Today, we recognize Greg Menard, and his family, as officially becoming part of the car audio competition team and family that is Team Hybrids. As is the case with most stories such as this, there is much more than what meets the eyes. Greg and his family have recently encountered an event in their life that easily qualifies as “life changing,” and the following is a rare glimpse into the meaningful details of that experience through the eyes of Scott Buwalda, Founder of Hybrid Audio Technologies.
I met Greg Menard almost a decade ago. Greg was a local IASCA competitor in North Georgia, and being newly transplanted from Florida, I quickly bonded with Greg given our like-minded interests in cars and audio. Greg is someone you appreciate having as your friend.
Greg is a modest man (a decidedly complimentary term, Greg’s life is unencumbered by worldly pursuits that steal time from us and our families). I am thankful he’s wired that way, and at the end of this story you’ll understand why, and further appreciate what kind of man Greg is. You see, Greg and his wife Becky are proud parents of a miracle baby, Joshua, who was born with his heart positioned backwards and on the opposite side of his chest. You can imagine the complications associated with having your heart on the “wrong” side. However, it doesn’t seem “wrong” for the Menard family, for Joshua is truly a “one in a million” boy, and that’s precisely the way they view him. He’s their special purpose baby; at a mere twelve years old now, we don’t know what his gift will be to the human race, but we do know that he’s been “specially equipped.”
Greg and I lost contact for a number of years as his family dealt with the doctors, hospitals, and surgeries. Our paths crossed again in June 2013. Somehow, I feel we were meant to be put back together. The months passed and we collaborated on his beloved Chevy HHR; a finely-tuned IASCA competition car was borne shortly thereafter.
Everything changed in March 2014, and suddenly car audio wasn’t as important anymore. Josh was slated to undergo an “outpatient” internal scope procedure. Greg was always diligent about keeping me up to date via e-mail about his life-happenings. There were a few days of silence, and I didn’t think much of it. That is until Greg walked in one afternoon. It was common for Greg to pop in to hang out, but today was different. Greg was white as a ghost and couldn’t find words to speak. He was only able to mutter, “Scott, brother, can we talk?” I squared my shoulders to find a shell of a man standing in front of me. This was the day everything changed for Greg and his family. Greg began unpacking what was on his mind, telling me that during Josh’s heart catheterization, the doctor mistakenly crossed the AV septum in his heart. I cannot recall what I was working on at that moment; whatever it was it had little importance. I listened to Greg tell me what happened. I realized that I was probably Greg’s first stop after the procedure, and perhaps even the first of his friends to get the news about his son. My life changed that day, as I contemplated Joshua’s condition and how I could support Greg as a friend, especially in his time of need.
The following weeks were excruciating for the Menard family, as they negotiated the procedure to fix Josh’s heart at Boston Children’s Hospital, and more importantly trying to come up with the funds necessary for the trip. Making matters worse, the procedure would need to be booked three months in advance, meaning three months of living with the knowledge of their being a golf-ball sized hole in their son’s heart. This time was spent by the Menard family in what my mom would have called “making memories.” Facebook posts were a regular occurrence from Greg and Becky, as they recalled good times just being busy to pass the time. Josh was often pictured target practicing with his compound bow, pulling a large catfish out of their local secret fishing spot, and building speaker pods in Greg’s car. Greg and co-pilot Josh even had time to convincingly win a few IASCA-sanctioned events, including a big win at the Hybrid Summer Regionals on June 29, 2014. Alas, it was all a temporary diversion.
At last the day had come to leave for Boston. With clear minds and nothing more than faith, this Georgia couple took their son to Boston Children’s Hospital. The plan was to arrive on Monday, pre-op on Tuesday, and surgery on Wednesday – or so they thought. Instead, the Menard’s insurance company politely informs them a mere eight hours before the surgery that they are not covering the procedure. The doctor heard of this and stated to Greg and Becky, “be here tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM and I will fix your son’s heart” (this was irrespective of the insurance company covering the procedure — yes there still are beautiful people in this world).
A week before Josh’s surgery, I laid in bed one night and thought about that day Greg told me what happened to their boy. I realized Greg needed me (and at the same time I discovered I needed Greg). So I had this hair-brained idea to get a plane ticket and surprise Greg and Becky at the hospital. I purposely made my flight for Thursday, July 10, the day after the surgery. This way, I could go without intruding on their family, and maybe see Josh in recovery. I was watching Facebook closely as the Menard family was posting about the surgery being postponed because of insurance issues. I thought for a split second to cancel the trip — I desired to stay out of the way — but something told me to stay the course. So I flew out of Atlanta to Boston as scheduled that Thursday morning not knowing what to expect.
After the mildly entertaining rental car experience, and the GPS lying to me on no fewer than two occasions, I arrived at the hospital. I asked the front desk attendant where I might find the children’s cardiac wing. He said “third floor.” So off I went, scouring the entire floor; no sign of Greg nor Becky. I had to resort to text. I started “what’s the update?” hoping not to give myself up and my grandiose plan (I had hoped Greg would say something like “we’re in the fourth-floor waiting room” or “we’re out for a walk.”) Greg dutifully responded with Josh’s prognosis. We texted a few times and Greg still doesn’t tell me where he and his wife are at, to which I finally texted “so where are you right now?” Greg replies “in the cafeteria on the first level.” And a second text a few moments later “where are you at?” Oh boy, he’s onto me. I walked to the cafeteria, and was met halfway by Greg shaking his head in disbelief, tears streaming down his face. We hugged for a very long time. I said “where’s your wife?” “She’s sitting over there” (pointing to his right and behind him). “She spotted you walking in and said ‘there he his.’” I make my way over to their table as they gaze at me as if I had a third eye. “I can’t believe you are here.” Yes, I was there, and the reason would make itself apparent in short order.
I grab a bite to eat and return to the waiting room with the Menards. We got caught up a good bit – perhaps it was a good diversion from the reality of the life-changing surgery going on just a few doors down. Both Greg and Becky kept saying how I “changed the dynamics of the day” for them. I didn’t really understand this. They began to tell me how they were dealing with the stress, oftentimes in different parts of the hospital, and separate from each other. And how the tension had them snapping at each other. Yes, somehow I was here to put these two people back together – and here I thought the purpose of my visit was to cheer a young man up when he woke from his surgery.
About an hour into our conversation, almost unexpectedly, the head nurse enters the room and says “he’s off the bypass machine.” We all knew what that meant – Josh’s heart has been repaired and was beating on its own. Time was beginning to fly by as we waited – it was an atypical waiting room experience for me, for all of my previous experiences in this setting have decidedly been negative, with feedback from staff few and far between. We got right back into our conversation and it seemed only a few minutes later (but in reality was well over an hour), the doctor walked in with a big smile and said that Josh’s heart had been repaired, the surgery was done and a complete success, and that Josh was headed to the ICU where we’d be able to see him in short order.
I thought to myself that maybe there was a bigger purpose for me being here – and it was becoming clear. The impact happened as the three of us walked into ICU. You’re only allowed to have two family or friends at a time in the ICU, so naturally I expected Greg and Becky to go first and I’d wait behind. Becky insisted that I accompany Greg. We made our way through the double doors and around the corner to room 21, and Greg’s pace shrinks to a crawl “I can’t go in there.” “I can’t see him like that.” Greg fell into my arms and wept. Now it is earth-shatteringly clear, this is the reason I am here. “Greg, let’s go see your beautiful boy” as I prompted him into Josh’s ICU room. “Look at him Greg, he’s beautiful.” Greg wouldn’t look. He clutched me and continued to weep. “Bro’, he’s beautiful, he’s HEALED! Look!!” Greg pops one eye open and peers in Josh’s direction, unlatches from me and walks over tentatively. “Bro’, he’s perfect…look at him…he’s healed!” “Yes Scott, yes he is” as he began caressing his arm. The moments that followed encompassed emotions ranging from relief to outright anger – clearly to be expected. I excused myself and got Becky (and in disregard to the rules, walked in as the third person in with Becky – hey, someone needed to show her where to go!). I witnessed their family unit brought back together – now whole.
As apropos as it could be, the ICU encounter left me a half-hour before having to leave for the airport. The day had swiftly concluded; what a blessing it was to conclude this day as quickly as it did. I conversed with Greg and Becky and challenged Greg, still visibly upset, “Greg, I have a bit of homework for you: I want you to take a walk and look around, give thanks for the sky, for the birds, for the water and fish.” I quoted my favorite passage from The Bible (Matthew 6:26-28) and hit the road for the airport. I went with the intentions of bring blessings upon their family and instead, I was the one blessed. Greg texted me later that he gave thanks for more than one hundred things that same evening.
Joshua has been in and out of the hospital for the majority of his short life, having endured numerous life-sustaining surgeries, including no fewer than two open-heart procedures. It would be an understatement to call this a devastating blow. The good news is that Josh is making a full recovery, and has returned home as of July 23, 2014.
In the beginning of this story, I said that Greg and family lead modest lives. Although they may lead modest lives by the majority’s standards, they are uniquely equipped to care for their child, and by proxy, all those around them. I am blessed to know them.