While all the rest of us celebrate (or ignore) our birthdays to varying degrees, Design Atelier’s Walt Adler celebrates another annual milestone—his Alive Day. On April 21 each year since 2008, Walt and his friends gather together to commemorate his brush with death, and to celebrate how the experience turned into one of the biggest blessings in his life.
In 2007, Walt, who used to work as Creative Director for David Yurman, was in Basel to launch the David Yurman Waverly watch, which he’d worked on developing for about a year. After Basel, to celebrate the launch’s success, Walt scheduled a weekend with friends in Barcelona. His first night in town however, as he slept, Walt suffered a brain hemorrhage, a traumatic brain injury, and when he woke up in the morning, the entire right side of his body was pins and needles numb. He didn’t think too much about it, he was able to walk and communicate, so he figured maybe it was a Barcelona-style hangover. He went about his day, heading to the market to get prepared for a dinner party his friends were hosting that same evening. Around 4pm, he called a doctor friend of his back in Miami, just to get his take on it. His friend, who is normally pretty laid back when offering his medical opinion told him, “The next time I want to talk to you is 10 minutes from now when you’re in the emergency room.”
Walt’s friends rushed him to the emergency room, dropping knives and spoons in the middle of preparing dinner. Eventually a neurologist saw him and told him they’d have to operate the very next day. Before he underwent major brain surgery however, Walt wanted a second (or a third, or forth) opinion. That’s when everyone rallied to help out—the Yurman’s made room on their company server so that Walt’s friends could upload all of his brain scans, next, friends and family, as well as Sybil Yurman herself, all called in favors so that the best of the best doctors across the U.S. could review the brain scans. Soon, Walt had doctors in New York, Miami, Arizona and California reviewing his scans. Ultimately, a doctor in Miami, Dr. Roberto Heros, who is a venerable leader in his field, determined that absolutely, under no circumstances, should they operate on Walt and doing so could cause severe damage and possibly death.
While in the hospital for observation, as he waited for his parents to arrive, Walt’s friend Danny never left his side. Three days into his hospital stay, even though he’d lost vision in his right eye (a condition which persisted for a year and inspired a collection of customized eye patches!), Walt turned to Danny and said, “I’m going to be better off because of this, this is going to turn into a blessing.” From that moment on, everything changed, there was some sort of cosmic shift and they actually started having fun. Friends came to the hospital and they had a party, suddenly this seeming tragedy had turned into an amazing adventure.
For Walt, the whole experience was a game-changer. He changed that day from a pessimist to an optimist. The doctors in Barcelona told him he shouldn’t exercise, have sex, lift anything heavy or do anything at all to raise his blood pressure. But with his new philosophy of living his life at 100%, he returned to New York and began long-distance biking. Says Walt, “I’m not going to die every day, I’m going to live every day.” Which is why, every year, on April 21, you will find Walt surrounded by friends and family, celebrating life….and he’s got plenty to celebrate!