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In Memoriam: Bill Cornell, 1953-2019

February 1 2019

William G. "Bill" Cornell passed away on January 20, 2019 at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., after a lengthy illness. He was 65. 

Bill was a dear friend and colleague to TAUC and the entire union construction and maintenance industry. He began his career in 1983 with McCarl's as a project manager. He progressed through various positions as manager of construction, general manager of industrial operations and vice president of operations. He was also involved as a governing member of TAUC for 30 years, eventually serving as Chairman of the Labor Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors from 2012 through 2014.

In March 2016 Bill started a consulting and advising company called CorCon Solutions, LLC. He focused on leadership training for superintendent-level craftspersons for unions or contractors; labor relations education for contractors; and mentoring services for future leaders within construction companies. Our sister organization, the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, Inc. (NMAPC), was proud to be one of his first clients. He focused primarily on efforts directed at increasing work opportunities under the NMAPC Program in natural gas development and natural gas liquids facilities in the Marcellus and Utica Shale fields.

However, Bill's legacy extends far beyond his many professional accomplishments. In August 2014 he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which led to a life-saving double lung transplant on December 26 of that same year. Recovery was a long and arduous process, but throughout it all, Bill became an eloquent and tireless advocate for organ donation, and began a second career as a public speaker, telling audiences about his experience and how they could help the transplant community. In fact, Bill gave a memorable speech at the TAUC Leadership Conference in 2016 which prompted many attendees to become organ donors. 

"Bill was 'all in100%' with everything he became involved in — family, work, friendships, you name it," recalled Steve Lindauer, CEO of TAUC and the Impartial Secretary and CEO of the NMAPC. "Over my career, he was one of my go-to guys when it came to dealings in this business, and he was a true friend as well. I will miss him tremendously and will think about him often." 

In lieu of flowers it was Bill's wish that everyone would become a registered organ donor. Please take five minutes and register at www.donatelife.net/register/ or www.organdonor.gov/register.html.

View Bill's memorial webpage and express condolences online at www.dawsonfuneralhome.com.

Below, you will find the text of an article Bill wrote in 2016 about his transplant journey. It was published in TAUC's magazine, The Construction User.  You can also download a PDF copy of the article here

The Tripartite Transplant: An Unexpected Journey 

by Bill Cornell

[Note: This article has been edited slightly. A full PDF of the original article, which appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Construction User, can be downloaded here.)

Warning: this isn't the sort of article you normally read in The Construction User. There are no tips on how to increase market share or train apprentices, and I don't have anything new to say about multiemployer pension reform. Instead, I want to tell you a true story – my story – about a life-and-death crisis and how it permanently changed my perspective on my career, my family…and on what's truly important in life. My hope is that it will change the way you think about these things, too.

I've been involved in union construction and maintenance for more than 30 years. Over that long span of time I have made many friends, both professionally and personally. I was fortunate to have a long and fruitful career at McCarl's, one of the country's leading union mechanical contractors. But in August of 2014, everything I had worked so hard for was put into jeopardy. After undergoing a bronchoscopy of my lungs, my doctor told me I had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis as a result of my rheumatoid arthritis attacking my lungs. The only alternative in order for me to survive was that I would need a double lung transplant — if I was accepted after a weeklong evaluation to determine if I was strong enough medically, physically and emotionally.

I was immediately accepted to be placed on the transplant list and took a crash-course in organ donation. I was literally educating myself on how to survive. The more I learned, the more I realized that – crazily enough – the organ donation process had a lot in common with how our industry is structured! Our tripartite system of cooperation between unions, contractors and owner-clients was actually a great analogy to understand how the donation process worked. In this analogy, the owner is comparable to the donor. Just as the owner awards the job to the contractor, the donor is the person who gives the organ(s) to be transplanted. The contractor is similar to the donor's family; the contractor decides to move forward on a job, and likewise the donor family authorizes their loved one's organs to be removed. And finally, the union receives the actual work, just as the recipient has the privilege of receiving the life-saving organ. Together, all three parts of the transplant process must work together in harmony to ensure success – just like on union jobsites around the country.

So in a way, you could say my decades of experience in union construction had uniquely prepared me for this moment. I understood the importance of cooperation, because without it, I wouldn't have had a career. All those years spent in tripartite meetings, seeking to find common ground between unions, contractors and owners, grew "muscles" that I didn't even know I had until faced with this health crisis.

I'm not saying the transplant process was a walk in the park – not by a long shot! – but I really believe it would have been more difficult had I not spent the better part of my life focusing on finding ways to get the job done in tough circumstances.

Rollercoaster Ride

The next several months were among the most difficult of my life. I was put on full-time oxygen on Labor Day 2014. Two months later, after a series of evaluations, I was approved for transplant. Great news – but then I was told that as part of the preparation, I had to have all of my teeth pulled before I could be placed on the transplant list! My teeth were removed the day after Thanksgiving, and I was officially listed for transplant.

After the physical stress on my body, I went through several rounds of mental and emotional stress. I endured three "false alarms" – occasions when I was told there was a suitable set of lungs for me, only to find out later that, for various reasons, the operation couldn't be performed. I was devastated by these constant setbacks and, frankly, thought I was going to die. But then on Christmas Day 2014, I received the best present possible – news that they had found a set of lungs and that this time, the transplant would move forward.

I underwent the transplant on December 26, 2014. It was successful, but there were complications. I was allergic to the medication they gave me post-transplant to ensure that my body didn't reject the new lungs. I was finally released from the hospital on January 24, 2015. Believe it or not, three months later I walked 90 flights of stairs unassisted, and four months post-transplant, I rode an exercise bike for seven miles! Eight months later, I successfully completed a 5K walk for charity and placed third.

I had "made it." I got the happy ending I and my family so desperately wanted. But I soon realized my story wasn't really over. In fact, it had just begun. There are continuous hurdles to overcome and roadblocks which occur post-transplant but you have to push through them. The transplant experience had changed my outlook on life and work. I now had a new set of priorities.

The Lucky One

Although I was extremely grateful for receiving a new set of lungs, I knew that I had been extremely lucky but I also have to give credit to God for blessing me with new lungs! During my research prior to my transplant, I learned that there are more than 120,000 candidates on the organ donation waiting list – and every 10 minutes, another name is added to that list. Twenty-one people die each day waiting for a transplant. Why? One reason is simple math. Although 90% of Americans support organ donation, only 50% are actually organ donors.

There are several reasons people don't become donors including many myths which are unfounded. For example:

1. Doctors will not try to save my life if they know I am a registered donor. This is false. Doctors takean oath to save every patient they can. They have anethical commitment to save lives if possible.

2. My religion does not support organ donation. False, every major religion supports and encourages organ donation.

3. I am too old to donate organs and tissues. False; let the medical experts make that decision after you pass away.

4. My family will be charged for donating my organs. There is no charge to the family for organ donation.

Many people think the only way to register to become an organ donor is through their driver's license bureau. Actually, the fastest way is to go online to www.registerme.org. It will take less than five minutes to register.

As I continue on my post-transplant journey I will make myself available to people in our industry to provide encouragement to people contemplating receiving a life-saving organ and also encourage other people to become registered organ donors. I am also available to give speeches to unions, contractors and trade organizations regarding my personal miracle story and to provide more education about organ donation.

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