Currency: Hope


Not a lot of people understand epilepsy, the causes of it and how it can profoundly affect someone’s life. When I met Corey, I was interested in learning more. He had such a gentle, kind and happy vibe about him. He didn’t seem to be ‘suffering’ at all. “You can’t let it get you down,” he told me. “You have to try and do the things you’ve always done, you just have to make sure you are with people who can help if something happens.” Putting trust in others has been something Corey has learned to do since being diagnosed right before his 21st birthday. “I had a grand mal seizure while driving,” he tells me, “and a tree stopped my car from going over a 20 foot embankment.”

A bout with spinal meningitis as an infant is thought to be the cause of Corey’s epilepsy, an infection that spreads rapidly through the body and if not treated immediately can cause permanent brain damage or death. Corey thinks he’s pretty lucky he just got epilepsy and that his symptoms didn’t show up until later in his life. But now, he’s got to rely on his friends and family for a lot. “It’s hard sometimes. I can’t do normal things like drive a car, go swimming or have a real job. I just have to take each day as it comes.”

After his diagnosis he spent years in and out of hospitals being poked, prodded and tested. There were years he took a handful of medications every day, a lot of which made him feel nauseous. He’s undergone two brain surgeries where they first removed part of his temporal lobe and then all of it. He risked memory loss and motor function but he begged the doctors to do the second surgery if it would mean he might be seizure free forever. “The doctors actually thanked me later for pushing them to do the second surgery when the first one didn’t work. They’ve gained a lot of great research from it.”

Corey hasn’t been able to get back to surfing either, one of his favorite past times, since he had a seizure one day while riding some waves in Huntington Beach. He had a special life vest on and friends to help pull him to shore but he’s been scared to go back out since then. “I really miss it. My dad taught me to surf when I was little. The water is my therapy.” Determined to stay positive Corey tells me he just has to press the reset button every day and test what he can do. “I actually rode a dirt bike last weekend with some friends and I cried. I was so happy I could do it. I’ll get back out in the water. I know it,” he says, “maybe for Father’s Day with my dad.”

Corey is currently receiving treatment at UC Irvine through the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. He loves talking to other people about epilepsy and how they’re handing it. “It makes me feel less alone and I want people to know that it’s not a halt, it’s just a slow down. Just adjust your speed and you’ll find your flow again.”


“I know I have malignant cells in me right now that are multiplying,” says Catherine, “but I’ve learned to live with it.” Diagnosed 5 years ago with a rare form of Leukemia, Catherine manages her disease with a cocktail of medications and random rounds of chemo as her doctor sees fit. “I feel lucky that I got the ‘good kind’ of cancer, the one they want to study and have great meds for. Sometimes I have to strap on the pink, chemo backpack though and wear it around for a week.”

Saying she feels lucky in the same sentence as cancer can only be a Catherine trait. “She has a healthy mind,” says her close friend. “She doesn’t let challenges affect her positively about life.”

Catherine goes on to tell me how they discovered the Leukemia and how she was lucky to have broken her pelvis during a cycling accident a year prior, so that when she couldn’t seem to get better after the surgery the doctors probed further into why. “I had a one, three and five year old at home. I couldn’t even pick up my babies.” Catherine spent almost a year trying to heal before they discovered the Leukemia. “I was in a fog. I didn’t know why I was so tired. And it’s funny, when women feel tired they just write it off to exhaustion because we juggle so much. When a man gets sick, he goes to the doctor.” She laughs.

Fast-forward one more year and Catherine was hospitalized for viral meningitis, most likely from taxing her petite 5’2” frame to several rounds of chemo. “I was an Ironman,” she says. “I once cycled from Vienna to Moscow. I had been an athlete all my life, but this was taking me down. I remember telling my husband one night as we waited for the ambulance, not to wake the kids.”

Soon after, Catherine’s marriage ended suddenly. “He was used to me being the strong one.” She is tight lipped and respectful when she talks about him but you can sense there is a heartbreaking story to tell. “It’s been a pretty crazy 5 years.” She laughs.

Turning struggle into strength, Catherine doesn’t look back. She concentrates on her work as a physical therapist, raising her three children, and patenting an idea for women’s underwear. “It’s funny, maybe I was lucky to have had 3 C-sections in three years before I broke my pelvis. It helped me come up with the idea for ‘C Panty,’ (underwear that helps women heal their C section scars.) Mine looks amazing now.” She laughs. Not stopping a beat, Catherine carries on. I somehow feel really lucky to have met her.


What does a Russian model and a Poly Sci major have in common? They have a camera, a really beautiful dress and an island in Vietnam. Where was Alvin before he was making beautiful pictures of models? He was at Seattle University following a plan his parents wanted for him. “I was studying law because I thought I could make a difference with it.” Then he got a camera for graduation and everything changed. “I got the opportunity to shoot a model and that was it. I was in love. I blew my savings on gear and just went for it.”

Over the course of the next year Alvin shot whatever he could get his hands on; events, weddings, portraits. Most of the modeling agencies turned him down because of his inexperience until he found one that said yes. He began to shoot for them for free, honing in on his lighting and camera skills. “I realized that the definition we sometimes give to happiness isn’t always true. I thought I needed the white picket fence, the girl and the Mercedes but that’s not it. I was shooting for no money but I was creating art and I was the happiest I’ve ever been.”

After a few weeks of seeing Alvin’s stunning photographs the agencies started paying him. He was able to build up his gear and even rent a space with another photographer. “There were so many people who helped me. My car got broken into once and my studio mate lent me his gear. It was amazing.” Since that misfortunate Alvin has turned his photo library into a successful business. He recently finished a shoot for Elle magazine and is planning a move to New York by the summer. “I realized I can make a change with my art. I can launch a model’s career. I can help someone else up the ladder. This is what I was meant to do.”


Most of us have lost things along the way in our lives. Perhaps it’s that missing sock you knew went into the dryer but never made it out. Maybe it’s that friend you lost touch with because of time or distance. Maybe there are more difficult loses like that of a relationship you had your heart set on or god forbid the lose of a loved one. Unfortunately we all know the pain and emptiness a loss creates so it’s hard to imagine losing it all. For Kevin that was a reality. Last year Kevin was jobless, homeless and without the support of his family. Humble in his response to his past he merely says, “some things happened and I fell down” as the reason for ending up on skid row. But because of the help of a stranger one day and a lot of hard work Kevin’s life changed direction and a whole new story is being written.

“I was tired of living that way,” Kevin expresses. “I needed help. I wanted help.” One day Kevin approached a woman at a crosswalk. “And this is how God works,” he tells me. This woman had worked directly with the Midnight Mission, a rehabilitation center located on skid row in downtown LA. She took the time to guide him there. Having a seat in the lobby, Kevin wholeheartedly surrendered to the idea and practice of his recovery.

Rik Krulish, the director of the Mission explains, “When people come into the Mission you can see the emptiness and pain. Kevin was different. He had a unique confidence about him. We don’t take people in who aren’t serious about getting better and it was obvious he wanted to be at the Mission. You could tell that whatever it was that got him off track hadn’t taken away his sense of self.” Kevin quickly excelled through the program, a 12-month rehabilitation system combining educational study, work requirements, physical betterment and social interaction. Struggling from past addictions that had once helped him cope, Kevin worked daily on his dedication to getting well by going to meetings and having an active faith in God. “Staying connected to a power greater than myself as I move forward is essential. This is a lifetime program for me, a lifetime demonstration.”

Kevin’s love of shining shoes brought him steady work at the mission and stood as an example to others of leadership and initiative. Other men in the program looked up to Kevin, who became known as Mr. Happy Feet. “They call me Mr. Happy Feet because I care about people. Not every day is going be a good day but if I have a smile on my face, somebody else can smile too. It shows that I don’t just care about myself but I care about other people,” says Kevin.

It’s this attitude and the constant drive to be of service that have helped Kevin graduate the program and secure a steady job outside of the Mission. Rik remembers introducing Matt and Kevin and discussing his possible employment at Matt’s barbershop. “It went from a chance meeting to what I felt was serendipitous, to just God making the arrangements. Kevin is the kind of guy who has stayed very true to himself, to his program and to the commitment that he made when he came into the Mission. He has God in his life and those kinds of things that we might regard as miracles are things that he is just now worthy of because he’s done the work. He has earned the right.”

“We all have a story,” says Kevin, “but it’s not what we’ve been through that matters, it’s how we come out of it. Whatever you water will grow. You have to stay rooted in who you are and believe in yourself. Don’t ever give up. You may fall down, but you gotta get up.” Kevin graduated in November 2009 and secured employment with Bolt Barbers in downtown LA. He also has a cozy home neighboring the Mission where the glowing sign serves as a constant reminder of how far he’s come.

About the currency project

The Currency Project challenges us all to see the beauty through the pain, the positive that can come from a negative and the heartbreak that can turn into a new beginning. Life is uncertain but our faith, hope and love can never be taken from us. Our true currency in life is what we make it.