CHAPTER 4: Ryan and Eddie – The Miracle Workers Come Together
A Chance Meeting … In Eddie’s Words
As Eddie remembers what happened, he was in a Boulder restaurant, sitting at the bar and waiting for friends to arrive. Seated next to him was a friendly sort of guy, and they started talking. “We engaged in small talk and he offered to buy me a drink. At the time I was suffering from peptic ulcers and so couldn’t drink alcohol. I didn’t want to be rude and told him what was going on with my ulcers.”
Ryan continued the conversation and told Eddie about his association with hyperbaric oxygen therapy and how it can heal ulcers. Eddie responded, “I am going in for surgery in a few weeks to have my ulcer fixed. That therapy sounds nice, though.” Then he changed the subject. Eddie wasn’t ready to try some hocus-pocus treatment that he had never heard about before.
He and Ryan stayed in touch, and after about two weeks, Ryan convinced Eddie to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Eddie went through ten treatments and his ulcers started to heal. Best of all, he discovered that he no longer needed surgery.
Eddie wondered why this strange treatment wasn’t well known and more widely available. As his condition improved, Eddie began to volunteer at Ryan’s clinic and helped him with his first “open house.” As Eddie vividly remembers, “We had about forty people come to the open house, and I saw in those potential patients the need for this treatment. The people who came realized that this could be a life-changing treatment but the expense was too costly.”
Ryan had previously tried to start a nonprofit while he was working for Dr. Ken Stoller in Albuquerque and was hoping to start up a nonprofit at his Boulder clinic. “When Ryan told me what he wanted to do, that really got my wheels spinning …”
Eddie began to research nonprofits. He learned the basic steps to start a nonprofit company, as well as the need to fill out the daunting twenty-four-page application. Then, he sat down with Ryan to find out just how serious he was about starting a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Eddie describes vividly, “I learned that they recommend a lawyer fill out the application … of course that was after I had already filled out the twenty-four pages.”
Ryan agreed that they should move forward. On November 18, 2008, IRS Form 1023, which had been researched and filled out by Eddie, was certified through their lawyer and filed with the IRS. There was a nine-month backlog on the filing for “Recognition of Exemption” applications. In a lot of cases, applications get sent back for revision. Eddie remembers the call he received from the IRS agent, “She only had three revisions. Three! I was surprised because they usually come back with a lot more questions or requests for further information and corrections. I had them faxed to her by the next afternoon and then we waited. A few days later our fate was official … Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries had been granted nonprofit status. Alright! I thought. Umm … err … but what have I gotten myself into?”
A Chance Meeting … In Ryan’s Words
While having a beer one day, Ryan met a young man who sat down next to him and ordered milk. Ryan, the always friendly “Mister Nice Guy,” offered to buy him something stronger. As Ryan recalls, “He said, no. He told me he was going to have surgery soon on his ulcers. He seemed like a really nice guy, and we eventually segued into talking about his health issues and the chamber I was operating. After hearing his story, I related to him that I could make a big impact on his ulcers in two weeks using hyperbaric therapy, but he would have to make an appointment with the medical director, Dr. Stapleton. I gave him her number and mine and left.”
A few days later, Eddie Gomez called Ryan and said that he was going to take his advice. He had seen Dr. Stapleton and procured the prescription and wanted to start treatment immediately. Within two weeks, Eddie’s ulcers were much improved. He said that he was starting to enjoy his mother’s cooking again. Ryan reflects on this timely meeting, “It must have impacted him, because he has turned out to be my business partner, a cofounder of our separate 501c3 Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries, and my good friend.”
After joining forces with Ryan on a volunteer basis, Eddie began putting together a plan for the business to move forward. He produced brochures, designed a website, ran errands, and took over the administration and financial duties of both the private and nonprofit sides of the business. Additionally, Eddie began holding fundraisers and structuring the professional operation in their “broom closet” clinic as they began to seek more patients.
Ryan states that, “In the beginning, Eddie set up an informational seminar for people who were interested in the possibility of receiving hyperbaric treatment. It turned out to be a big success with about twenty-five people showing up. But after talking with all of these people we realized that most could not afford this treatment even if the price was reasonable.”
It was obvious to Ryan and Eddie that the market was there, but cost prohibitive, even at Ryan’s low cost per hour, which was extremely low compared to the hourly cost of HBOT therapy at local hospitals. Additionally, those hospitals did not treat veterans with TBI or PTSD in parallel, as Ryan and Eddie’s clinic would eventually do. In those first days as partners, they also lacked a business plan and the advertising needed to promote this unique practice.
Eddie knew about Ryan’s quest to start a nonprofit in Gunnison to help the young boy who had almost drowned in the canal. Eddie suggested that they start a 501c3 nonprofit organization and then quickly began researching to file for legal status with the IRS. Within a few months, they established the clinic’s nonprofit association.
The clinic space at Charlie Hansen’s manufacturing facility, which was adequate enough to hold three chambers, began to support this fledgling business. Ryan now had everything he needed and did one treatment at a time with one chamber, beginning that first year. The next year found him adding another chamber. Finally, in the third year of operation, Ryan bought his first lay-down style Sechrist hyperbaric chamber. Three chambers in a limited space brought new challenges for this growing small business. “The logistics of three chambers stuffed into this quite small space was getting pretty awkward … and I felt we were wearing out our welcome!”
The private clinic, Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute, with its nonprofit Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries, had now begun its initial journey into the world of HBOT. After receiving the nonprofit status, Eddie and Ryan slowly began to build their clientele and prove that this therapy actually works.
One evening shortly afterwards, Eddie and Ryan were at the clinic, stripping the wax from the floors so they could re-wax them the following day. Eddie decided to go home, because there was not much he could do to help in the process. “I went to bed and at about 11:00 p.m. I got up to use the bathroom. Something wasn’t right. My whole right side was numb, and I was having a hard time standing up. Oh my! I thought. I am having a stroke! I knew the signs. Stroke runs in my family. I called downstairs to my family and scooted myself down the stairs. I waited at the bottom, which felt like forever. By then, I had lost all movement and feeling in my right side. I slumped and waited … to be saved or to die.”
Eddie had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, a brain bleed due to idiopathic high blood pressure. For the next six days, the doctors struggled to curtail his high blood pressure, which put him at risk for another brain bleed. “So, here I was, in the hospital suffering from one of the conditions for which I had been raising money to treat people with HBOT. I was extremely fortunate to have been involved with Ryan, the clinic, and our medical director, Dr. Julie Stapleton. After seven days in intensive care and two days of recovery, I began inpatient physical and occupational therapy. Once the routine was set up, I was allowed to leave the hospital one time a day to receive hyperbaric oxygen treatments with Ryan at the clinic.”
After two hyperbaric treatments, Eddie began feeling a tingling sensation on his right side and started to feel his “brain fog” lift. He soon began the laborious task of relearning to walk. Recovering quite rapidly, he was released from inpatient therapy and began outpatient status as he continued to receive hyperbaric therapy.
Small miracles first happen in one’s mind. Outpatient therapy was conducted at Mapleton Rehabilitation Center in Boulder, Colorado. This center was formerly Memorial Hospital, where Eddie had begun his life. He was now beginning another new life. “I had come full circle!”
By the end of three months of physical rehabilitation and HBOT, Eddie had recovered enough to be able to drive. “I knew at that point that my life’s mission would be to give as many people as I could the chance to recover in the same way I had been able to do. I decided to become a certified hyperbaric technologist. To do this, I had to become a certified nurse’s aide, attend class in San Antonio, Texas, complete 450 hours of internship, and sit for the National Board exam. Easy, right? Well, I am proud to say that I was able to accomplish all of this before I was a year post-stroke. I met my goal. And the rest, as they say, is history!”
The Hardest Part – Funding
Unfortunately, not everyone understands ideas or mission when a clinic is newly established. Fundraising, in and of itself, is a whole different world. It can become a very complicated world with many different ways to obtain seed money. In recapturing the startup days, Eddie tells of their first break, “We were very fortunate in the beginning to have a resident of Boulder who had been treated in the clinic. Along with her husband, they provided the initial funding that the nonprofit needed. The couple’s generous donation allowed us to provide scholarships to individuals to help them pay for their treatments. This donor couple continues to be a strong financial support for the nonprofit.”
After this initial donation, Eddie then tried his hand at grant writing. He began to acquire an appreciation for the very daunting task. After twelve rejections, the clinic’s nonprofit finally received a $7,500 grant to help provide treatments to wounded veterans. It was during this same time that Eddie had organized an informational seminar at the Caritas Center in Boulder to both discuss HBOT and create awareness of the nonprofit program.
As Eddie recalls, “I had mentioned our Caritas Center meeting on Facebook, and through this post, I met a Marine, Bob Alvarez, counselor in the Warrior Transition Unit from Fort Carson, Colorado. He had previously helped coordinate some of the brain-injured veterans, who’d returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, so that they could receive HBOT in other clinics. Bob was hoping to bring an interested retired Marine Colonel to this seminar.” Colonel Robert L. Fischer attended with Alvarez but remained skeptical until he saw firsthand the success these treatments produced. Fischer began to frequent the clinic and observed what we were doing.
After that first meeting in 2010, Fischer became totally committed to their fledgling program, especially after he interviewed a few of the first veterans that Ryan and Eddie had treated. He became convinced that HBOT was safe, effective, and the future in treating TBIs. Shortly thereafter, he began his own personal search throughout all of his contacts to help find funding for the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries, which is when he enlisted the help of his friend, Grady Birdsong.
Colonel Bob Fischer and Grady Birdsong had a number of veteran organization contacts in Denver and nationwide. They started presenting the Rocky Mountain HBOT program to others and gained early monetary support for the nonprofit fund that Eddie had established in 2008. As part of the nonprofit organization, Ryan and Eddie subsequently created a special fund and named it the “Healing Our Heroes” program to help veterans with treatments and housing costs while undergoing treatment.
The largest Marine Corps luncheon group in the Denver area, “Cooper’s Troopers,” the American Legion, and the VFW raised the first veteran-donated funds. Other donations trickled in from various social, military, and government groups. Grady went to work creating short videos of the veterans’ dilemma and the healing process taking place at the clinic. After making videos for the clinic website, Bob and Grady made numerous presentations using Grady’s short videos.
In seeking donors, Bob also contacted one of his acquaintances, Peter Haas, the President of Marine Corps-Law Foundation, whose headquarters is located in New York City. Mr. Haas replied that his Law Foundation charter did not allow financial support of such programs, but rather their funds were used to defend Marines and their families who had serious legal problems.
However, once he read our material, Pete contacted another friend who was literally on his deathbed. When he showed his friend Grady’s video, the dying man wrote a check to Eddie’s “Healing Our Heroes” 501c3 fund for $50,000. This was the beginning of bigger things to come. Shortly after that, the earliest major benefactor, Caleb Gates, President of Denver Investments, appeared and began organizing lunches and galas with other big donors in the Denver area. Caleb’s support enabled Ryan and Eddie to expand their HBOT enterprise, and that provided free treatment for veterans.
Fundraising has grown exponentially. The Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries now has a solid base of donors across the country, and foundations have seen the merits of its work. Eddie adds, “Our first year, we treated two veterans and now we are approaching sixty veterans a year, which is growing due to word of mouth.”