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BONUS SESSION: Liver Transplant Survivor Brandon Mouw on Happiness & Vulnerability

by Mark Laguna
August 23rd 2020

Never imagined I'll be having a guest who I actually don't know, but here we are - a first for everything!

And we thank our lucky stars for having Brandon Mouw drop in the podcast to tell yo... More

you're listening to catch up sessions with Mark Laguna. We are on break, but I thought I'd give you a treat in the form of this bonus episode. In this session, you get to listen in to my conversation with Brandon Mouw first for me to have someone I'm literally talking to for the first time in the podcast. Well here he talks about his life as a survivor and we zero in on my new favorite topic, vulnerability. Happy eavesdropping. The best time to catch up is now cap job sessions. Hello, Thanks again for coming on. Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. That's funny. You should start to the introductions like proper, proper intro. Okay, They've been chatting over instagram and email.

So formal. My name is Mark I come from the Philippines, the Beautiful Islands. Yeah, so I started doing the podcast really just for fun and uh for the longest time now I've been chatting with a bunch of friends catching up properly. That's why it's called catch up sessions. Um, we'll get to know you obviously all throughout the show, but maybe you can just get started with why you're doing this also. So I'm here trying to spread my story and raise awareness about what is known as an invisible illness because from looking at me, you wouldn't know that I've been through a bunch of crazy things and there are a lot of people um, in the world, especially here in the United States who are afraid to speak up for themselves or afraid to ask for help. And since I went through all of that and I don't mind talking about, um, I share my story and I share my journey and I talked about whatever because you never know what people are going through and I hope that it just motivates them.

Yeah, But I mean it's not only about my health journey, I've been uh I grew up on a chicken ranch in southern California. Um I was a high school teacher, I then went to law school. Um I had a kidney taken out, I had a life saving organ transplant. So like there's a, I have a lot of interesting background so why don't we get started since this is the show where in, we basically talked to people from all over the globe. We have you from the U. S. Which state again, I am currently in California but are you born and raised in California, yep, I was born in southern California in a small farming community and lived there for 18 years. Awesome. So I usually start to show by getting to know my guest, you get to introduce yourself but to have a bit of twist uh instead of babbling about who you are, I will only give you three statements that will have to sort of capture who Brandon is.

Um I am alive. Mm I am happy and I am ready for an adventure wow! Those are three exciting things. Why don't we get started with you being alive? You are of course alive today. We are hearing you. But right now yeah, that's good to know that they're not talking to a ghost. Uh we don't have that power yet. But can you tell us more about that? Yeah. So like to me just being alive and waking up every morning is considered the greatest victory that anyone can have in life. And I came to that realization after taking life for granted for so long. Um and then suddenly waking up with emergency personnel over me telling me that they were going to stop trying to do uh CPR or re uh what's the word I'm looking for, resuscitate me? Yeah, because they thought that I was a quote gagner, meaning that I was just dead.

And so that was kind of like my first experience, that's how precious really life is and that you just can't take it for granted. But so did you have a condition growing up that led to this? Yeah. So from the age of three, I was a Type one diabetic. And so it was diagnosed as a kid and I never knew a life without testing my blood and taking insulin. And but that was never really a problem. It was always well managed and never had any issues until later in life. Or it kind of turned into something that became a major problem and caused me to go down that road of having to be resuscitated and that kind of stuff. So what was that experience like? Can you just tell us more into that picture? I mean, I I don't think you walk you know and meet someone every day who would have told you to say actually almost died and but now I'm back. Um is that what's bringing meaning to you now? Yeah.

Um that you know, that was just the first experience. I had a couple other ones after that. And then I was told that if I didn't receive a pancreas, only transplant, which are very which are very rare because my body was no longer able to break down food correctly. And then I would take insulin injections to make up for what my pancreas could not produce in my body because it was dead. It was my body wouldn't be able or at the time my body was not able to take any of the food that was supposed to be broken down in my stomach. Which then the insulin captures the energy from that food and delivers it to your body. So it creates fuel for your body. Well, mind stopped being able to do that. And what that ends up doing is it causes you to be either hypoglycemic which means you have a very low blood sugar and your brain shuts down or hyper glycemic, which means you have a very high blood sugar.

And over time it destroys all your nerves, all your arteries, you lose your eyesight, all of that kind of stuff which are very common. Side effects that you hear about. I have the opposite one and one low blood sugar that lasts long enough means that your organs including your heart and lungs stop working because your body doesn't have the energy two, just like a battery. It's running, it's running low on battery and it just goes out and anything you have your phone in your car, it doesn't work anymore. If it doesn't have any battery, it's the same thing with a low blood sugar. And so it became such a problem that I would be found passed out. I was found without a heartbeat or breath um numerous times. Uh and we tried every treatment to try to get me over that and to just end that cycle of the hypoglycemic, the low blood sugars. But nothing would work. And so finally, the final and last treatment for us here in the United States is a pancreas only transplant, which are very rare.

They don't do very many of them. They tend to be very hard and unsuccessful. But if that's your last option, you just do it. And so it kind of led me to needing that transplant, which I had to pay cash for what imagine it's not, not expensive. Right? Um, yeah, I don't know what like the conversion rate is, but in the United States, um, I had to pay $250,000 up. How, wow. So yeah, like it's, it's one of those things where I, I don't have that kind of money just laying around. I do not come from wealth. Um, I don't have bags of money. So um, what really changed me from being a private person and not having social media and not like, I mean I grew up on a farm. I like I didn't need anything great or grand in my life. Uh, and then I went from needing to raise that money and the only way to do that was to ask people for help.

So you're reached out. So I reached out and uh, for awhile, nothing really happened with it. And I was, and I was given a very limited time to live what I was doing. So I was fighting against time and then all of a sudden people started catching on to my story and following it and strangers and some family members and some friends and everybody started giving and I ended up raising the money in three months to transplant. Mm before that. How long was the ideal of having to deal with this medical condition? A little over three years. Okay. Yeah. So it started, I started having a low blood sugars and I would pass out at work and like that kind of stuff. It was like no big deal. I'll just, I'll figure out a way around it. Then when it became such a problem where every single day I didn't wake up to my alarms, um I wasn't like, I would like a whole day would pass and I would just be sitting in the same spot because my brain shuts down all nonessential functions to preserve energy.

So like logical thinking and stuff like that. And uh, when I started noticing that took, it took about a year and then I really started going to new doctors and trying to figure out away around that. And that's kind of the process of led me to meeting that and why just being alive to be is considered the greatest victory because so many people invested into me being alive and I also have an organ from someone who passed away that is keeping me alive. So there's a lot of sacrifice for the benefit of me being alive, which is why I can appreciate it so much that really will do something to you um you know, because I don't get a lot of answers, but just says they're alive because to your point, people tend to take that for granted, right? But can you just walk us through a bit of the experience from, I guess this, you know, private person to having to reach out, because I don't imagine it ever is easy for you to be able to, you know, ask for help and more social strangers.

What was that experience like? So after talking to a few people, like a friend of mine who would do fundraising, who would go on trips and build wells and go and help orphanages and stuff, she would do fundraising online and she was the one that suggested it, and I was like, no, I am not asking people for money, that is not who I am, you know what I mean? Like let me figure it out on my own and uh you know, I'm working and like I'm trying I'm going through everything in my head to try to figure it out. And even my mom called me and was like, Brandon, you have to ask other people because they just assume everything is okay. People don't know what you're going through and that you need help and I'm like, but that goes against everything that I believe it. Like I, for my whole life, I think it was about 28 29 at the time, I had always been self sufficient. I was I was able to work, I was able to come with up with my own stuff.

I graduated law school, I was a teacher, like I ran businesses, it wasn't like being successful was impossible for me, but the impossible thing for me was to let people know that I needed help. And when looking back on it, it was that aspect of needing to be vulnerable and just allowing myself that break, just to say, look, I can't do it on my own is anyone willing to help. And so finally, after a few days I had to think about it and all that kind of stuff, I came to the realization that my only option because I couldn't borrow money, that's a lot of money that is not guaranteed to ever be returned. I was very sick and fighting against time. So I was like, okay at this point, what do I have to lose? Um if, if, if I can't raise it, if I, if I can't find it, if I can't beg borrow or steal for it, then at least I tried.

Um and that's kind of uh, that was my motto with everything, do the best with, with what you have. And at least I tried. And so it was the strangest thing that had ever happened to me until then, um, dying almost being pronounced dead. All that kind of stuff wasn't strange to me. It was me allowing my story of look, this is what is happening. This is what the doctors are saying. And if I don't get this transplant, I will die putting that online available for people to see was like the most nerve wracking and biggest thing that I had to get over that vulnerability. But it ended up being the best thing to have ever happened in my life. Yeah, Yeah. I mean, faith in humanity restored. Uh, will be one of the big things that comes out of this. Uh, so from all of that experience, right? Um, how do you now view happiness?

Which you said as your second statement, you are happy? Yeah, or what makes you happy now? Yeah. So I'm trying to figure out like how to break it down in the most simple, it really comes down to just being okay with what is going on. Um but like I know I am alive for a reason because of how many people helped me because I, I received an organ from someone who died, who don't donated their organ so that I could live like there is a purpose for me to be alive and then with that comes happiness, I don't feel like I'm a victim. I know everything that I did was not because of something I did wrong. It was just, my body just couldn't handle it anymore. It was a chronic illness for 31 years, my body just stopped working And so what makes me happy is just enjoying the small things in life. Last week, for example, I went up to a lake rented jet skis and just had fun.

Mm It's good just because it's simple. It was something I haven't done in like 15 years and I felt like doing it and I was able to do it because I'm healthy enough and I wanted to and it's hot right now in California and it was just so nice to get away and while it wasn't a great trip to europe or you know, or or anything like that, it was just a simple, fun little inexpensive trip. But I had the time of my life. So happiness to me is just finding joy in the simple things and not worrying so much about uh making the money climbing that ladder and having the nicest car and the biggest house, all that kind of stuff that I used to work towards has gone away because what is important to me now is that life and that happiness and so I'm able to find happiness in this, those little things Brandon. Do you think you'll get to that realization if he did not go through all of that crazy medical condition that you had to live through?

No, never would have happened, I'd be right now, I'd be still at my law firm trying to become a partner. Uh just working up that ladder. That's what I'd be doing. So maybe you can also just give us a picture of what is your life like then and now what is different because of this whole deal? So then I thought I was happy as well, like, you know, just working and living life and enjoying life. But it was always I was working towards like this bigger goal, everything that I did was always okay, how can I expand my um connections of people? How can I make a bigger career, how can I make a bigger difference? How can I land something bigger? And that was kind of like my life before? And can you pause there for a while? Is it just, you know, just for self or there's also this bigger picture, did you have that also during that time? And I asked because you know, nowadays you hear a lot of people, I'm not just doing this for myself, uh care about others.

Um how is that? How was that like before and versus now, I mean you now talking to us, you know, this is your bigger purpose also sort of, but what was it like then? Yeah, so I had a similar but a much different opinion. The reason for like climbing the ladder and making something big of yourself is because that's kind of the american attitude of you're going to, you're going to push yourself, you're going to try to achieve more, you're going to do better than the generation before you. That's kind of instilled in you from a young age, you're always trying to work up and and move forward and so that's what I thought brought me happiness at the time and I was happy and I was happy to do it and I enjoyed myself, I had great friends, I could do what I wanted and I made a lot of really great experiences at that time. And so that is what I thought happiness meant before all of this kind of happened up next, we get to hear how Brandon spent his time these days and his upcoming adventures catch you on the other side of this break.

There's always a reason to catch up catch up sessions. So how do you live life now? Can you give us a picture of maybe what's your weak? Like this weekend thing is that we can, but how do you spend the days now? Yeah, so it's a weekend thing so like um right now because it's been, everything is just weird with uh covid and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. Most of what I do is online I do consulting, I do side work, I just I do whatever I need to make enough money to get by. I'm not trying to earn a whole bunch of money and cause stress and all that kind of stuff because my my organ transplant is just a year and a half old and they don't know until you're 30 three if it's truly a successful transplant or not. And so, well, there's a lot of things I can enjoy. One of the points is to try to remain stress free as possible because stress just causes all kinds of problems.

So, um I'm able to take on projects that I want to instead of taking on every project no matter what, because I can get more money. Um I get to consult on a bunch of different things or give give my advice on things that I normally wouldn't have done. And I've been able to find it's been very interesting just being more open to different things. So I work on the computer, I make a lot of phone calls and then also the other part of my life is kind of putting my health journey on social media to show that this is what I've been through. This is what the process of transplant looks like. It was somebody with a chronic illness. And um I do a lot of, I talked to a lot of people like you for example sharing my story so that other people can learn about it and stuff like that. So my life is kind of a balance between the two and then also just doing things that I enjoy that's really in my life.

It is it is so simple. But I mean to me it's right now, it's perfect. Yeah. And it's not like you stay in bed all day. I see you have an active lifestyle from your instagram posts, climbing mountains. Right? So it's also sort of giving people hope that you know after a transplant you don't end up, you know not living anymore. Right? Reverse well. And it can be because there are complications. I mean even with like diabetes or any chronic illness, you have days that are just bad and you do need to stay in bed. But on the days that I don't feel that way I am doing all I can to get my butt out of the house to go and do something fun. And that is hiking and I live close to the ocean. So I get to go to the ocean a la. And um I have to try to avoid crowds. And if it wasn't covid, which I bring up my life would be much different because I would probably be living somewhere else right now just getting experience. Yeah.

And all that kind of stuff. Because I can because I can do everything online and not, I don't have to be in California which I love. The weather is great and beautiful year round. but there are some really great places that I also have never gone an experience and I think that now is a great time to do it because I'm not tied down to anything. Yeah. So where, I mean assuming all of this pandemic stuff is over is the next adventure for you or what is the next adventure because you already as you. So yeah, I'm ready and I mean I try to have adventures and stuff as often as possible. It's just it's toned down. It will be. Um but yeah I like to gain new experiences and go on adventures. Um One of the plans that I had for the summer was to go down to the amazon river and go and see the pink dolphins and go fishing. One of the things I love to do is fish and go and do that. And then I had a trip planned to Hong kong because why the heck not?

I wanted to go and experience everything there, dim sum overload. Yeah. We like to me so like from, from having to wear a suit every single day for so long. I was like, okay, I'm gonna go get the suit made in one day. The perfectly tailored suit. Like there are just things that I just wanted. I've always like thought of how fun it would be and now I'm taking all those ideas and saying, okay now I'm going to do them, but the world will open again and I'm ready for when that happens. But for now it's just, I'm kind of staying in the United States, I'm staying out of super crowded areas and I'm enjoying what I can, which is a lot of just things in nature. That's great. That's really great to hear. Uh again, you're not allowing even the highest and loss of each day. That's what I wanted to ask you. Um because I assume you remain to be happy, but you also mentioned it's not always a good day. Um How do you maybe psych yourself up? You know, especially during a bad health day, even after getting a transplant?

Yeah. So there are days where you just don't feel good or you have the flu or and you have medication, side effects and whatever it is. Um I allow myself and I have the attitude of, okay, Mhm. Today I'm just not going to be able to do as much as I thought, but I'm going to do as much as possible so I allow my body to rest and get that recover that recovery. And in terms of like psyching myself up, it's okay. I'm going to go on a walk or okay, I'm going to go on a bike ride and then kind of, once you put your body in motion a little bit, it's just the ball just keeps rolling and start small. Yeah, you start small and then you kind of forget about like, what was bothering you earlier and then you kind of get to start doing more things that you get to be a little bit more productive. Um Some days are worse than others, but yeah, but that's kind of, that's kind of how I do it. I just take it one step at a time and see what happens and if it makes me feel worse, I'm like, okay, then I'm gonna, today it's just gonna be a stay at home rest day and, and I'm okay with that because I'm doing the best I can.

All right, you don't have to be always on. Uh So all throughout the journey, you're what they charge you now again, I'm 35 at 35. What would you say would be your guess how this moment or what are you most proud of? Okay, so I would say genuinely we kind of talked about it more. I am most proud of allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help because there are a lot of great things that have happened in my life and like unbelievable things. But if I had not gone against everything, I believed in for lots of reasons and allowed myself to be vulnerable and ask questions and tell people what was wrong with me, I would not be here today being able to talk to you. And so I think that that is one of my greatest victory. I mean because you had to go through hell that forced you to be vulnerable as you tell that, I was just like going through my head, can I also do that?

But now, I mean now you're much better. Do you continue to have, you know that vulnerability? And how do you, I guess maintain that if the answer is yes. Yeah, I do because I share all my vulnerabilities online and my story, because it's not just about oh my hiking or like, oh my trip, it's about showing the ups and downs of what it looks like to heal from a major surgery. And also, um if I've been in rejection twice with the transplant, if if my if my organ rejects, I will I will die because I'll go right back to where I was, which is on the brink of death. And so I'm kind of like, I have to weigh all those things and I put my story on online so that other people can realize that life is short and you can't take it for granted. And so it's that kind of goes back to my message, oh and let me bring up one other thing because I want to make sure this like I am not here today because of things that I did, I am here today because of what everyone else did on my behalf, which makes me so thankful and so grateful to be alive.

Because if it wasn't for people who proved me wrong, because I just always thought like the not the worst of people, but like I always thought that everyone was out for themselves, they care about somebody else. They would never give money all of that kind of stuff. But humanity proved me wrong and showed me that they're not all bad. There are some bad ones out there. But for the, but for the most part it's the, it's the quiet ones that, that are there for you behind the scenes. And that was a big realization as well. And it's such a blessing to be hearing this because you know, if it can happen to you, it can happen to someone else. Um, and to your point, there are more and more people who maybe are not outwardly also shouting. I'm a good person. And let's face it, not everyone is a good, good, uh, but it's really, really heartwarming to hear that, you know, friends, both friends and strangers can actually come together in the toughest of situations.

Yeah. Well, and I mean, and it was hard to like, let me add a little bit more detailed because it's not all like sunshine and perfection in my life. I got like the first person who called me was a family member and told me how dare I ask, Oh, that happened. Yeah. And told me to fuck off. And so that was my expectation of people and humanity. And so when like that's why I think it's one of the, one of the greatest things because that got proved wrong and and I think a lot of people are afraid to start a podcast because no one's going to listen to it or afraid to go try something new or afraid to go take on a new hobby and meet new friends because who am I going to meet? Who is going to like me. And I think that the whole learning experience of that is you never know unless you try it. Yeah. So it's all about just taking that risk, being vulnerable and going for it because there's no use living life in regret.

So at this point, is there anything else that you haven't gone for yet? Like something completely new that you want to do more of? Oh tons. I have no idea what the future's gonna hold or what crazy ideas are going to go through my head. But as I know that I need to worry less about the transplant and I have a little bit more freedom. Um I would like, there's a lot of like, I want to go and help people who are afraid to to go and speak up and help motivate them in other ways that I am able to. Um I want to do extensive traveling and just, I really want to go find and live in different places because why not go and gain those periods, meet new friends? Um I don't have any major things in terms of like what I used to like, oh, climb the ladder, make all the money, That kind of stuff just does not matter to me anymore. Like making a living is important to live.

But beyond that, I just do, that's not what's important to me. It's about living life, enjoying friends and family and being okay with that. And that's, yeah, that's kind of where I'm at with with everything mentally. That might change with with what happens. But right now, that's what it is. And it has served me very well uh to have that attitude because it's very easy when, when people are negative or bad things are happening with your health and just say, okay, it is what it is. I'm gonna do the best I can with with what I've been given and um start working, making those steps and working forward to get to where I want to be in life or it's where I want to be in health because nothing happens overnight. That's amazing keeping it open also. So what I heard from you, um, and all throughout this conversation, we've already heard so many stories, but if, say the listeners want to know more and I personally want to know more, I already follow you on instagram.

Where can we find you your story or if there's anything else that you want the listeners to check out now is the time to share? Sure, thank you for the opportunity. So if you want to know more about me, um find me on instagram, Brandon Mao official and um, it's uh, M O U W. It's, it's a weird last name is Doctor Tardy Bell, it's M O U W. And so Brandon now official or Brandon Mao dot com has all my links and stuff on it and I just post motivational content about my life. I answer any question that is emailed to me or message to me or any comment or anything like that. I'm happy to answer all of them and answer questions because when I was going through all this kind of stuff, I couldn't find anybody that was going through the same thing that I was. And so I'm trying to give back and make up for that deficit that's out there by being that person.

And so I hope that people feel free to reach out to be vulnerable. I'm not, I'm here that I'm here to be a resource and to help and so find me and uh see if you can relate and I'm happy to help anyone that has any questions that's really great. You have a really good point that sometimes people are just lost because they don't know, someone else had to go through it because I mean as it is now, we won't know if you didn't tell us uh the kind of story and the experience that you have. Yeah. Hey, it's been a crazy journey, but I'm still here, so can't complain. Uh it's great to still have you for sure. Okay, so uh so I usually wind down now with the discussion with something a bit more fun and trivial. So let's see, because you grew up in the chicken farm, you mentioned you're from California. So I'll have a couple of pick one questions.

Uh this is still so that you get to know, you bet there. Okay, so pick one, Would you go for a mountain hike or a beach? If you can only do one thing for the rest of your life, Which one would be the beach? Hands down. Really? So it's really the sun, sand and sea and Florence. Is it? Yeah, there's something magical I'll tell you, you know I like both. Um It's hard to put a price on either one of them, but there's something about the ocean that is just so amazing. It's full life. When you get a B. Buy it, you get to hear it, you get to see what lives in it. It's just it's an amazing thing and it helps rejuvenate me. So for me, definitely an ocean person. How about you know in California are you uh city concrete jungle person or more countryside? I prefer more country um where I live. It's kind of in the middle of both. There's farms and stuff around me but there's also a city and so I get to have a little bit of both.

But I would, yeah, I don't mind the city like I love being in one, but I also like the ability to have a little bit of land to let my dog run and just to enjoy it without hearing the neighbors constantly. Yeah. So like there's, there's, there's good and bad with both. But yeah, I prefer a little bit more good. Good Brandon. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. It's an awesome, awesome journey. We usually ended right there. But there was this burning question I just had to ask, tell you what my takeaway is still, how do I convert to mr vulnerability without having to go through what you had to go through? I guess it's one last thing. Um, do you have an advice on that for me personally because I don't want to have to wait for a life and death situation to do that, Right?

Well, and that's and that's the most, so we just assume that everything is okay until you're told otherwise and we don't know that. It's not anyone friends, family, everyone doesn't know that. Yeah. Anyone might need help in any way unless you're told. And so like my well, let me ask you this first. I know it's about me, but I want to ask about you what what makes you afraid of being vulnerable? Yeah, I guess it's that judgment, right? Um Being ready to someone weak and I don't like to pretend that. Yeah, I'm awesome, but sort of inevitably. So because I live in corporate, I'm a people manager, you know, I'm supposed to be a proud son of the family. So it's all of those, I guess, expectations that just weighs down on you. It's not bad. Again, it's not like you live such a horrible life of dreading going to work or going to the family.

It's not that, but it's also I cannot go to the other side still of just showing your, I guess I called and called True Self, right? But maybe it's not even my true self now because I'm not able to really open up and say sometimes say I need help. Yeah. So I did it like same situation as me. It really comes down to just being no matter what, when any, when you're vulnerable at all, there's always going to be the haters and there's always going to be the supporters. So it's one of those things where you just have to know that just being vulnerable isn't in every aspect of your life, it might be just one or two. Um, and you just have to be, you have to know that good and bad comes with it, but in the end it works out the way it's supposed to and you're far better for being vulnerable than living with that idea of what if I were to ask or what if I said this or what if I did that?

Um it's better to live knowing that you tried doing it than it is always living with that thought of well what if um and so even though anyone is afraid of being vulnerable, you'll never know what could happen if you just made the ask and if you make that ask, anything is possible, that'll do it for now. Thanks for hanging. The show is everywhere. You can find the podcast where you can eavesdrop on the other sessions. Also check out the page at catch up sessions on facebook and instagram there. You can find photos of the guests. If you are more visual, just like me, catch you again soon

BONUS SESSION: Liver Transplant Survivor Brandon Mouw on Happiness & Vulnerability
BONUS SESSION: Liver Transplant Survivor Brandon Mouw on Happiness & Vulnerability
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