When Grosse Pointe Yacht Club’s Executive Chef, Colby Newman, almost lost his wife to a rare heart condition, he relied on his culinary team and club members in a way he has never had to before and now pays that forward with a clearer focus on work-life balance.
On November 5, 2018, my wife, Lauren, needed emergency open-heart surgery. It was the scariest day of my life.
Nine days prior, Lauren had gone to urgent care because she wasn’t feeling well. She had hoped to be back before our son, Hudson, woke up and I needed to leave for work.
I never made it to work that day. Instead, Lauren was told to go to the emergency room immediately. Her heart rate was almost twice what it should have been.
After many tests, we learned that a rare bacteria had invaded her blood and caused endocarditis. This created a large hole in her aortic valve. Had my wife kept pushing through, not feeling as well as normal, she would have either had heart failure, a heart attack or died.
Three days after discovering the hole, Lauren had surgery to replace the valve and clean up any additional damage from the bacteria. She spent a total of two weeks in the hospital. I slept at the hospital almost every night. I went back and forth between our home and the hospital so that Lauren could see our son at least once a day.
During those weeks, the staff at GPYC urged me to stay with her. They assured me that they could handle everything at the club and that I could focus on my wife and my family. I wrote menus, placed orders, and did whatever else I could from the hospital. And I would quickly stop by work to check in. But I went two weeks without working in my kitchen.
My staff was amazing throughout this whole ordeal. There’s no way I would have been able to spend that much time at the hospital if it weren’t for them, their dedication and their passion for what we do for our members and each other. I give all my employees the time they need during their own emergencies, so I’m forever grateful that they allowed me this time.
The support and generosity from everyone at the club—both members and employees—was overwhelming. Unlike restaurants, one of the greatest things about working in a club is that you build close relationships with a majority of your diners. As an employee of a club, the members and the staff become like your second family. The kitchen would make us dinners to eat in the hospital almost every night. Members offered to babysit, sent flowers and thoughts through messages, phone calls, and cards. I was even fortunate enough to talk with a member who is a cardiologist almost every day. She would share with me her professional opinion and the peace of mind that all the steps we were taking were exactly what my wife needed. Even my wife’s surgeon is a member of GPYC. We will probably never be able to repay him for my wife still being alive, but we are eternally grateful.
It’s so easy to get caught up in or overwhelmed by our day-to-day routine. This horrible experience really put things into perspective for me. I love what I do. But I also know the importance of a strong work-life balance. I can be a successful club chef and not feel like I’m missing out on everything at home with my wife and son. And I’m deeply thankful to have a position at a club where that mantra rings true throughout.
We learned in a very scary way that tomorrow is not a given. One year ago, my healthy wife gave birth to our son. We never in our wildest dreams thought we’d ever be back in that same hospital being told her situation could have ended much differently. We came too close to tragedy. But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I will never look back and regret spending time with my family.
Lauren is the biggest supporter of my career as a club chef. She has never once complained about the long hours, waiting until 10:30 pm to eat dinner together every night, having me work every single holiday or losing days off together because of last minute events. And while I’m so fortunate to work for a club that is like a second family to me, I’ve also realized just how crucial it is for me to keep striving for this balance between work and home—for me and for my staff.