Success Story: Standing Tall

Success Story: Standing Tall

You only have to be a Toastmaster for a short time to realize that Toastmasters can help you grow personally and professionally, but...grow physically? It’s true. This is the story of how Toastmasters helped my wife, Molly French, grow two inches taller.

I have been a Toastmaster for 12 years. During this time I achieved my DTM, served in every club officer role, became an area governor and District 40’s lieutenant governor marketing (LGM). I discovered that Toastmasters is more than just meetings, speeches and conferences. The skills we learn transfer into our personal and professional lives as well. Over the years, I have touted that message to individuals, small groups and large auditoriums full of people. I’ve shared many testimonials about the life-changing benefits of Toastmasters. But I never fully understood the power of my own Toastmasters training until March of 2008, when my communication and leadership skills saved Molly’s life and then helped her stand tall. 

Suddenly Sick
In February of that year, Molly went to our local hospital with what she thought was a sore throat. The doctor decided it was a viral infection. “Just let it run its course,” he said. Three days later, overwhelmed by a massive infection, Molly went into septic shock. She returned to the emergency room where she was placed on oxygen and immediately transferred to a larger metropolitan hospital.

The next day, her 39th birthday, she fell into a coma and was breathing through a ventilator. What followed was a multi-organ shutdown beginning with her lungs, liver and kidneys. Her condition worsened over the next two days and her doctor told me she had a five-percent chance of survival. 

Putting My Toastmasters Skills to the Test
When things were at their absolute worst, I called a meeting that, in retrospect, turned out to be crucial to Molly’s survival and ultimate recovery. I’d received a lot of confusing suggestions from many well-meaning people. Their ideas of what to do were so diverse and opinionated that I could not make an informed decision. And I needed to make some critical decisions regarding her care – not the least of which was deciding if she should be moved to a better-equipped hospital, a risky proposition since Molly might not survive the flight. So I asked to meet with several specialty physicians, direct care nurses, nurse managers and other experts. We gathered away from the Intensive Care Unit, in a quiet room.

Mustering all of my Toastmas- ters training, I took the lead and announced, “I will make the decision and I will live with my decision; however, the only decision I will not live with is one I make without having all possible options discussed in this room right now.” I continued, “I need options, not opinions.”

                    “I never fully understood the power of my own Toastmasters
                    training until March of 2008, when my communication and
                    leadership skills saved Molly’s life."

The information I obtained from that meeting enabled me to make the painful decision to take the risk and send Molly to a hospital at the University of Michigan – where her life would hang in the balance. 

Surviving and Standing Tall
Once in Michigan, her condition remained critical. After three weeks in a coma, she woke up only to be faced with more grave news: Her legs had suffered greatly, and the doctors said it would be best to amputate them. Because I had made the informed decision to bring her to that particular hospital, I felt confident in the doctors’ judgment.

After two and a half months at the University of Michigan enduring six surgeries, countless procedures, multiple blood transfusions, weeks of dialysis, specialized ventilators and intensive rehab, Molly’s pure spirit, tenacity and courageous attitude prevailed; she returned home. Over the next several months she faced even more intensive therapies, procedures and surgeries. Finally, she was fitted with a set of new prosthetic legs.

Four months after being hospitalized, she stood for the first time! Her first words were, “I feel so tall!” After so much worrying that she would never walk again, there she was – standing. We were surprised to discover that the new legs made her two inches taller. When asked about the extra height, Molly – a mere 5-feet tall before – responded with a big grin. “I always wanted to be taller, and I just figured, why not? I might as well get something out of the deal.“ 

Life-Saving Skills from Toastmasters
Now, when Molly and I speak to audiences of all sizes and from all backgrounds, the most common question we are asked is, “How did you get through it?” Our answer is simple: “Our friends and family, our faith and, believe it or not, Toastmasters.”

Before, during and after that eventful meeting with Molly’s caregivers, I put skills to work that came naturally to me because I had been practicing each – leadership, speaking, listening and evaluating – every week for a dozen years. The Toastmasters meetings and conferences I attended, the speeches I gave and the practice I enjoyed for all that time ultimately added up to one thing: saving Molly’s life. 

Communication Skills at Work
I was able to keep my emotions under control, avoid opinion-choked debates and stay focused on the pros and cons of the options. I was able to curb egos from becoming a part of the conversation and give everyone in the room the opportunity to share information without allowing anyone to dominate the conversation. With a lot of medical lingo being tossed around the room, I was able to ask appropriate questions and re-state what was said in order to clarify and confirm that I truly understood. Those skills ensured that it worked both ways, and that the medical team understood me and our wishes. As though I were giving a speech in Toastmasters, I had a beginning that explained my purpose, a body where I supported my purpose and a conclusion that not only summarized my purpose, but offered a strong call to action. 

Leadership Skills at Work
I was confidently able to state, “I will make the decision.” I was also able to share my extreme concern for my wife along with the sense of urgency that a quick, yet informed, decision be made. These abilities sent a strong message that, even while wrought with emotion, I was willing and able to think clearly and make the critical decisions. This in turn instilled in the medical team the sense that they could share all information with me and that we were on the same team. Most importantly, everyone knew I led the team. Just like leading a meeting in Toastmasters, I kept the meeting within a time frame, kept it on-track and on-subject. By the time we walked out of that room, everyone supported the ultimate decision and then worked to make that decision a reality. 

Evaluation Skills at Work
During the meeting with Molly’s medical team, I had to use my evaluation, listening and critical-thinking skills to discern opinion from facts and viable options versus “pie-in-the-sky” options. Drawing on my evaluation skills enabled me to make a decision that ultimately saved Molly’s life. Just like performing a speech evaluation, I listened carefully and gave feedback to the doctors and nurses regarding each of their suggestions and explanations. I then used the information to form my own opinions on the best course of action. 

Table Topics Skills at Work
During the many conversations on that day, and the days that followed, I was asked an unbelievable number of questions. Many of them required me to put emotions aside, think critically and answer intelligibly – in only a few moments. After all those years of hoping that the Table Topicsmaster would not call on me, I’m now thankful that I was called on anyway. Those spur-of-the-moment, little-time-to-think, stressful Table Topics had prepared me for the real-life Table Topics I was about to endure, when it mattered most. 

Appreciating the Genius in the Design
At these most critical of times, I did not have to stop to think about what skills I needed to employ. Whether I needed to use communication, leadership, evaluation or Table Topics skills, I had them because of the regular and consistent teaching I received each week at my Toastmasters meetings.

As I recall the events of 2008, I am deeply thankful for what I learned in Toastmasters. I am struck by the fact that these skills we learn were never designed to be used just for Toastmasters. They are essential in the world outside the organization, where they matter most. During my time as District 40’s LGM, I was privileged to spend a day with Toastmasters’ then-International President Chris Ford. His theme was “Shape Yourself, Shape Your World.” How perfectly fitting!

Jamey French, DTM,is a member of Greenville Toastmasters club in Greenville, Ohio. Reach him at