Crook (29:48):
Brian Travers (29:50):
Yeah, 50. $50.
James Crook (29:52):
Wow. So okay, well good to know. So yeah, let’s kind of move here. So you start this career. You’re having a lot of success and then you experience a second disabling event.
Brian Travers (30:10):
Yes. Obviously some dates you will remember for your life and this was one of them. So this was August 13, 2008, and the day before I was down in … When I say down, I was living in Rhode Island at the time, so I was down in New York and I was lecturing to an anesthesiology program. And drove back and I went back to Rhode Island the next morning, and I knew the following day I was due back at Mass General at Harvard for the surgery program, but that one day I was off. I woke up early I went to my office. I looked at my calendar and of course my wife was ever present with me. If she wasn’t traveling with me on the road, she would check my calendar when I wasn’t home so she could book time with us. So I saw her handwriting. She knew I wasn’t traveling and it said family time. So I got to my office at 7:00 in the morning and I’d say about 1:00 I called my wife or I emailed her and I said, “All right, I’m coming home now.”
Brian Travers (31:16):
I got home by about 1:30 and she was already at the pool with our daughters. And I walked over to the pool. I sat down with her and the few minutes that we sat together we literally just looked at each other and smiled and we even said, “Can you believe this is happening?” Meaning that we had just moved into this new development. We had a brand new townhouse we were renting. Our daughters were in a pool. We literally at one point we were in Section Eight housing, that’s how … And then we were just, she was saying, “You did it.” And I’m like, “No, I didn’t do anything. We did it. We’re a team. Yeah, I’m lecturing the business is good, but we’re at team.” And then at that point I said, “I’m going to go swim with the girls.” I took my hearing aid off and the minute I got in the water, I didn’t feel right.
Brian Travers (32:16):
So I said to my daughters, and they were five and two at the time and I said, “Listen, I’ve got to get out of the water. Come with me. I have to get out of the water. I need to go talk to mom for a minute.” And I walked over to my wife and she looked up at me and I read her lips, she said, “Did you bang your head?” And I said, “No, I didn’t bang my head. I just walked in the water.” And I felt my head and I felt this huge lump and so she pointed to the locker room like, “Go look in the mirror.” So I walked into the bathroom and sure enough I had this huge lump on the left side of my forehead, and I’m like, “I have no idea what that could be.”
Brian Travers (32:58):
I walked back out. I laid down. And then the last thing I remember is looking at her. She was on the phone and I knew she must have called 9-1-1 and I was trying to talk. I was trying to say that I can’t talk. But instead of saying that I was mixing up my words. I was saying, “I talk can’t. I talk can’t.” And the last thing I remember was looking at my daughters. The looks on their faces, standing there dripping wet, but looking at me like, “There’s something wrong with dad.”
Brian Travers (33:32):
I lost consciousness and we know now that I suffered a life-threatening cerebral hemorrhage called a spontaneous subdural hematoma. And all that bump on the front of my forehead was all the blood that had pooled from inside of my skull. There’s a little hole in the front part of your skull that the water was squeezing out and caused a huge bump on my forehead. But, the significance of all that swelling is that my brain stem herniated through the base of my skull and that’s basically the point of no return. And I remained in a coma on life support for a month.
Brian Travers (34:12):
I should back up, when I transition into financial services and things took off right away, I knew I couldn’t get disability insurance because of my health, but I wanted life insurance. I got life insurance and somehow or another I got in the mail a month later from the insurance company, that also has DI, “Brian, based on your excellent health coverage for your life insurance policy, we’re going to offer you disability insurance with no medical underwriting.” I couldn’t send that check in quick enough. So I also learned there that the medical underwriting for life insurance is far different than disability insurance.
Brian Travers (34:55):
So I never, I just, like I said, if I were to have applied for disability insurance on my own, I’d be declined immediately. But I just said, “There’s no way.” I even thought at that time there might be an error. They’re going to catch this. But I sent in the check with the application. The premium. And a few weeks later I had a policy in my hand and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’ve got life insurance, disability and I have a thriving business. I have a family. Things are great.” But then, I go to the pool that day and a half hour later my wife is being told to get my affairs in order in the emergency room-
James Crook (35:37):
Oh my goodness.
Brian Travers (35:38):
… that I’m not going to recover.
James Crook (35:40):
That’s really, really hard. Wow. And so this, I mean, obviously you were covered.
Brian Travers (35:53):
I was covered, yes.
James Crook (35:54):
Brian Travers (35:55):
James Crook (35:56):
Very thank God. So you recovered and I would love to hear more on that story. Really quick I just want to ask you about the-
Brian Travers (36:07):
James Crook (36:07):
… so was this the policy that you got, that you got … Oh, I’m drawing a blank. But you basically ended up with $50.
Brian Travers (36:17):
No, no, no. That was the company that I was aligned with. The insurance company. So that was the group coverage that was offered that was being taken out of my pay.
James Crook (36:30):
Oh okay. Gotcha.
Brian Travers (36:32):
But I had my own individual policy. And-
James Crook (36:35):
Gotcha, through that company. Yeah.
Brian Travers (36:37):
Through that company. It just so happens that the company that I was working with was the major disability company for the medical marketplace. So I was, basically my two years of training were through them. So I got life insurance with them and I was very fortunate to get their pure own, cannot cancel it, guaranteed renewable policy through them.
James Crook (37:03):
Yeah, no. That’s good. So the group policy you had ended up getting offset down to basically nothing.
Brian Travers (37:12):
It was offset thousands down to $50.
James Crook (37:16):
Right. Thankfully you got that miracle of getting your own individual policy.
Brian Travers (37:25):
James Crook (37:26):
Because when I was reading, I was like, “Did I read that right? Was he able to get a disability policy?”
Brian Travers (37:33):
Right. Right. But so that was, again that’s just another educational point where when I am talking to people, other brokers or even when I’m talking to clients, I’m like, “If you do have health issues, it’s not gonna… even if you get straight forward disability insurance and then life after, sometimes it’s worth it to get the life insurance first and see what happens, because you may … I’m able to educate them through my own experience the underwriting’s different, but if a life insurance company has a disability product, they may offer you coverage. You never know.” Right?
James Crook (38:13):
Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. So, okay. So very good. So anyway, take us through your recovery.
Brian Travers (38:22):
The recovery, again, I’m an organ donor and so here I am in a month on life support and my wife is periodically being reminded that he is an organ donor and time is of the essence so to speak.
James Crook (38:35):
That kind of makes me not want to be an organ donor anymore.
Brian Travers (38:41):
And so after a month, my wife did start giving serious consideration to honoring my wishes and then one day she walked into the hospital to get those two words she never though she would hear, “He’s awake.” And so she didn’t believe them, and they had told her over this time that he’s had so much blood loss. There’s so much brain damage that if by chance he does recover, we have no idea what his cognition would be. We don’t know. He could be a vegetable. He could be unresponsive.
Brian Travers (39:18):
So anyway, when she came in and heard that, she came bedside and I don’t remember when I quote unquote first woke up. I just remember that the first thing … I told you the last thing I remember when I lost consciousness. But the first thing I remember of being awoken so to speak is someone touching me. Touching my forehead or something. And I opened up my eyes and sure enough there is my wife and her eyes lit up like Roman candles and her bottom lip was quivering and she couldn’t even talk. And her eyes welled up with tears and as she was trying to compose herself I realized that I was in a room, in a hospital bed. And I looked around and my entire bed was surrounded with family and everyone was crying. And I couldn’t figure out obviously what was going on.
Brian Travers (40:16):
I did know something was up because with my medical training, I did know, I noticed the blue tube looping underneath my neck. And I remember thinking there’s no way, I’m sick or something. There’s something sticking out of … And then I finally looked back at my wife and with that information, we don’t know how he will be, she asked me one question. I read her lips, but to gauge my mental status she simply asked me, “What’s my name.” And I said her name, Erin. And I never lost consciousness again and that was day one of the next year, nine months or so, 10 months of basically learning how to walk, talk all over again.
Brian Travers (41:03):
The interesting thing too is, in that PowerPoint, if you saw the notebook entries is that a few days after that initial day of awakening, I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t express myself. I had an aphasia. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say it. All I could do was rub my fingers. And so my wife and my mother arrived to the hospital one day and she said, “Well how’s Brian?” And they said, “He’s doing great. He’s stable. Things are still critical, but he’s improving. He’s exhibiting odd behavior. He won’t stop rubbing his fingers.” And my wife smiled and said, “Well he’s worried about money.” And the doctors on the team they were perplexed and like, “Why on earth? He’s been in a coma for a month and he wakes up from a subdural hematoma, why would he be worried about money?” And she said, “Well, come in and watch this.”
Brian Travers (42:06):
So that handwriting is my mother, and as my wife was speaking my mother was writing that so I could read it. They wanted to make sure I understood. My wife knew that I was rubbing my fingers to make sure that my disability insurance policy was activated and it was. A dear friend of mine who was a mentor, still is a mentor to me in the business, his name is Tom Wong. When he heard that I had become very ill, he’s the one that went through the company to get my policy activated. But again, the minute I could communicate somehow even just rubbing my fingers, all I could at that time was think about all the hardships years before, of even like I said when I started a family and trying to feed the family, diapers, everything. And of course as you read in there, Erin told me, “Your policy is active. We’re all set. We’re being cared for, now it’s all about you.”
James Crook (43:10):
Yeah, that was probably a great feeling.
Brian Travers (43:13):
Yeah it was. It was. I still remember it.
James Crook (43:16):
Yeah. Wow. That’s just quite a story. So I’m not sure how recently, and I’m not sure if I’ll say this right, but the cochlear implant surgery-
Brian Travers (43:30):
Yeah, so after I relocated here to Florida … actually just before, when I was still in rehab. Again, I was in rehab for a long time. But the incision on my skull, I required three brain surgeries while I was in a coma. They actually took half of my skull off my head and put in my abdomen for safe keeping. That way they could just get access to the brain when I kept bleeding. But when I recovered they put the skull cap back, but that suture wouldn’t close. So I had to go through hyperbaric treatment, and it’s basically a tube and you basically lay in a tube for an hour or two hours so many days a week. And the interesting thing I noticed right away is that when I would put my hearing aid back on in that one ear, I noticed that my hearing was deteriorating. And we learned that one of the side effects of hyperbaric chamber therapy is hearing issues, hearing loss. So they immediately stopped the treatment, but it was too late.
Brian Travers (44:39):
So this was like 2009, 2010. We relocated here to Florida and by about 2012 was just really when I started focusing on reading lips. Up until COVID basically. And about 2015, 2016 is when my wife started encouraging me to think about a cochlear implant and I just had too many reservations about my health. Having three brain surgeries, having a cerebral hemorrhage and I’m like, “I’ll just get through. I’ll just struggle through. I’m fine. If I’m deaf, I’m deaf.” But that’s easier said than done, because then by 2018, 2019 it really became difficult where having to lip read everyone became very difficult. At the same time to ask my wife and my kids to keep repeating themselves, it took its toll. And I basically didn’t want to leave the house anymore, to be honest with you.
James Crook (45:52):
Brian Travers (45:53):
And then finally, then COVID hit and my wife, the other great thing is, as I said, when I started my business my wife was a stay-at-home mom, basically. When I got sick, she was inspired by the nurses that took care of me, the intensive care unit nurses. When I recovered, rehab ended, we relocated here to Florida, my wife enrolled in nursing school. She is now an intensive care unit nurse giving back, taking care of people the way that I was taken care of. So we’ve had a big role reversal where like I said, I became the stay-at-home dad and she’s my hero. She’s an intensive care unit nurse.
Brian Travers (46:36):
And talk about the frontline on COVID. But I walked in the house one day in 2019, whatever, 2020, when this was started and she had her sewing machine out and I asked what she was doing and she said she was making masks, because masks were becoming mandated. So she wanted masks for our family. And so I said, “Why don’t you show me how to use a sewing machine and I will make them while you are at work.” So she showed me how to use a sewing machine. I taught myself how to sew. I bought books, Sewing 101, literally. And then I started making masks for my family and neighbors, if you need them. But then the big thing came is when I would go out in public. I actually had a little cue card, an index card and I had a little message on there. “I’m a lip reader, please lower your mask.” And no one would lower their mask.
Brian Travers (47:39):
And so it got to a point where I couldn’t go out unless my wife or my daughters were with me so they could lower their mask so I could read their lips. But then when schools closed, I went to my daughters’ school … It was first come first serve and you would get a laptop for your child. So I arrived at school at 6:30, 7:00 in the morning. I made it in the building at 10:00 and the situation was when you walked into the hallway of the school there were four stations. You couldn’t touch anything. There were no pens, no paper. You had to answer questions and you had to get through four stations until finally you got a laptop. And low and behold, when I got to the first station I said, “I’m deaf I need to read your lips, could you lower your mask?” And they wouldn’t. Fortunately the person-
James Crook (48:31):
That’s very frustrating.
Brian Travers (48:34):
Yeah. Fortunately the person behind me picked up and he lowered his mask and if it wasn’t for him over the next four stations, letting me read his lips, I would have never gotten the computer for my daughter. But that day when I went home, I was just, I was so frustrated. I was out of it. And I took my mask, of course all the sewing stuff was on the table and there was a pair of scissors and just out of anger I crunched up the mask. I cut a hole in this. I threw it on the table and I said to myself, “Is it that hard to lower your mask?” But then I’m looking and I cut and I’m like, “Well, what if I put something there, because I’m thinking of wallets. They have wallets with the thing. And basically that’s what started. So when I started doing that, then my wife said, “Listen this is when you need a cochlear implant.”
Brian Travers (49:32):
So I got approved for the implant and I started trying to make a prototype over the next three weeks and then my wife was informed … I still remember her eyes were filled up. She came into the room and I knew something was up. And I read her lips and she said, “All elective surgeries have been canceled. And you’re not going to get your implant.” And of course that just threw me back off the cliff. I didn’t even care about the masks anymore. I put everything aside. A month later my wife approached me, this time with a smile on her face. I knew what that meant. She said, “You’re rescheduled. It’s next week.”
Brian Travers (50:13):
I went and had the surgery and of course the presurgical visits. Here I am, I’m just not even looking at the doctor. I’m looking at my wife reading her lips and she’s repeating what he’s saying about what to expect and everything. So when the surgery was completed, my goal was to … I had, I think two weeks before the postsurgical. My goal was to make this mask so that in two weeks my wife could wear this mask and I could read her lips. So I finished the mask and again, my goal was to make this mask just for my wife and my daughters to wear. And the minute we walked into my surgeon’s office, time stood still. They all looked at my wife and said, “Where did you get that mask.” I couldn’t hear that obviously, because they had masks on, but I was reading her lips and she simply said, “He made it,” and pointed to me. So I just thought when that visit ended and we’re driving home, I’m like, “I’m just going to take a picture of you and put it on the deaf and hard of hearing forums and the cochlear implant forums that I’m a member of just to see what happens.
James Crook (51:26):
Brian Travers (51:28):
I had no agenda. And we put-
James Crook (51:30):
Right. Right. Right.
Brian Travers (51:31):
… We put that up there, and it’s not, “Where did you get this from?” It was, “I’ll take five. I’ll take 10.”
James Crook (51:38):
Yeah, that’s great.
Brian Travers (51:40):
And it wasn’t just here in this country. It was Asia, it was Europe, it was United Kingdom, it was Ireland. And literally that day, a year ago, around this time, we’ve been making masks ever since all over the world. It’s just incredible and of course it brought us some national recognition with the Today Show, The Washington Post, The Kelly Clarkson Show and numerous, local agencies. I would get texts from people in Canada saying, “Hi, this is Tim from Vancouver. Just wanted to let you know I’m driving to work and they’re talking about you on the radio. God bless you for making our day.” Or people in Asia would send me screen shots of Yahoo with all Asian writing with just my picture.
James Crook (52:34):
Brian Travers (52:35):
It was just totally incredible. It just was a surreal experience.
James Crook (52:40):
Yeah. Well, that’s pretty incredible. So are people still buying them or is the demand dwindling now.
Brian Travers (52:45):
Yeah, people are still buying them. The interesting thing was that last year at this time, my wife was saying with the girls being at that time 17 and 13, my full-time dad duty, I’m being relegated down to part-time. We would kind of chuckle, and I said, “Well, I’m going to go focus back on lecturing to residents and working with physicians with insurance.” My mother and my aunts, they went and bought me a suit and everything. Even though I’m in Florida, I contacted my contacts back in New England and New York and Boston and I had lectures lined up. I bought a plane ticket. I was going back and COVID hit and everything stopped. All of my lectures, I got email after email, or texts, that all third party vendors’ presentations have been canceled indefinitely due to the pandemic. And so it wasn’t what do we do now. It was okay, until this gets done, we’ll follow through with making masks, and it’s been a wonderful, incredible year.
James Crook (54:01):
Wow. That is a pretty remarkable story, Brian.
Brian Travers (54:07):
James Crook (54:08):
It’s been awesome to talk to you. I could talk to you for a long time, but we really appreciate you taking the time.
Brian Travers (54:16):
It’s my pleasure.
James Crook (54:17):
Oh yeah, this was a great, fun chat. Just such an impactful story, it’s awesome. I’m excited for our listeners to hear it.
James Crook (54:29):
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