When you’re only 35 years old and making your way to the top of your field, not much is supposed to get in your way. That’s how most 35-year-olds think, anyway. Disability income (DI) insurance is not usually on their need-to-buy list because, in their minds, they will never need it.
The problem is that there’s a good chance that something unexpected will pop up in their path. Or, as in Carol Calderazzo’s case, something will make them drop right to the floor.
A career woman
Calderazzo, a native of Queens, N.Y., was a “high-powered career woman,” according to her own description. A biology major in college, she decided to enroll in the physician’s assistant program of Bayley Seton Hospital on Staten Island. She loved her work and spent most of her all-too-short career involved in interventional cardiology.
About 13 years ago while working in the cardiac catheter lab at Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she attended a seminar presented by New York City AIFA member Alexander Conti, a financial representative of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. “I was very interested in what he had to say about having life and disability insurance privately,” says Calderazzo, who was in her early 20s at the time. “I had two older parents who weren’t particularly well prepared for their advancing age, and I didn’t want to fall into that position.”
Calderazzo remembers clearly the follow-up meeting she had with Alex Conti. He went to her house; she was still living with her parents at the time. “We sat in their backyard, on the deck. He showed me the statistics that let me know that DI insurance was good planning for the future. Alex Conti was very well spoken.”
Alex Conti was equally impressed with Calderazzo. “She was a typical example of what we try to do at Northwestern: Bring a prospect on as a young client to purchase both DI and life,” says Conti. “Considering she wasn’t married and didn’t have children, she still saw the need to do short-term planning and mid-term planning. It’s not often that you meet a single person with no children purchasing both life and DI. I was enthused by her enthusiasm about thinking of the future.”
The policies were purchased and kept in force. That was about 1993. Conti would call Calderazzo on a regular basis to ask if her income had grown. The reply was always yes, so he’d encourage her to increase her benefits. He always reiterated that by doing so, she would be able to maintain her current lifestyle should a disability occur. “It was very smart of him to stay on top of it,” recalls Calderazzo, “to know that I had the salary growth pattern.”
Then something devastating happened about four years ago, when Calderazzo was 35. “I woke up one morning, got out of bed, and slammed onto the floor. I had absolutely no feeling on my right side. I managed to get myself to the lobby of my apartment building and go to the hospital by cab,” she says.
You might think that being a member of the medical profession would work in her favor. But, as Calderazzo notes, “It was frightening. Sometimes too much knowledge is not a good thing. But I did know that something acute neurologically was happening to me.”
Calderazzo’s first thought was that she’d had a stroke. Within two weeks, however, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative neurological disease affecting the brain and spinal cord.
Making the call
Eventually, the feeling to her right side returned. But then the sky fell in. Calderazzo’s mother died. “When my mom passed away, I spiraled into a terrible relapse. I was out of it for two months. At that point my employer let me go; so I was jobless.”
Calderazzo contacted Alex Conti.
“When she called, I said, ‘That’s what this is for,’” says Conti. “The situation was difficult enough for Carol, but it would have been disastrous if she hadn’t had the DI policy.”
Without the insurance, Calderazzo would have lost her home and, what is more important, her dignity. “I don’t know what I would have done or where I’d be,” she says. “No one in my family is in a position to take care of me. It would have been a nightmare.”
Calderazzo acknowledges that coping was very difficult at first: “I was very distraught. I lost my career, my mom, my health. But you can turn it all around with the support and help of friends and family.”
With this positive spirit and the help of the income from her DI insurance policy, Calderazzo does not let her condition get her down. In fact, her optimism has led to great happiness: She recently became engaged. She’s not sure when she and her fiancé will tie the knot, though. She jokes that she won’t set the date until he has a private DI insurance policy in place. “I play hardball,” she says jokingly.
This story was made possible with the help of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education. For more information on LIFE’s realLIFEstories program or for a realLIFE-stories application, visit www.life-line.org or call 202-464-5000.