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Toby Chess

Toby Chess is an I-CAR program instructor, training specialist, and former salvage yard operator. Toby is universally known in the collision industry for his work with first responders and advocacy for body shops and consumers. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 22:05

Life Changes or Industry Changes Don’t Happen Without Major Effort

Written by Toby Chess

I want to start this month’s column  with a personal reflection on some life changing events that happened to me last year.

The last Saturday of September I woke up about 1:00 a.m. with a pain in my chest. It felt like a 500 lb gorilla was standing on my chest and the pain was excruciating. Not being the brightest person in the world, I got into my truck and drove myself to the hospital. When I told the nurse in emergency that I was experiencing chest pain, she rushed into a room and hooked up an EKG monitor and blood pressure gauge. My blood pressure was 170 over 90. Not real good (I am on blood pressure medication). The ER doctor came in and told me that I did not have a heart attack or a stroke, but there was something not working right with my heart and set up an appointment with a cardiologist the following week. Five hours later, I came home, hooked up my welding trailer and conducted an I-CAR structural steel test (Again, not the best move, sometimes my brain works in reverse). Monday, I made an appointment with a cardiologist for the following Friday.

On that Wednesday, my daughter gave birth to an 8 lb baby girl named Hayley, and for my wife and me, our first grandchild.

I will tell you that being a grandparent is a tremendous experience. The best experience of all is that I haven’t had diaper duty yet.

On Friday, I had my appointment with the cardiologist. I had another EKG and he determined that I had a mild case of Atrial Fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation (AF or A-fib) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). It is a common cause of irregular heart beat, identified clinically by taking a pulse. Chaotic electrical activity in the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart result in the muscle fibrillating (i.e., quivering), instead of achieving coordinated contraction.

The presence of AF can be confirmed with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) by the absence of P waves and an irregular ventricular rate. Presence of AF in a population increases with age, with 8% of people over 80 having AF.

In AF, the normal electrical impulses that are generated by the ‘sinoatrial node are suddenly or gradually overwhelmed by disorganized electrical impulses that often originate in the roots of the pulmonary veins, leading to irregular conduction of impulses to the ventricles which generate the heartbeat. AF may occur in episodes lasting from minutes to weeks, or be permanent in nature. The natural tendency of AF over time is to become a chronic condition. Chronic AF leads to a small increase in the risk of death.

He said that I had a choice. I could go on meds that would change my life style or I could lose weight (he suggested 75 lbs). It was my choice. At that moment, I realized that I wanted to be part of Hayley’s life and I decided to lose the weight. The doctor recommended that I use ‘Weight Watchers Online’ due to my crazy schedule. So I went home, Googled Weight Watchers and signed up. It works on a point system. You are allowed so many points per day and you enter the food that you ate and the points are automatically calculated. All the things I ate in the past like steaks, bread, sweet rolls, Italian sausages and nearly everything else I put into my mouth were high in points. I started off the program with 54 points. One hot dog is 12 points. It doesn’t take much to add up to the allotted daily points. The web site offered a lot of advice on what I should be eating.

On October the ninth, I weighed 307 lbs. and by December 15, 2011, I weighed 281 lbs. I used to get tired after walking one block. My knees and hips would hurt. I started riding my bike and I am up to two miles a day and, guess what? My knees and hips have stopped hurting. It is very difficult to change one’s eating habits after 66 years of abuse, but the consequences of not changing them, were much too high. The reason for opening up my personal life is that it runs parallel to recent events in the collision repair industry.

Last month, I requested from repairers that they send me pictures of parts that do not fit. To make the replacement parts better, we need data to back up our claims that there are parts being sold that don’t fit, have poor workmanship and they are not the same as the original. On a daily basis, I am told by people in the body shops about these substandard parts, yet when I requested pictures and data, only five shops have so far responded. It would have been a lot easier for me to take a pill for the A-Fib, but what was better for me was to make a sacrifice to eliminate of some of the foods that I normally ate. You can go the easy way and do nothing or you can get off the pot and send me that data. It’s your choice. If you choose not to do anything, then stop the complaining. I cannot help you if you can’t help yourself. I hope that you will make the same decision that I made—Make a change to improve our industry. With that I want to wish all of you a happy and prosperous 2012.

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