Why a Heart Defect was a Ghostwriter’s 1st Compelling Story


Fifth of an occasional series about stories and ideas worth telling.

A heart defect is not inherently compelling. As a ghostwriter, if someone pitched me to ghostwrite a story about a guy who overcame a heart defect, I’d first ask, “What else is there to the story?” and if there was nothing, I’d turn it down.

But if the answer to the above question was “I was a high school teacher who was in a coma for sixteen days, and I was able to recover fast enough to not miss the start of the next school year,” I’d be very much interested.

Luckily, a fellow member of a networking group introduced me to a Philadelphia-area teacher named Marc Lieberson who had such a story to tell. This was the first big ghostwriting project I ever had, and it reminded me how much I really liked telling these in-depth, human-interest stories in my journalism days.

Lieberson’s story was simple: He suffered from a mysterious heart ailment that put him in a coma in late May 2010, not long before final exams. His family (wife, two daughters) was told that he wasn’t going to make it and they should get this affairs in order and say goodbye.

His wife, however, refused to let doctors pull the plug, and Lieberson woke up after sixteen days. But he still needed heart surgery to correct what turned out to be a faulty mitral valve. The rest of the book details his long road back and how he was able to start the next semester on schedule. It also explores how his absence and recovery affected him and his friends, family, fellow teachers, administrators, and even his doctors. They all agreed on one thing: It was truly inspirational the way he made it all the way back—“All the Way Back” was the working title.

Lieberson provided ample details about his past, why he went into teaching, what it’s like awakening from a coma (spoiler: nothing like in the movies), how it feels to breathe with a ventilator, how excruciatingly difficult it really is to relearn how to walk and eat and use fine motor skills, among many aspects. Most of his family and friends and school associates consented to being interviewed, and their views and memories made the story more well-rounded and complete.

The story ended with him being honored with the yearbook’s dedication, as chosen by the senior class.

I couldn’t have asked for a better first story to ghostwrite. It had so many qualities of a compelling story. 

→What Lieberson overcame commanded respect. 

→His vivid details put the reader right there in his hospital bed, the school, the rehab center. 

→His friends and family’s specific details put the reader in the library, the classrooms, and the various banquet halls where they got into shenanigans. 

→ There’s plenty of emotion, too: fear of death, sadness of loss, frustration at rehab, relief at recovery, and happiness at being honored.

As this was my first ghostwriting opportunity, I also fondly remember how rewarding it was to do the legwork to tell the story the right way. It took a lot of time to interview Lieberson, his wife, younger daughter (his older one refused to participated), friends, teachers, principal, administrators, and doctors. This was where I learned that life happens and while people might want to participate,  they’re not necessarily going to alter their schedules to accommodate.

As rewarding as it was, it also was disappointing that the story never got published. Publishing can be prohibitively expensive, and it was for Lieberson. So, the manuscript sits on his desk as a family history.

Above everything else, it gave me a first look at what a compelling story could be, one that should get out of one’s head and onto the page. If you are ready to hire a ghostwriter or looking for the help of a ghostwriter in Philadelphia, contact Lee today.

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