By LOU WILIN
Tim DeHaven went into St. Rita’s Medical Center for heart valve repair surgery and a three- to five-day stay in 2011. His life has never been the same.
The owner of DeHaven Home & Garden Showplace ran into complications, and when he left Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center more than three months later, he had lost one leg, all his toes on the other foot, and four fingers. In three months he had five surgeries, and three more surgeries in 2012. For a while, he was on dialysis.
“I got real depressed,” DeHaven said. “Actually, I wanted to die.”
“I was a basket case,” he said. “I couldn’t even at one point in time, turn in bed, even hold a spoon in my hand, wipe myself, go to the bathroom … that’s how bad I was.”
He considered suicide.
His garden and landscaping business, already shrinking because of the housing slump, was struggling to make big debt payments it took on years earlier when business was booming. With all of that and the loss of its dominant leader, the business foundered. DeHaven said he returned to the helm too soon in 2012, and made some bad decisions.
“(I) didn’t realize that I was not cognitively quite with it,” he said. “It was two years to get my brain functioning … I take full responsibility for the bad decisions we made.”
DeHaven’s mental and emotional strength have returned, and DeHaven Home & Garden Showplace will return to Findlay today.
But physically, Tim DeHaven will never be the same. It was difficult to accept for a man who ran three miles and worked 16 to 18 hours a day.
“I wanted to be the old Tim DeHaven. I wasn’t the old Tim DeHaven. I’m the new Tim DeHaven. It’s taken me a while to learn how to be the new DeHaven. I can’t do things like I used to,” he said.
“Now I know, if I’m working at a store, and I get to hurting real bad, I’ll take my (artificial) leg off, I’ll sit in a wheelchair. And I just have to do it. I didn’t want to do it for a long time. I just kept hurting worse, but I wasn’t doing any good for anybody. Wasn’t good for our business. So I’ve had to learn to back off a little bit.”
DeHaven said his hardships have made him more empathetic. He also expresses much gratitude about support he received from family and friends.
Even customers rallied when, months after the initial surgery, DeHaven and his son planted trees in their yards.
“It was the damndest thing you could ever see … I’m out on jobs, my son and I planting trees, and people would come out and literally help us plant their trees that we sold them because they — I guess — were inspired to help me, friends. It was the damndest thing,” he said. “People were very good.”
DeHaven still had a long way to go at that point, but those moving gestures of support were a homecoming for him and the business.
He had scrapped the landscaping part of the business in 2011 after it had a few weak years. The entire gardening and landscaping industry was in a slump, and competition had become cutthroat, even unethical, DeHaven said. But within a year, DeHaven and his son realized that abandoning landscaping was a mistake, and they returned to it.
So now, DeHaven is focusing on his core competencies, gardening and landscaping. He has given up on selling furniture and fireplaces, offerings which were added as the business grew. That, he said, is part of the lesson for him and others in business.
“Stay humble. What happened to us has been very humbling,” he said. “Stay with what you know, your strengths … You can’t do everything. You can’t serve everybody.”
What’s sweetest about this lesson is that his core competencies are also his love.
For 30 years, DeHaven has done a radio show on gardening.
“I love lawns,” he said. “Sounds crazy but I do love lawns.”
Horticulture is his calling. Even as a boy, he liked working with plants at his father’s business, which was a hardware store which also sold lawn and garden goods.
“I love plants. I always loved them, from the time I was a boy,” he said.
Even the Latin he learned in high school remains fresh to him through plant names. He was a biology major in college at John Carroll University.
When DeHaven was in the depths of his despair, it was his love of pruning plants that led him out. Pruning was his therapy.
“I told my therapists. They loved that I did that because I couldn’t even move my hands. I couldn’t even hold a fork at one point in time. My wife and daughter had to feed me,” he said.
The gift keeps giving.
“Yesterday, I took my two grandsons, worked in our greenhouse in Lima. We were dividing plants, planting plants, planting seeds,” DeHaven said. “I just like that whole aspect of everything about horticulture. It’s in my blood … I just like getting my hands dirty.”
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