Heart of a Lion

“Life is full of so many blessings. Too many of us spend all of our time thinking of the things we don’t have, instead of what we do have and we have so much to be thankful for.” – M. Kahil

Mark Kahil knows it’s not always easy to count your blessings, especially when they are too numerous to mention, but he knows one of the biggest is his business and the company where he serves as a Division Leader… USHEALTH Advisors.

“We just finished up a meeting out in College Station, Texas this week,” says Mark. “It was fantastic. We got all the leaders involved this time and it was really something. This year was a bigger impact than I’ve ever seen. I love what I’m doing. I love the people I work with. I love this company. Even when I went through significant struggles, I couldn’t stay away from it.  This company, the people who work with me and our mission of helping other people every day, have helped me so much.”

Love is at the core of so much of life, and Mark knows it is love and dedication to work, and his family, which have fueled his success, despite the adversity he and everyone faces. It’s the struggles that make you stronger, but having a solid foundation and a change in your perspective, can make a world of difference.

“I think one of my biggest accomplishments in life is being married for 35 years, especially to a woman who is a way better person than I am,” laughs Mark. “My wife Cindy has a heart of gold. I wasn’t raised the way she was raised. I have learned so much from my wife, how to treat people and how not to judge people. When I met Cindy I quickly learned her family wasn’t like mine. My dad was a doctor and we traveled all over the world, had everything we ever wanted. I thought nothing was wrong with us, we were on one side of the tracks, other people were on the other. I never thought I was better than anyone else, just hadn’t experienced the other side.”

Mark continues, “Cindy was a cheerleader, I was a football player, a guard, and a linebacker, (in high school). We met at a bar one night, I asked her out and we went on a date.  I called her brother the next day and said, ‘I’m gonna marry your sister.’ There was no question she was the one I wanted to live my life with.”

Life for Cindy had been very different than for Mark. “Cindy was a cheerleader and a gymnast,” Mark says. She trained hard and she worked hard. Everybody saw this gymnast, cheerleader, and super happy lady, but nobody would have guessed the lifestyle she lived. Her dad was an alcoholic and could barely hold a job, he tried to stop but couldn’t and her brothers were following the same path. But Cindy refused to buy into the same story of life as her dad… when her father said you can’t do this, she said, ‘I can do anything I want.’ She saw in that environment you can make choices, right or wrong. You can’t always change the environment you are in. It takes time.  It’s a lot of effort and it’s a lot about love. I had not seen this life before I met Cindy. But when I met her, it wasn’t about the lifestyle, it was just about the fact that I loved her, she had a good heart.”

Eventually marrying, Mark and Cindy had three sons, Dale, Ryan, and Tyler. Mark and his boys loved the outdoors, especially spending time hunting and fishing at the family’s lake house at Camp Creek Lake near Franklin, Texas. The boys and Mark bonded during these times, times that the boys treasured.

But Mark was also away from home a good deal, working in investor relations for 21-years, traveling with CEOs all over the world. “I spend a lot of time traveling with CEO’s, basically as an investment and public relations adviser,” says Mark, “and I never met one CEO who didn’t think he was better than someone else. Most thought that everybody is here to serve me, it always really bothered me, I always had a problem with that.”

It wasn’t until 2006 that he stopped the traveling and found a home at a company called UGA, helping others gain access to affordable health coverage, and a CEO named Troy McQuagge. “At the very first big meeting we went to Cindy and I sat there and listened to Troy do his talk,” says Mark. “When he was done she looked at me, I looked at her and I said, ‘I could easily tell his story’ If I could work for a CEO like that I could make any company in the world what we want to make it.” Much of that same leadership team now runs USHEALTH Advisors where Troy again serves as CEO.

“If Troy says he’s going to do something, you can put money on it, he’s going to do it,” says Mark. “It’s not the way most CEO’s do it, they tell you what you want to hear, or what they think you want to hear. Troy is real. You hear the saying, someone who will give you the shirt off their back. In our recent meeting, I actually saw Troy do that! Someone told him they wished they had a shirt like he did with the USHA logo on it. Little did we know when Troy went up to his room, he changed shirts and gave the guy the shirt he had been wearing. I never saw a CEO do that. It’s true love, true selflessness.”

Mark says he’s lucky. He works for a selfless leader and his wife Cindy is the same, a giving leader of their family. “My wife puts everybody else first,” says Mark. “It makes a big difference when you have kids, especially when one of your kids ends up on the same path as someone in your family, with alcohol and drugs. That’s what happened to my middle son, Ryan. When it started I thought it was just wrong, it’s just the way I was raised, and either you quit, you stop it, or you get out. But Cindy, having gone through it with her family, understood this was all about Ryan and she was sympathetic, so as a result, she stuck with him regardless of what he was going through.”

It wasn’t easy. “I ended up going through Alcoholics Anonymous with Ryan,” Mark says. “And spent a lot of time with him in rehab and thinking about other people and not about myself. We all have demons, everyone has them, but some demons are worse than others. Alcohol and drug addiction are tough, it’s a disease and alcohol is everywhere. Being an alcoholic is a tough, tough thing, you’re either 100-percent into rehabilitation, or 100-percent out. Most alcoholics can’t have just one drink and be OK. Cindy understood it and made me understand it. It was never as easy as Ryan just saying, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore.’ At times it would tear our family apart.”

Eventually, the family sent Ryan to a rehab camp in west Texas and Ryan got clean, got a job and started having a more normal existence. But when the company laid him off, the trouble started again. “That absolutely devastated him,” says Mark. “Ryan started having stomach problems, worrying about his future and getting back into old habits. He got sick and the doctors said he had damaged his body so much with the alcohol and drugs, instead of the body of a 29-year-old, his internals looked like he was about 70. When he got sick, he got really, really sick. When we found him, he had been drinking and ended up bleeding to death internally, that’s how he died.”

Mark says Ryan had eight close friends all doing the same thing, involved with drugs and alcohol. Out of his eight best friends, not one of them is alive now.  On June 7th, 2016, at age 30, Ryan was the last one to go.

Ryan Kahil

Mark says one of his biggest challenges in this life is overcoming the death of his son. “You live your life for your kids,” says Mark. “It’s so hard if they pass on. But when Ryan passed I really felt like God has a purpose for all of us, our lives on this earth is to touch someone else’s life and until we do that our mission has not been met. Ryan had the heart of a lion. When he barely had a penny to his name, he would still find a way to give. He would see a lady standing by the side of the road. He would stop to get a hamburger and fries and take them to her. He didn’t even have enough money left to buy himself anything. He had one of the biggest hearts I ever saw in a person, even at his age.”

After Ryan’s death, Mark says the journey in-and-out of darkness was made a bit easier because of his family at USHEALTH Advisors. “I don’t know if I could have come back as quick as I did without them,” says Mark. “If I was working where I had worked in the past, or anywhere else, I don’t think I could have come back so quickly. When it happens you want to feel sorry for yourself and get away, but when you get back to doing what we do, our company and the people I work with, and knowing other people here who have gone through it and come out of it, it makes you want to do it too. Our company is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

It’s the life experiences and facing one of the most tragic for any family, that makes you realize you can harness the human spirit, the most powerful force on earth, to inspire you to rise again.

Mark says his boys have also helped him tremendously. “Tyler and Dale are my best friends,” says Mark. “It’s not that I’ve lost a son, but gained two more men as a result. They lost a lot too. Each wishes he could have done more. Dale, who is now a commercial banker and Tyler who is a youth pastor, are even more important to me now, if that’s possible, because of the way they live life and the support they’ve given me and their mom. It means so much to us.”

It’s the lessons learned from loss and the comeback, that go deep.  Mark says: “I would say if I could impart anything to anybody, it is to give up on the selfishness and don’t think about yourself, think about others. A lot of time we befriend people because we think we can get something from them. We need to get away from thinking about the benefit we get and think about others. It opens up a completely different world for us.”

A world Mark has learned from so many in his life – from his wife Cindy, his CEO and friend Troy, his sons Dale and Tyler – and of course Ryan, the boy with the heart of a lion.

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.

Your Storyteller,
Mark Brodinsky