Monday, December 19, 2016

Mr. Marfan Man, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, Go Directly To...

Each day is another opportunity to move across life's board game.  More likely than not I end up drawing the Go Directly To Jail card with each roll of the dice.
Marfan Syndrome slows me down but doesn't stop life from happening. #Dissection life

Of course in my Marfan dictated life the 'Go Directly To Jail' card bespeaks of oft unexpected maladies.

Physically and mentally there are so many challenges slowing our daily struggle towards the Park Place destination.

Constant setbacks are so frustrating, especially when I have adopted a healthy vegan and sometimes pescataria diet.

And I walk daily, do yoga, stretch, practice deep breathing, spirituality and all the 'right' things my body and brain need.

All the while I see young and old others drinking colas, eating fried fast foods and even doing nicotine seemingly unfazed health-wise.

So what did I do to deserve this?

Nothing, of course.

Its just I am challenged by a connective tissue disorder.

And living with a dissected aorta.

The healthy diet and faithful gratefulness and exercise does pay off I believe.

But this Mr. Marfan Man can seem to be making progress when that nasty little card is flipped over.

Go Directly To Jail can translate into a seriously pulled leg or thigh muscle, one where I honestly cannot even walk one step without feeling like I am going to fall to the floor.

Or the card can mean a huge hematoma, one the size of a grapefruit across my upper back, black and blue.  Purple too.  The hematoma disappear over time after the dark bruise slowly runs down my back or sides.

The Jail Card can wake me up in the middle of the night shouting in tempo to my mechanical valve, refusing to let me fall asleep for hours, manifesting itself in bad PTSD episodes.

Probably the most appropriate action the Monopoly board game maker could do would be to rename the 'Go To Jail' card 'Go To The ER'.

'Go Directly To The ER, Do Not Pass GO, Do Not Collect $200' fits the bill perfectly, especially for those strange, indescribable pains shooting through my chest, head, arms,  or legs.  The card drawn may also mean an episode of bad vertigo or the seeming inability to breath.

However after five years of living with dissection and the Marfan diagnosis I've begun to realize that its actually good to expect the 'Go Directly To Jail' card each day.  Its not that the Jail Card is good.  It is however important not to be caught off guard so frequently.

That way I'm not so surprised.  Its a little easier to deal with the frequent physics and mental setbacks.

You see now I know my setbacks are results of nothing wrong I've done, they are just the random design fluke that defines who I am.

I am special and different than most.

Thats bad and good.  Bad because I have to suffer, most of the time with unexpected painful and debilitating physical injuries and limitations.  Good because I am aware of this potential for physical injuries and that I am part of a broader group of people who want to spread awareness of 'connective tissue issue' life.  With knowledge we can overcome.

Being aware I have an advantage over others for long term survival, despite.

I know each day I have to be on my best survival game.

Living a Marfan aware life has rewarded me some decent benefits; such as lower, life extending blood pressure, healthy eating nutritional benefits and the positive impacts of my spirituality and gentle physical exercise, and focused health care.

But those Go Directly To Jail cards still keep popping up.

But now they don't freak me out quite as bad.  Because I expect them.  And I know I probably will make it through this next challenge.

I am grateful to The Marfan Foundation and the support groups across Facebook.  The people behind these efforts deserve kudos.

In the meantime I am quite over being surprised by the Go Directly To Jail, I mean 'Go Directly To The ER' card.  Its in the deck and if I get it I get it and will deal with it.  If I don't know how to deal with the challenge there is someone in the Marfan community who really can help.

Looks like there may just be more 'Get Out Of Jail Free' cards in the stack now.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Urban Sustainability and Natural Stormwater Treatment, SoCo Cultural District

I've recently moved to southwest Florida and have been impressed with some of the forward thinking sustainable, 'green' urban stormwater ideas implemented by the local municipalities and contractors.
#Urban Sustainability and natural stormwater treatment by using grass for filtration
Water quality is a 'hot topic' to most all here.

Keeping urban runoff clean is important and especially so in this vicinity due to all the migrating water birds making winter homes nearby.

One of my favorite, sustainably easy and inexpensive to implement (during urban design phases) stormwater treatment methods is to install stormwater collectors in grassy areas rather than in black asphalt or concrete lots.

The above photo illustrates how the contractor installed the stormwater collection grate within a grassy swale.

Grass and surrounding vegetation acts as natural filters to clean stormwater before entering collection culverts and pipes.

Grassy areas also allow much of the runoff to infiltrate back into the ground area and eventually replenish the aquifer.

On the other hand, runoff collected from paved landscapes is not filtered per se and contains straight oils and greases and other toxins.

Every little bit helps.

Of course native ground covers and plants would even be better than grasses.

However I am encouraged by this one step in the right direction towards partnering with plants to clean stormwater and helping keep our world a bit cleaner.

I'll be posting some photos of sustainable, innovatively designed swales over the next few weeks.

Another exciting aspect of this area is the SoCo district in Fort Myers.  SoCo Cultural District is an area with integrated arts, cultural experiences, sustainability examples and neighborhood food markets.

Check out the above link and watch for more 'urban and cultural sustainability' examples here soon!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Aortic Dissection, Connective Tissue Issues; Coping With All the Information

I've usually way too many apps open on my phone and am surprised to see how much faster my iPhone runs when I close them all except for the one presently in use.
Corkscrew Swamp hiking for Aortic Health
"Be here now."

More relevant to me than the app analogy is an image of paper file folders scattered across a desktop, flung open, stacks of typed or handwritten pages lying everywhere.  A jumbled up mess of a lot of information is not only confusing but disheartening too.

"Peace be still."

Life with a dissected aorta and Marfan Syndrome (the connective tissue disorder in part responsible for my torn aorta) and with chronic kidney disease from multiple open heart surgeries is a challenge not only on the physical limitation front but also because of the massive amounts of health information I must process daily.

Will this particular food raise your INR or drop the INR and cause a clot?

What about the bleeding an activity might cause if I get bumped or scraped?

What will I be doing when its time to take my beta-blocker that makes me want to fall asleep?

How long do dissectees usually survive?

Daily the questions fill the desktop of my mind like pages from the scattered, jumbled files or too many open apps.

My solution lately is to imagine taking a break and neatly filing all the paperwork and files back into the file cabinet in my back pocket.  Except for the one file I am using here and now.

Sometimes I switch to the app analogy and close all the open apps in my mind except for the one I need now.

So if I am driving then all the thoughts of medications, things I need to do, people I need to stay in touch with, my yoga and swimming I have not done for the day, my blog which I have not touched in a year - well all those thoughts disappear and my focus is only on the road and those cars around me.

Which is the way it should be.

Peace be still.  My blood pressure falls back to where it should be.

The people I am with take notice that I am more engaged presently.

And when I practice this mode of information management my chronic depression from living with  these challenging physical conditions begins to subside.

Be here now.

Close the files.  Close the apps.

Try telling yourself "Close the files. Close the apps" next time you are overwhelmed with a barrage of  information, thoughts and ideas running rampant.

Pease be still.

And then I can more easily deal with my "new reality" of living with a torn aorta.

When, in fact the "new reality" I've been reminding myself daily of is not really a "new reality".

Sure my aorta was not torn before my dissection but it was going to happen.  I just didn't know it.

Now, today I know I live with a pre-disposition (and a torn aorta) to connective tissue tears and all the cardiovascular and muscular problems associated with Marfan.

Understanding my dissection life is not a new, strange and unknown life for me is important.

I've always lived with the potential for cardiovascular problems, I just did not know it.  But today I understand.

The difference today is I have all the folders and information now about these chronic health problems whereas before I did not.  I am still the same person physically today yet I now know.

And all this new knowledge is what causes much of my anxiety.

I am overwhelmed and depressed until I remember....

Close the files.  Close the apps.

Peace be still.

Be here now.

And its all ok.

My back pocket file cabinet is especially important when I am writing this blog, or laying down to sleep or working on my art or doing yoga or preparing food or doing chores, you see I close out all the other apps, especially those files of mortality or other unpleasantries and focus on the task at hand.  Life is much easier when the winds of a thousand pages are not constantly buffeting my curly thin hair.

So when the dermatologist's office called yesterday morning and told me the mole they removed from my leg biopsied positive for melanoma, all the files flew out of the cabinet back onto the desktop of my life once more.

For a while I did the whole 'search the internet for answers on how to put the files back to the way they were before the phone call thing'.

Then I realized the melanoma had been there before yesterday, probably long before yesterday and the reality was similar to when I learned about my Marfan Dx.  I now had information I hadn't had before.

So I quickly filed the scattered papers and folders and put them back into the filing cabinet and closed out all those extra apps.

Instead of fretting about the 'M' word Dx we went to Corkscrew Swamp and watched the sun go down and the almost full moon rise.

And I enjoyed my evening.

The dermatologist office has a great MOH surgeon and they are scheduling a surgery to remove the affected skin area.  I'll open the 'mole' file as I have to just like I do with the 'dissection' file.

But I will also keep them closed when in not in use.

Scattered pages, even if they are full of important information, are useless when in an out of focused jumble.

So close out your excess files and put them away.

Be here now.

Life is really a privilege and I so enjoy focusing on each breath, each moment and each day.

Peace, be still.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Applying for Disability; Notes To Myself

Here are my personal notes on the topic of applying for disability.
Kevin's Dissected Aorta - visible intimal flap

This is not legal advice. The information here is only my recollections of what helped me apply for and receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) on the first attempt..

First of all let me say there are no 'tricks' or 'loopholes' to obtaining disability benefits.  Social Security has specific written protocol for determining who qualifies.  You either qualify or you do not.

Second, you must truly have a disability that will end in death or keep you out of the work force.

As a builder of custom green roofs I could no longer safely work atop buildings, climbing ladders and lifting super sacks of soil media in 100F degree heat.

As a lawyer by education I realized the first time my mind went totally blank for an extended period when writing a report that I could not honestly act as the best advocate for my clients.

Add to those issues dissected ascending and descending aorta, serious kidney disease as a result of dissected renal arteries, cognitive issues from two open heart surgeries and being on the heart-lung machine for long hours and other issues, pain, fatigue and the many other maladies those of us who have survived aortic dissection experience.

As my doctor said, "your number one priority is to stay alive right now, focus on physical therapy, your diet and new lifestyle reality."

If I had to apply all over again here is the approach I'd take:

Retain A Well Recommended Disability Attorney

  • Can save you lots of time and headaches
  • or, cause a lot of aggravation if your retain the wrong advocate without strong disability experience

I was intent on filing my own application because I thought I could tell my story better than anyone else and be my best advocate.

Preliminary Research 
1. Guide your doctors through their diagnoses of your conditions.
  • Learn to speak out about what hurts and how you feel.
  • Other than blood work or imaging/testing the only way doctors can document what you are capable of is through their assessment and by what you tell them.
  • Before each visit write out a detailed list of what hurts and how you feel.  Make sure to specifically address each area of bodily concern.  Kidney pain is especially of importance to those with dissected renal arteries or descending aorta dissection. Neurological issues matter too!
  • Make sure your list is included in their written medical record.  Many times medical records are cut and paste by the doctor or nurse.  Insist your records are customized with your input!
  • Ask that a copy of each visit medical record  be mailed to you.  Correct any inconsistencies or omissions.
2.  Collect All of Your Medical Records As Far Back As You Can Get Them!
  • Consider all your records to be relevant, even those five or ten years old.
  • Older records can help establish and document chronic conditions.
  • Arrange your records in three ring binders with tabs chronologically. Neatness and organization is paramount.
  • Scan and archive all the documents on DVD or CD, making multiple copies of the finished record disk.
3.  Correlate SSA's Blue Book cardiovascular section's relevancy to your medical records.

  • For Dissection cases SSA probably will start with Section 4.10 "Aneurysm of aorta or major branches" - link here.
    • Sec. 4.10 states "due to any cause (e.g. atherosclerosis, cystic medial necrosis, Marfan Syndrome, trauma) demonstrated by appropriate medically acceptable imaging with dissection not controlled by prescribed treatment (See H4.006)" qualifies for disability.
    • H4.006 states "When does an aneurysm have “dissection not controlled by prescribed treatment,” as required under 4.10? An aneurysm (or bulge in the aorta or one of its major branches) is dissecting when the inner lining of the artery begins to separate from the arterial wall. We consider the dissection not controlled when you have persistence of chest pain due to progression of the dissection, an increase in the size of the aneurysm, or compression of one or more branches of the aorta supplying the heart, kidneys, brain, or other organs. An aneurysm with dissection can cause heart failure, renal (kidney) failure, or neurological complications. If you have an aneurysm that does not meet the requirements of 4.10 and you have one or more of these associated conditions, we will evaluate the condition(s) using the appropriate listing."
  • Your application Must meet the standard of Sec 4.10 and H4.006 above.
    • Many people assume a stable descending dissection is a 'shoo-in' for disability approval yet this condition does not meet the published standard.
    • It is critical you document that your dissection is causing restricted blood flow to one or more of the organs detailed above.  
    • In most dissectees this is true yet doctors and/or applicants fail to communicate this to SSA.  Sometimes the information may be in the application but buried so deep the SSA medical reviewer misses it.
  • Dont Stop with Sec 4.10 or H4.006!  Read through the entire Blue Book and list any condition qualifying for disability in addition to your dissection!
    • There are many 'conditions' listed in the Blue Book.  Don't short yourself by failing to read through these and leaving these qualifying conditions out even though they are applicable to your medical condition.
  • Many applicants expect SSA medical reviewers to complete a detailed analysis of your condition to the qualifying conditions in the Blue Book.  Some reviewers are quite thorough.  Depending on work load some may not be quite as thorough or unintentionally fail to see a very important correlation.  Its up to you to be your best advocate.
4. Apply early!
  • Submit as complete and thorough an application as you can but apply quickly once it has been medically determined you are disabled.
    • The date of your application is usually considered the award date for retroactivity once appeals have been finished and you receive your award letter.  A years worth of application submittal delay can add up to ten or twenty thousand dollars.
    • You are better off with a denial on a complete application (of course proceeding with appeals) than you are waiting for months to finish your application.  Apply early.
5. Try not to stress.  The process takes time.
  • The SSA application process can be stressful.  Consider it a long term, step by step effort that will be worth the end result.
  • Realize Medicare will be delayed in most cases for two years after approval of disability or until you reach SSA retirement age.
  • If you feel it is moving too slow, write and call your state and federal elected representatives.  Their job is to represent you.  I have seen excellent results with concerted communications to a congressperson or senator (both state and federal).
6. Finally.....
  • Realize that this effort is about communication.  Many applications are denied due to incomplete applications.  Moreover failure to communicate needed medical documentation to SSA leaves SSA in a position of no choice but to deny.
    • You must communicate all your qualifying blue book issues to your doctor.
    • Your doctor must document these issues in appropriately acceptable medical records.
    • You must ensure SSA has these relevant for qualifying medical records and that the qualifying issues are highlighted somehow!
  • Never give up.  Its all a journey, one where we get there sooner or later....
Cheers!  Kevin.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bog Rainstorm, Gíclee on Aluminum Plate, Signed, Original #Biodiversity Native Plants

18" x 18" Florida bog plants on aluminum plate, signed original.  Inquiries to
Florida nature art. Bog rainstorm with native plants.

Florida native plants include, xyris, sabattia, rhea, candy root and terrestrial orchids belonging to the Calopogon genus.

#biodiversity #native #plants

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hogfish Key, Gíclee on Aluminum 18" x 24"

Hogfish key, inspired by the wonderful tasting snapper, Florida sunsets and native plant filled seashores.  Inquires to

Hogfish Key, Gíclee on Aluminum 18" x 24"

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Big Bald Cypress

The latest addition to the Florida Wild Art collection is a Gíclee on 3 mm aluminum, 27" x 36", matte finish.

The study of cypress colors was a fascinating learning experience for me during the creation of this illustration.  Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum  has a very unique color and hue palette of rich earth tones.

Some of these larger bald cypress here in Florida and hundreds if not thousands of years old.  Many were already growing when Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas.

Osprey, one of the best fishing and hunting raptors of all birds often nests in the top of older bald cypress.

This is a beautiful, one of a kind work of art.  One edition print only, signed by Kevin.

Inquiries to

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dissection Life: A Father's Day message to My Children

The last teenager is out of the nest now.
Father' Day, Dissection Life Message to His Kids

They are all gone.

Our job was to raise them to where they could fly on their own.

The last one is now a freshman in the university system.

Sure they have a ways to go, however I truly believe they could make it on their own now.

And since today is Father's Day I'm going to send and open letter to my children.  I am putting into words below the thoughts of a Father's heart and dissected aorta.

The theme of my letter to my children is: Disappointment.

June 19, 2016

Re: Disappointment

Dear Children:

There are no more of you in the house and silence is certainly loud.

Take my thoughts in this letter with you the rest of your life.  What I want to tell you is advice I dearly hope you will remember the rest of your years.

I have always, always told you to follow your heart.  I may have let you know my opinion but ultimately I encouraged you, and still do, to follow your heart when making a decision about your life.

Listen to what others say because different perspectives can help guide you through life challenging decisions.  Then follow your heart.

If I could tell you one thing now that I hope you will never forget it would be the following sentence:

Dad says, "It is ok to disappoint others, however never, never disappoint yourself".

Think about it.

Each of you have special talents and very individualized passions.  Your Mom and I always want the best for you, but sometimes the best does not lie in conformance to some traditional way of thinking, politics or spirituality.

Times are changing.  Don't stick your life away in a pre-labeled folder file.

Each of you will encounter opportunities where you could do great things for the world.

Don't ever let anyone or anything hold you back.  If your heart says, 'Yes', ask it once more to make sure then follow with all skill, love and desire.

If you fall, pick yourself up and try again.

But please, please do not repress you heart's passions because of what someone else thinks, or the fear of 'disappointing' someone.

Not that it matters, but the only time I'd be disappointed in you if you were living your life the way someone else thought you should live it.

So.  Disappointment is the word.

Learn to validate your own character by determining who you are going to kindly (Dad says kindly is best) disappoint.

Try carrying an "I am going to disappoint" list in your wallet.  Anytime you feel that old sense of "he or she doesn't approve of what I want to do or am doing', add the name of the disappointed person to your list.  Write down the reason why and how you feel.

Sleep on this.

Then go ahead and disappoint them by doing what your heart is telling you to do.

This isn't easy for a father to say.  I always think I know best.

But one thing aortic dissection life has taught me is "life is so short'.

Always, always follow your heart and don't look back.

As Billy Joel said, "You can get what you want, or you can just get old."

Kindly disappointing people is part of the journey.  Just make sure it's others who are disappointed, not you.

Love you, Dad.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Aortic Dissection and Gratitude

Its taken a lot of generations of my ancestors to produce me. Last night I was thinking of how much I appreciate all their unspoken-of struggles over the centuries and millennia .
I appreciate how many endured dissections and aneurysms probably just like I did (dissection in our family is genetic - my mom had the same aorta replacement as I), and they adventured on. Since aorta replacement has only been around for the past thirty years of so - many of my ancestors endured and survived without medical repair.
I'm sure many times some of my ancestors wondered what was happening to them, not having community support as we do today. Many got up in the morning, went to work and despite the challenges of a weakened cardiovascular system, did what they could do, despite limited knowledge of their condition and limited medical treatment availability.
The challenges our ancestors faced were enormous. Everyday they had to completely create commerce, food, shelter, protection and family. Many did not have even a small portion of the medical care, shelter, transportation or luxury available to me.
Yet our ancestors all had one thing in common and that was they were "Survivors".
And they adventured on long enough to pass those survivor genes on to us.
Today I am grateful for all their struggles, challenges and perseverance to make sure we too could be survivors.
Today, I am Grateful to them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dissection Life, Best To Read The Ingredients Before Drinking

Everything about #Dissection life is a learning process. Several times members here have posted about 'probiotics' being important to an '#Aorta Healthy" lifestyle and I am convinced its true.
Added caffeine in kombucha? #Dissection life
Always read the fine print ingredients #Dissection life

YIKES! I stopped in the grocer today to pick up some fresh ginger root for smoothies and purchased a Kombucha (ginger flavored). I thought I was being healthy.
Arriving home I laid down for my self-imposed every two hour leg elevation and drank the entire bottle, even though vinegar based drinks are kinda hard for me to swallow. After all - the more bitter the more better.  
So within ten minutes PACs and arrhythmias began. Now my heart and aorta hurts. I've been off caffeine for about six months now after reviewing the bottle I discovered this drink had 80 mg caffeine. Probably not much for most, but for a  #Dissection life adventurer, a no-no and enough to send me into PACs.  
OK I should read the label, even the fine print. The label read "Gluten free, Non-Dairy, Vegan". But I should never assume anything...  
The answer just now? Drink lots of water and meditate to calm my racing out of sync heart.  
Still learning all about this #Dissection life.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ablutophobia and Aorta Dissection

I've suffered from Ablutophobia ever since my dissection. Ablauta-who? Until this afternoon I didn't even know the appropriate term. I just knew ever since my dissection I've had this big and reluctant fear of taking showers.
From that first hospital shower post-dissection, where I was seemingly locked into a claustrophobic glass enclosure and left to my own panic attack over tubes and wounds getting wet, along with quasi-vertigo and my own weak state of being, I have been hesitant to get in the shower and always relieved, even today, when I can step out.
Since I shave in the shower, my shaving has become more infrequent. I look around, fearful of what could happen.
Now I am a neat-freak too. So I force myself to daily shower. But it freaks me out.
So I was really relieved to read that there is actually a phobia named for people who fear showers and I was relieved to find out PTSD events can be the cause of Ablautaphobia. 
So I am not alone about fearing showers.
Not that it is a big deal. Its just another moment of enlightenment - like when I was DXed with Marfan - that explains much of this ‪#‎Dissection‬life.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Connective Tissue Life Doors and a World Market Pottery Mug

Dissection Life has opened and closed many doors in my life.  One maxim I've found to be unchangeable is 'There Will Always Be Change".
Ritual simplification to celebrate life's changes.  Buy a mug and bowl from World Market.

One particular project I've been working on is simplification.  Indeed, before I was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder and the big dissection I had accumulated quite a bit in life.  Too much to take care of.  Way too much to take care of.  Of course, I was usually stressed about all the worldly possessions I was carrying around in my 'life backpack'.

When I began the simplification process several years ago a sense of new found freedom immediately swept over me.  This was good.  Stress causes inflammation.  That is bad.  Inflammation can chip away at our aorta until it finally tears.

Last thing I needed was anything chipping away at my genetically pre-disposed to tearing Marfan aorta.

Lifestyle simplification is a disposal of both things and also stress.

Ultimately my goal is to own only one hundred objects.  However even then one hundred objects can be a lot to take care of.

So with each new door of change I encounter on this #DissectionLife journey, there exists an opportunity to simplify even further.  Simplification during change also dulls the emotional pain sometimes associated with big life changes because the act of simplifying affords a level of distraction from the possibly negative change event to the positive results from simplification.

That last sentence was a mouthful and probably could use some simplification itself.

I am really proud of Ruairi's summa cum laude standing upon high school graduation.  He is now off on his own life's journey after Saturday graduation and a successful Sunday drive to the University of North Florida.

He even was awarded a Tommy Tant scholarship as one of his many scholarships.  Tommy Tant Memorial Classic is a surfing event each year in Flagler Beach, Florida to remember Tommy Tant who passed of an aortic aneurysm.

Another door.  The house is not any more quiet, I just know now he is not coming home each afternoon after school or basketball.

For me, embracing each new life change with a celebratory act helps afford validity to the particular change.  So yesterday I went to World Market and bought a new pottery bowl and mug that will become my kitchen utensils for eating.

With no children in the house I am hoping we find the sink less full of dishes.  Now, with my one bowl and one mug, I intend to keep them washed and on the shelf after each use, and out of the sink.

So two of my one hundred personal items are made up of a dark blue World Market pottery bowl and matching mug.  Ruairi has left the house.  One door has closed and another door opened.

Nothing earth shattering but another couple steps towards the Zen I find in simplification. And that is good for my existing medically managed dissection.

One thing #Dissectionlife has taught me though is all those little steps add up.

And anointing each change with a separate act of celebratory simplification makes the journey easier and more interesting.

You can find out more about my Project 100 here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Beach Burrow

My love of the seashores here in Florida is endless.
Beach Burrow, Gíclee on aluminum plate, signed, limited edition

Gopher tortoise beach burrow with dune vegetation, including railroad vine, dune daisy, gaillardia, coral bean, saw palmetto, prickly pear cactus, sea oats and more.

Do you see the beach mouse?

Gíclee on aluminum plate. Signed limited edition.  Inquiries to

Monday, April 11, 2016

Updated my Obituary! Have You Written Yours? #Aortic #Dissection

I updated my obituary this week.  Yes,  it seems mostly what is written here lately has been focused around disease, dying or death.  But I am trying to get all things in order so I can turn to the fun stuff on my bucket list.
Kevin Songer's Obituary
Blah!  Who wants to write their obituary?  And the process was actually quite depressing, especially as I was trying to get started.  But the obituary writing process got easier as I wrote and thought and thought and wrote.

In fact, at first I initially felt an overwhelming and revolting sense of 'why even do this?' sweep over me like one of those big, unexpected Flagler Beach waves that crashes over you, sloshing salty water up into your nose, eyes and down into everything else attached to or part of your body.

'Yuck! Ugh!'  My right knee started it's shaking up and down while I sat trying to paint words on the blank screen with the Apple keyboard. 'Where do I start?'

Thank goodness for Google.  Type in 'SAMPLE OBITUARY' and right away a number of free self-help sites come up on the screen.  Cutting and pasting was easy and there it was - my roadmap outline to my own personal obituary.  All I had to do was fill in the blanks.

The other day I posted a note about visioning our lives as a mural we are painting each day with our actions and deeds. I was hoping my life's mural would be filled with love and joy.  As I was writing the obituary I could see that the words being penned were actually a reflection of my life's mural, but created with a pallet of words instead of paints.

My first thought was to fill it up with all the details of my accomplishments, all this this and thats that no longer meant a whole lot.  Turned out all the theses and thats was way to boring.  So I deleted all the accomplishments and focused on family and friends.  The obit was looking better with the 'family and friends' approach, but with a 'his' and 'hers' Brady Bunch clan there were a lot of names and I did not even get to the grandchildren.

As I wrote I began to feel a big sense of relief, like finally coming up out of that salty wave and taking a deep breath of fresh air and feeling the warm sun across my skin.

And I was so proud of myself!  I had to tell everyone about what I'd done, including my mother and father and even asking my teen daughter, Jincy to read over it!

Does that should way too morbid?  Maybe so, but somebody has to write an obituary for us.  In my efforts to try and have everything organized before I go, the obituary was just another item I can check off of my 'to do list' so I can get to my bucket list's fun stuff.

Just like a will and a funeral plan, everyone should go ahead and take care of their own obituary.  It actually may help keep your children, or spouse, or whoever you leave behind from having to tell all those little white lies when they try to think of what to say about us.  Ha!

Minor edits have already crept in and I am sure that over time the text content will evolve and does my life.  And I certainly hope not to use it anytime soon!

But the words have kind of fashioned my time here on this planet with these people into a manageable mouthful of verbal art that hopefully reflects my life's mural, something tangible I can carry around with me like my name.  Something that can help guide the rest of my life maybe and give me cause to stop and consider how people will really remember me, something right out of my Facebook page - lol!

So here is my draft (Yes!  DRAFT - not to be used anytime soon I hope) obit.

Hope it inspires you to write one too. -


Kevin Shea Songer, (Age)
Kevin Shea Songer, (Age), died (Month and Year, 20xx), in his home in Fort Myers, Florida.
He was cremated. A service was held Friday at Lovers Key State Park in Lee County, Florida.
Kevin was born March 24, 1957, in Atlanta, GA., to Louis and Paula (Morrow) Songer.  He grew up in Hialeah, Florida, attending Meadowlane Elementary and Palm Springs Junior High in Hialeah.
He graduated from Leon High School, in Tallahassee in 1975 and Judy Marie Songer on April 5, 1995, in Crawfordville, Florida.
He held an undergraduate biology degree after attending Florida State University and David Lipscomb College and also a Juris Doctor of law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law.
Kevin experienced an unexpected aortic dissection in November 2011 and spent the rest of his life medically managing his descending dissection and related Marfan Syndrome challenges and participating in daily adventures outdoors despite his debilitating challenges.
He enjoyed art, illustrating Florida's wilderness, nature photography, Florida’s state parks, hiking and cycling with his wife and spending time with his children and grandchildren.
He actively blogged about green roofs and life with Marfan Syndrome.  His blogs are located at and
He leaves behind his wife, Judy Songer of Fort Myers; brother, Scott; sister Leisa of San Antonio. brother Brian of Indiana; children and step-children include; Jincy Songer and Ruairi Songer, Sesha Castagna, Kyndra Griffin, Melissa Cummings, Leslie Ferguson, Laura Griffin, Adam Griffin and numerous grandchildren, and many friends across the world who share a passion for green roofs and also those challenged with connective tissue disorders like Marfan Syndrome.
Kevin was preceded in death by, his sister Janna, a granddaughter, Heidi Ferguson; (and if any others).
XXXX Funeral Home ofFort Myers, Florida was in charge of arrangements.  Remembrances can be made to The Marfan Foundation, 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Native Shrub and Tree Mandala Square

Native shrubs and trees are amazing as are the different ecosystems these plants make their home within.
Nature Art, Native Shrub-Tree Mandala by Kevin Shea, Gíclee on Aluminum Plate, limited signed edition
My Florida Native Shrub-Tree Mandala Square is comprised of three separate and unique mandala triads; one for uplands, one for wetlands and one for the seashore.

Assembled together they represent the nine trees and shrubs I've grown to love and adore here in Florida and together create the Native Shrub-Tree Mandala Square.

The upland mandala triad is illustrated with beautyberry, Callicarpa americana; saw palmetto, Serenoa repens; and winged sumac, Rhus copallina (aka lemonade bush) all framed with a coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens vine.
Native shrub Upland Mandala by Kevin Shea, Gíclee on Aluminum Plate, limited signed edition
Wetlands are represented by bald cypress, Taxodium distichum; red maple, Acer rubrum; and wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera enclosed in Carolina jessamine vineage.
Native shrub Wetland Mandala by Kevin Shea, Gíclee on Aluminum Plate, limited signed edition
Seashore mandala is created using sea grapes, Coccoloba uvifera; dune daisy, Helianthus debilis; and coral bean, Erythrina herbacea embraced by railroad vine, Ipomia pes-caprae.

Native shrub Seashore Mandala by Kevin Shea, Gíclee on Aluminum Plate, limited signed edition
Native plants are now being recommended and specified by both local and state governments for landscape projects, such as FDOT's wildflower and right-of-way native plant programs as well as used by private developers for commercial projects.  Of course, native plants are very often found in residential landscapes.

As word spreads of the beauty and sustainability characteristics of native shrubs, trees and wildflowers usage within the urban and created landscapes hopefully will continue to proliferate.

Florida's wilderness is filled with amazing texture, color, and importance to all life.

Florida's native plants are truly a wonder worth learning of and preserving.

Gíclee on aluminum plate, high gloss, limited editions, signed by Kevin.

Inquiries to

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Alligator Springs

Florida's swamps and springs are amazing places.
Alligator Springs, A Lazy Florida Afternoon

Providing habitat for many plants and animals alike, Florida springs are tunnels down into a limestone subterranean aquifer from whence cold, clear water rushes to the surface.

If you've ever visited one of the many Florida springs - most of which are protected through state park designation, you will understand my fondness for these unique ecosystems.

Alligator Springs is a limited edition Gíclee on aluminum, signed production by Kevin Shea and features many native species typically found in and around a clear blue Florida spring.

Inquiries to

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Red Drum, Sciaenops ocellatus in Mangrove Flats

Redfish, or red drums as otherwise known, Sciaenops ocellatus are some of Florida's most exciting fish to encounter on a trip to the flats with rod and reel.
Redfish, Sciaenops ocellatus, gíclee on aluminum plate limited edition by Kevin Shea

Enjoy your favorite game fish each day with this limited edition gíclee on aluminum plate, signed by Kevin.

Inquiries to

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Florida Nature Art; Ibis, Green Tree Frogs and the Pickerelweed

Ibis' legs and beaks turn a blazing bright red during spring mating season.
Ibis, Green Tree Frogs and Pickerel Wildflower, Gíclee on aluminum plate

Once referred to as 'Everglades Chickens', Ibis, Eudocimus albus, have survived the hunting onslaught of the early twentieth century and are now a commonly seen waterbird here in southwest Florida's wetlands amongst pickerel weed plants, Pontederia cordata.

Can you find the alligators?

The Green Tree Frog, Hyla cinerea, on the other hand is now under attack by the larger, more aggressive brown Cuban tree frog.

The smaller native tree frog requires taller plants to escape the invasive predator but with urban development, proper habitat for the Florida native amphibian to escape within is rapidly disappearing.

Celebrating Florida wilds in art!  Gíclee on aluminum plate, signed and numbered limited edition.

Inquiries to

Monday, March 28, 2016

Florida Nature Art - "Mangrove Creek" with Great Blue Heron, Ibis, Spoonbill, Cormorant and Seagull

Mangrove Creek is one of my favorite places to go along Florida's southwest coast.
Mangrove Creek, Gíclee on Aluminum, Signed, Limited Edition by Kevin Shea

This is a place full of beauty, mystery and healing.

Not only do amazing colors flow together but sounds I never hear in the city surround me, like the Mangrove Snapping Shrimp - hearing this third loudest but tiny sea creature should be on everyone's bucket list.

Sea birds call.

Gentle salt water currents lap the shoreline.

It is good.

Gíclee on aluminum plate or canvas, 10" x 40", signed limited edition.

Inquiries to

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Ghost Orchids, Dendrophylax lindenii and the Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus

Mandala for Saturday is Ghost Orchids and the Cottonmouth.
Mandala Ghost Orchids and the Cottonmouth by Kevin Shea

Dedicated to the Fakahatchee Strand park in the Everglades.

Gíclee on aluminum plate with hanging racks on back, signed limited edition by Kevin.

The ghost orchid is many times found on pop ash trees, as illustrated in the mandala.  Pop ash, Fraxinus caroliniana is a small tree typically found growing in many parts of South Florida's everglades.

Along with the pop ash, the mandala celebrates a variety of lichens, including Christmas lichen, Cryptothecia rubrocincta.

Celebrating nature and biodiversity through wild art!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Rabbit on a Stick, Green Roofs, Fresh Fertilizer & Florida Permaculture

My green roof friend in France once suggested a good way to eat rabbit is on a stick with mustard.  It sounds good, 
but I've never tried rabbit on a stick.
Florida Permaculture Garden's Jack Rabbit in his Green Roofed Pen
However in the Florida Permaculture Garden rabbits played an important permaculture role.  The bunnies provided us
with some of the most potent, ready to use fertilizers.
Ruby the Rabbit, Florida Permaculture Garden
In the Permaculture Garden, rabbits are one of the easiest livestock animals to keep.  They are quiet (except when a 
predator is around), their poo is ready to use without the required cooling off period normally associated with chicken 
manure, they are tasty and reproduce at lightening speeds.
Permaculture Green Roof for Rabbit Pen under construction

Our rabbit hutch has a vegetated roof.  Simple permaculture concepts.  Rabbits eat clipped forage off their green roof,
rabbits grow, rabbits poo, we use the rabbit poo to fertilize and grow more plants on the rabbit hutch green roof, 
rabbits produce more rabbits and green roof plants feed the babies.
Rabbit forage on the Pen's Green Roof
Perfect perpetual motion machine.  Almost.

Fortunately, the rabbit hutch green roof was not expensive.  In fact, the hutch was built with only recycled stormwater 
panels, used felt material, wood scraps, old tin sheets and some chicken wire left over from the hen coop.
Remember, for green roofs on the cheap - structure, soil media and proper plants!
The rabbits loved their 'green' coop and the living roof kept them cool during the hot summer months.

We had the very best permaculture fertilizer one could have, a gift from the rabbits in return for their 'green' digs.
Florida Permaculture Garden's Green Roof Rabbit Pen makes for happy & hoppy bunnies
Much the way many living wall designers use felt or a non-woven geosynthetic, I rolled and inserted the felt fabric 
into the stormwater panels for a base growing platform.  The panels were placed atop a standard piece of roofing tin 
over wooden rafters above the rabbit cages.
Simple piece of tin covers the pen rafters under the DIY green roof system
The purpose for using the 50mm stormwater panels was to give the living roof a structural dimension, one that would 
place the weight of the green roof over the stronger outside pen supporting walls rather than on the rafters.
A reused gutter drain served as a green roof crown cap
Once the felt was embedded, rabbit poo, leaves and compost was added to the panels.  Garlic, rye and  other forage 
plant seed was added.  Soon the roof was green with tempting bunny forage.  The felt acted to wick water across the 
roof,  provided oxygen, drainage and a structural grid for roots to attach to.

Green roofs don't have to be expensive.  Think - support, innovative soil platform and proper plants.

As for the rabbits, I'm a vegan so I'll stick with collecting poo pellets for fertilizer!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Monarch and Milkweed

Monarch and sulfur butterflies (Danaus plexippus and Phoebis sennae) and milkweed (Asclepius tuberosa) mandala.
Monarch and Milkweed Mandala, Florida Nature Art by Kevin Shea

Gíclee high gloss on aluminum plate with hanger, limited edition, signed by Kevin.

Tribute to amazing butterflies and an amazing wildflower.

Contact for inquiries.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Florida Nature Art, Sea Turtle and Kelp Mandala by Kevin Shea

Enjoy the endangered sea turtle mandala below.  Available on aluminum plate with hanging rails (produced in Germany) in 15" diameter size or larger upon request.
Sea Turtle and Kelp Mandala by Kevin Shea

Limited edition signed and numbered.

Inquiries may be directed to

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Aorta Diet for Aorta Health, No Fat But Oh So Hearty

Tonight's Potato and Vegetable Bowl meal is created to promote aorta health and improve gallbladder issues.
Aorta Health Diet - Potato and Veggie Bowl, No Fat
This meal contains no additional oils or fats.  The only fats are those found naturally in the plant ingredients, such as the important omega 3's occurring in the broccoli and other veggies used.

What I like about this meal is it's heartiness.  I need solid, filling food sometimes and this dish fills the order besides being delicious!

Another bonus is that the meal is quick and easy to make.  Total preparation time runs about twenty minutes.  This is important for me as I can not stand for long periods of time.
Start by chopping and steam cooking your vegetable selection
To start I steam chopped vegetables in a stainless skillet using a little water or rice vinegar to the stir-steam from sticking, adding more water as the veggies steam.

Tonights veggies include: sliced and diced portobello mushrooms, chopped sweet onion, chopped garlic, and broccoli florets.  You could also add chopped carrots, peas or corn too.  The portobello's texture is very much meat-like and will fool some people into thinking they are eating steak.

I add lemongrass-based red curry powder and organic tamari along with a teaspoon of ground ginger and turmeric.

Potatoes are cooked in the microwave for ten minutes then whipped with hot water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cooked potatoes whipped with water, salt and pepper (skins included)

Place the warm mashed potatoes in a bowl and surround with the steamed veggie mixture.

Aaaaaah.  Your aorta and your taste buds-stomach will be very happy.

This is a low calorie, high fiber meal.  Always consult your doctor before changing diets.

Aorta healthy diets can be so much fun!

Monday, March 14, 2016

How Strong Is Your Aorta? Even Dissected the Aorta is Tough and Durable. The Plywood Matrix.

For a couple years after those two open heart surgeries night time would bring with it a Pandora's Box full of demons I created in my mind.
Aortic Dissection.  Check out my existing intima flap!  Both sides are patent but the false lumen is a dead end.

Recently I put a lock on that box.  Once in a while, in an evening's moment of self pity I'll still unlatch the box and peek back inside.  And then regret hits me for days.

Laying in bed at night the fear of dying would consume me.

Each new twinge of pain or hurt was a prelude to, as Fred Sanford used to say on his TV program Sanford & Sons, "Oh, this is the big one".

Unlike Sanford & Sons, my fears weren't funny at all.

Getting all my 'loose ends' tied up and affairs in order helped, but whenever I opened that wicked box again demons flew in my face.

The years of fear that my aorta was going to 'pop' paralyzed me, mostly when I lay down to sleep in the evening.  During the day I kept myself so occupied that time never arose where I could concentrate on my ever imagined mortality as I could after quietly sliding under the sheets.

Looking back on the night when I dissected and drove myself to the ER, I was not afraid then - even when the doctor told me what was going on and of my chances.

Laurence Gonzales in his book, Surviving Survival, suggests that the real challenge to our sanity comes not during the traumatic ordeal but afterwards when our demons gather around.

I grew to dread sunset for that was when my demons would gather to discuss my future.

Then one day I met this interesting doctor.  We moved to Fort Myers from Palm Coast so I could avoid the cooler winters.  My Raynauds issues prevented me from participating in many activities when the temperature dropped below 60F.

My new primary care physician came with multiple recommendations from friends.  I liked him instantly.   He listened to my thoughts and discussed my ideas as valid rather than quacking dismissing them.

Blood pressure maintenance was critically important when managing an aortic dissection long term he reiterated.  And he praised me for maintaining a 'low risk' range of 105/60 with  a pulse of 60 beats per minute.

'Doc' as I'll refer to him, told me a blood pressure of 105/60 carried with it almost no risk for causing cardiovascular damage.  He repeated the 'almost no risk' over and over.  This has stuck in my mind.

"But Doc!" I'd exclaim. "My aorta is peeling apart!"  It could blow at any moment.

"Yes it could with a high blood pressure.  I have patients with systolic over 200 and diastolic approaching 150.  In their cases, yes.  The aorta could rupture."  He shook his head. "But your aorta is still strong.  And your blood pressure is perfect for long term management."

"What do you mean my aorta is still strong?" I asked, puzzled.  "I feel like my aorta is much like a thin, over filled balloon ready to burst!"

"That is what I hear from my other dissection patients," he replied.

"Listen, let me use an example.  Your aorta, Kevin, is built like a sheet of plywood.  Think of layer upon layer of wood glued together.  Now like plywood may do if it gets wet, your aorta has had the inner layer separate.  Plywood does this often but still retains much of its original strength for a very long time".

He continued.  "We know you have a connective tissue challenge so your aorta and body parts may have a tendency to separate.  This is aggravated especially when you have high blood pressure.  However when you remove most of the stress from the layered plywood or layered aorta, the remaining layers can hold up for a very long time.  You may well live a normal life span."

I could relate to his analogy.  There are plywood boats I've seen warped and separating but still floating.  Plywood used to cover windows many times stays in place for years.  It is easy to imagine the difficulty of trying to pull a separated layer of plywood apart from the remaining wood panel.

"Hmmm" I muttered.  "So even though I have a seriously dissected aorta, the remaining layers are still quite strong'" I said.

"Yes, very strong.  Now aneurysms do happen and aortas do rupture, but not 'normally' with proper blood pressure control.  Keep your blood pressure down, avoid straining of any type, eat healthy and exercise."

"Wow, Doc."

"You are going to live a long time I suspect.  Anything else we need to talk about?"  Doc shrugged and opened the examining room door to usher me out.  "See you in six months or sooner if you need to come in."

The battery of annual CT scans and echocardiograms I have seem to prove Doc right so far.  My dissection/ aneurysm is stable, not much change so far after four years.

Now I am not an unrealistic dreamer.  I do recognize the seriousness of my condition, after all my aorta is dissected from the ascending Dacron graft down into my kidneys and iliac arteries.

But for some reason the idea of a tough matrix like plywood, even though it is separated, puts my mind at ease, at least to the point of where I don't feel anymore like I have to invite the demons each night to come and discuss my future.

Perhaps it was Doc's almost caviler attitude about not being too concerned with the chances of an immediate aorta rupture.  Perhaps it was because I could relate to just how long warped plywood could last.

Definitely it was a paradigm shift from the thin over filled balloon to a low pressure tough matrix vision of my heart and main blood vessel that convinced me to snap the lock shut on that box of taunting demons.

I believe there is truth in what Doc says.

And because I am convinced that my aorta is a separated but still quite strong I am not going to burst or pop any given moment, I have been able to go to sleep with less worry.  Maybe I will, maybe I won't burst in all reality.  But if believing in the strength of plywood keeps me from opening that wicked box at night, then I will keep on believing.

Blood pressure control is very important.  And with proper blood pressure control my layered blood vessels may really stay put.

Plywood matrix means strength.  And our aortas are quite strong.

Finally, lying in bed the other night I realized that our friends, family and even dissection and aneurysm forums on social media are like a strong matrix too.  We all help hold each other together.  We are the glue and layers of a very strong community.

I like the idea of strength in matrixes, even if there is a misaligned layer here or there.

How strong is my aorta?  Plywood tough!