Leading with Resilience: A Dentist’s Path to Success Amidst Challenges and Innovation with Dr. Walter Krostrzewski


Podcast Summary

Innovation in dentistry takes center stage in this podcast conversation with Coach Kay. He emphasizes the importance of rethinking the patient experience and creating a positive atmosphere in dental offices. Coach Kay recalls an encounter where an older dentist criticized his approach to advertising, but he stood his ground, recognizing the fear that many people have when visiting the dentist. By addressing this fear head-on and providing a welcoming environment, he was able to attract a significant number of new patients. His message to fellow dentists is clear: think differently about the patient experience and invest in building a fantastic team. These simple innovations can have a profound impact on the success and reputation of a dental practice. 

Amidst his valuable insights on dentistry, Coach Kay also shares a deeply personal story of loss. He opens up about the tragic passing of his son, Luke, and how it has shaped his perspective on life. Coach Kay reflects on the immense pain and sorrow that accompanied this loss but highlights the importance of finding meaning and moving forward. He recognizes that his son would not want his own tragedy to overshadow the light and impact he can make in the world. Coach Kay encourages others facing their own struggles to find solace in the belief that their loved ones are in a better place and to resist blaming themselves for the decisions made by others. He acknowledges the ongoing presence of grief but emphasizes the need to focus on supporting one’s family and embracing personal accountability without becoming trapped in self-blame. 

Throughout the conversation, Coach Kay’s resilience shines through. Despite enduring immense personal pain, he continues to persevere and inspire others. He recognizes that dentistry is his platform for innovation, and he is passionate about making a difference in the lives of his patients. Coach Kay urges dental professionals to think about the patient experience and create a welcoming environment that eases fears and fosters a positive atmosphere. He believes that the magic bullet lies in building an excellent team and investing in their training and development. By doing so, dentists can create lasting relationships with their patients and ensure that they receive the care they deserve. 

Coach Kay’s story serves as a reminder that even in the face of adversity, it is possible to rise again. His unwavering determination and ability to find meaning amidst tragedy demonstrate the power of resilience and the human capacity to turn pain into purpose. As the conversation concludes, Coach Kay extends an invitation to others, offering his support and expertise to those seeking to improve their dental practices or simply navigate challenging times. His commitment to helping others and his unwavering belief in the transformative power of innovation and resilience make Coach Kay an inspiring figure in both the dental community and beyond.

Connect with Walter Kostrzewski

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/walter-kostrzewski-dmd-792b971a/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StonyHillDental/



Podcast Transcript

Coach K  00:00 

Always, always do your best always to get back up and try, you know, try again. You know, I think if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. 


Shawn Zajas  00:09 

The future of dentistry belongs to the innovators. Welcome to innovation in dentistry. I’m your host, Shawn Zajas. And I believe that the future of dentistry is going to be unbelievably great over the next decade in two decades. But the question isn’t that the question is, are you going to be part of what makes dentistry great? I am here with the one and only coach Kay. Not only someone I view as an innovator in dentistry, but also just a just a dear friend of mine. So I just wanna say, coach, hey, thank you so much for taking the time to even join me today. Thanks for being here. 


Coach K  00:58 

Hey, Sean, thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here. And looking forward to our conversation. 


Shawn Zajas  01:03 

I love sharing specifically what I mean by innovation. Because innovation can mean a lot of different things. And in dentistry, it could refer to clinical dentistry in it could refer to the technology that’s starting to shape where dentistry is going. But the application that I really care about is what is it that gets dental professionals like you to what mindsets what belief sets, get it so that you guys can continue to overcome, continue to pioneer and to rise above because dentistry is just downright difficult. And for those that may not know you, you are probably one of the most resilient people. I know, Coach Kay, I just I just want to honor you for that. Like, like you get up time and time and time again. I don’t know. Did you ever box 


Coach K  01:51 

as a kid? Yeah. Well, I played ice hockey. Oh, wow. That’s the occasional boxing. 


Shawn Zajas  01:58 

Yeah, I would say that’s practically just as crazy, right? You’re getting hit in the head, you’re having to throw down. But But really, what do you credit to your resilience? 


Coach K  02:10 

Just, I mean, that’s just the way I was brought up. You know, just to always, always do your best always to get backed up and try, you know, try again, you know, I think if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. I like to tell, tell my, my kids are like, kids, I coach as well like skating or skiing. I mean, if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough. Like, it’s a great analogy in skiing, you know, when someone’s learning how to ski. Really, if they’re not falling down, they’re just not trying hard enough. Like, you get to the point where, you know, kids don’t have very far to fall and they they’re fearless. But as you get older, and you have someone that’s maybe a teenager, and they’re, you know, good intermediate skier, and their skin, nice, teen trails, and they’re not really falling, it’s because they’re not trying hard enough, you know, get up on the big slope, get in there somewhere where it scares you, and go, and you’re gonna fall, you’re gonna fall, there’s no way you’re not gonna fall. And that’s how you learn, you get back up, all you learn, if you’re not, if you’re not falling down, you’re not trying hard enough. And then just got pick yourself back up and keep going. 


Shawn Zajas  03:23 

You know, that’s a great analogy, especially with skiing, you know, growing up in New Hampshire, I started skiing when I was four years old. And you could play it safe, like you’re saying, and you kind of stay in that pizza position where you’re just slowly uncontrollably going down really easy green, you know, trails, but you’re right. Like you said, you’re never going to learn, you know, to all of a sudden go more parallel with your skis. Keep your knees closer together, learn how to use poles. Yeah, you’re gonna fall. You know, I 


Coach K  03:57 

hear some I hear some implant, teeth educators in the industry. So how many? How many implants have you had that failed? Oh, well, I’m in an eighth that failed. And the answer from the, the experts to teachers are like holding just didn’t do enough yet. Because if you do enough, you’re gonna have failures. 


Shawn Zajas  04:17 

Now, failure often sounds really scary, you know, Coach K, when it comes to the clinical lens, right? You know, like, no one wants to be failing clinically. Do you feel like you have the same hat on when you’re thinking of the business of dentistry? The ventures that you’ve undertaken? Or like, do you feel like it’s the same hat as the one that you have when you are a clinician? Or do you feel like you’re more open to risk and failing forward in your business ventures? 


Coach K  04:47 

So, you know, business owners in dentistry have, you know, have it a little bit easier than, for instance, running a grocery store. The margins are paper thin, there’s nowhere to make mistakes, you know, The Dental business, you know, you can really stumble for years and at least at least get by, maybe not as profitable as you should be or could be, but you can get by so you have, you have a big range of error there, then you have doing your clinical dentistry, which you should be the expert at. And, you know, perfection should not be the goal, excellence should be the goal. But, um, you’re going to be a lot more excellent in your clinical dentistry than you are in the business side. Unless you went and got your MBA first and then went to dental school, then I would expect that you’d be fantastic on both sides. So you have to, if you’re going to be a business owner dentistry, you have to probably spend a lot more time focusing on the business side that you’re not trained in. But you have to if you’re gonna own a business, you got to train yourself on the business side as much as being a dentist, you need to train yourself on the clinical side. I think that’s one of the things that makes dentistry from a dental owner perspective, very difficult. Because it’s, it’s, it’s two very different jobs that you have, and that you get paid for not just one. 


Shawn Zajas  06:11 

Yeah, I mean, they’re, they’re completely different. And that’s where I’m always amazed. Because I feel like as a clinician, you’re probably really trying to lower risk, reduce liability, you know, no one wants these lawsuits, and you’re trying to probably really stay within this place of where can I be great at and where can I make sure there’s consistent outcomes. But then in business, you know, like, if you do something and you try to start your own practice, or you try to start kind of a DSO or some of the things you’ve pioneered in, I mean, there’s really not this guarantee or there’s not this proven path, there’s a lot more risk, and there’s a great chance that you’re probably going to fall on your face the first few times, you know, and yet I feel like you’ve had the ability to navigate in both areas. Like do you always feel like you’re an entrepreneur growing up? 


Coach K  07:00 

Yeah, you know, when I was in junior high school in high school, never. I never had a job. I never had a job paycheck working for another company be that good or bad is because I went out and did things on my own. I mowed the lawn, mowed the neighbor’s lawn, I bought a trailer, we bought a whole bunch of equipment. I heard three or four kids in the neighborhood now remote, 100 lawns a week and deliver papers on the side so I can always work for my I always kind of had the energy to work for myself, and not just get a job. I would create the jobs for myself. And I created that long service I did from the time I was 14 years old. And until just before I graduated from dental school. 


Shawn Zajas  07:57 

Now, I I’ve heard stories and I just need to make sure this is true. Rumor has it you got into dental school when you were 17? Is this one of those things kind of like the what is it a Han Solo where he’s like, all the stories were true, you know, people. There’s this lore about what happened with like, you know, Luke and Han in the Star Wars, like MIT. Okay. Is that really true that you got into dental school at 17? 


Coach K  08:23 

I got accepted into a seven year program at Villanova and Georgetown. When I was that was maybe four Yeah, no, I just turned 17. I got accepted ironically, Villanova, Georgetown, and in 1985, played in the national championship basketball game on April 1 1985. And that day in the mailbox, I got my acceptance letter to Villanova University and Georgetown dental school at 17 years old. 


Shawn Zajas  08:55 

Oh my gosh. So did you know like for a long time that you wanted to be a dentist? Yeah. You know, I’m always curious about the origin story because dentistry is so weird. It’s such an industry. 


Coach K  09:06 

Yeah, and, you know, I got lucky that I wound up loving dentistry. I wanted to I wanted to be in medicine. I initially I think like a lot of kids, I want to be a veterinarian. But I want to do horses because my dad and my uncle were into the thoroughbred horse racing. Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby. You know, I live here in New York where we have two racetracks and I wound up being allergic to animal hair. So that was the complete opposite. And come, but I wanted to be some type of doctor early on in my life. 


Shawn Zajas  09:49 

Okay. You have to explain. How did you find out you were allergic to animal hair. Oh, 


Coach K  09:53 

my friends had dogs and cats. We didn’t have dogs and cats in my house and go over friend’s houses and my eyes would slow up and I lived I really have, I literally have I dropped models all over the place in my car and the desk still, to this day, because we have a cat I get it gets in my eyes and my eyes up, I literally have these bottles everywhere because a couple of jobs goes away. So yeah, going over a friend’s house, I just realized that this cat and dog hair is gonna work out. You know, I never really tested the horse’s hair. But I was like, That’s it. That’s over. But I ironically, I had, I had a really good experience when I had braces. Which is, which is funny because braces, you know, most kids have a miserable time with braces. And I really enjoyed going to the orthodontist, and you know, the way they can improve people’s smiles. And, you know, this is in the early 80s When I mean teeth whitening wasn’t really accepted. We didn’t have a great materials to veneer people’s teeth in the early 80s. I mean, they didn’t and we started wearing gloves in the in the early 80s. So no dentists Dentistry was really advanced. So I wasn’t really, you know, as whole home about going to my general dentists but going to the orthodontist is really cool. You know, and then along the way the advancements in cosmetics and stuff like that, you know, then I just, you know, stuck with cosmetics or reconstruction. But um, so my guidance counselor knew I wanted to be he knew I liked the orthodontist and knew r&b. So he said, Hey, there’s this program. You know, what do you think? Why don’t you apply? So I was like, Alright, I go, I think I go to dental school. And I applied and got in. But, you know, I mean, my dad was a police officer, no one in my family is a dentist. So I mean, I don’t know how any kid at 1718 even 23. How do you know that you want to be a dentist unless you spend a lot of time around it. And I did it. So you know, fast forward. I got through college in three years, and then went off to dental school. And when I sat down in the dental lab for the first day, first week in school, and they gave me a bunch of instruments and some wax and pieces of teeth and they said, you know, take this wax and those instruments there on the plane and make that look like a tooth. Like it’s arts and crafts. I was nearly in tears. I was like arts and crafts, like, you know, I was a smart kid. I got through college, but I played hockey. You know, I was more into sports and also played the drums. But arts and crafts weren’t my thing. Like I couldn’t draw anything. Now, I have to mold this wax into a tooth you know, so that the book Porter dental school came pretty easy for me. But the arts and crafts bark was it was a struggle at first. And you know, I wound up really enjoying it. I wound up by the end of first year I was doing all my classmates wax ups in the dorm. Like I loved it. I just like it clicked. It clicked, really liked it was really good at it. And absolutely love it. So, you know, I tell everyone like Yeah, well, I got accepted middle school, I was 17. But I got real lucky. You know, I could have hated it. Or I could have just been like, this isn’t for me. I can’t do this. But yeah, it worked out. So 17 and I graduated at 24. And here I am. It’s just past my 31st year of graduation. It sounds so funny. But you know, on the flip side ham only I just turned 55. And it’s been 31 years. So I still love every minute of it. So for me, it wanted to be a great decision but you know, mostly got lucky that it worked out. Because that’s really young to know that you want to do something for the rest of your life. 


Shawn Zajas  14:11 

You know, one of the things that turned me off about dentistry, you know, my dad started a dental supply company and as a 14 year old and going to Chicago midwinter and Yankee dental walking me shows and from that time on, he had me do lots of like, customer service or sales type things where I was talking to a dentist, and oftentimes I wasn’t talking to the dentist, right? I was talking to the team, but at the events like that the dentists are walking around with their team. And I remember trying to connect with dentists and trying to have like meaningful conversations. And even my first few years of you know, owning the company I had before zonna roots cause like I found dentists so closed off and almost they have such an ego like Everything was great. They were living their best life. They were just crushing it. And maybe because I wasn’t a dentist, they they wouldn’t open up to me. But then I talked to some of my dental friends. And they’re like, Well, no, that’s actually one of the struggles that dentists have is like, you know, you have to have this perfect life because that’s just how the world sees you. And I just want to honor you because I feel like you’ve been such a transformative leader. Because you you are transparent. You are vulnerable. You know, if I remember you gave a speech, or was that smiles at sea in 2020? Was it? 


Coach K  15:32 

Yeah, maybe that wasn’t about 


Shawn Zajas  15:35 

the bright lights and the fame and the fortune. Yeah, that was about the peeling back the curtain about some of the darker things about dentistry 


Coach K  15:42 

right, actually, as early as it was before COVID. So 2018 Yeah, in 2000. And so I started my own practice, from scratch after dental school. And I didn’t go to Georgetown dental school because Georgetown dental school had closed while I was at Villanova to throw a hurdle in there. You know, now my perfect seven year program is the dental school close to the I get accepted to a different dental school. I want to go into Tufts University, which I loved it there and started my own practice. I went to, I did a fantastic general practice residency at University Hospital in Stony Brook. Lots of trauma, lots of emergency room work, motor vehicle accidents, broken jaws, all the gory stuff. And our inpatient clinic, we only treated medically compromised patients, because Stony Brook has a dental school across the street. So if you’re healthy patient, you go to the dental school, when we treat the people that had HIV, high risk cardiovascular development, the disabled children, and did a lot of household dentistry as well as the emergency Oral Surgery stuff. So that gave me a lot of confidence. And we every Friday, we take out like 50 wisdom teeth, and wisdom teeth in the O R. And you know, when you have all these other doctors standing behind you, it was just a fantastic learning experience. And it’s unfortunate that it’s not a requirement for every dentist out of dental school to do a residency like like that. And I don’t even think they exist to the level that they did when I graduated in 92. But I credit that to huge start in my career, and I opened up my own practice two years out. So at 27 years old, I started my office from scratch, no patients, borrowed all the money and open the practice. And, you know, things went very well. Things went fantastic for a long time. But, you know, fast forward to 2015. And I lost all that. And not because the business was doing well, the business was doing fantastic. The business was doing very well. And unfortunately, not only did I get into dental school, early graduate dental school early, start a business real early in dentistry. But I got married really young also, and got two sons out of it. And you know that that just spiraled out of control didn’t work out. And divorce left to me losing my office. me losing my home, not in the divorce. But I got into divorce. I got my I got house, I got the kids. I got my boat, I got my two cars, but the court forced me to pay $20,000 a month in alimony. So, 


Shawn Zajas  18:58 

did you just say $20,000 a month? 


Coach K  19:01 

Yeah, I don’t think some movie stars play that pay that much. And alimony. Because courts in Connecticut just they look at tax returns, they look at bank statements. That’s it. And judges are not accountants. And, you know, but whatever. We’re not going to talk about judges or politics or anything like that. But, you know, people in politics and judges should not be doing bank should not be doing accounting for anybody. So, yeah, so, you know, that didn’t last very long. And, you know, Steve Cain, it came waters in Dallas was my financial advisor at the time he wrote it. He wrote a letter to the court, he said, you know, the only the only person this works for is Walter because he’ll be in jail getting three meals a day. While everyone else we figured out where the money’s coming from. Because, yeah, this isn’t gonna work out very long. And, you know, I jumped with it for as long as I could. And you know, it just spiraled down to the point where I had to get rid of the office, lost my house in foreclosure, and was just all of a sudden, the first time in my life in 2015 now with a job for the first time I ever had a W two working for somebody else, and working in someone else’s dental office. So, yeah, that talked about even smiles and see was just the, you know, it was, it was a, it was a dark time. You know, I, I never came, I never came close to that. I mean, I gave this speech that, you know, a lot of people came forward and worried about me, and suicide walks and stuff like that. Because I did say there were there were mornings, I laid in bed. cold, dark, snowy days, like we have in New England here. And nobody goes out and patients don’t show up. And nobody wants to go to work. And, you know, just like laying in bed thinking about, you know, I’m 30 minutes from New York City, there’s like 17 bridges, like, which bridge want to drive my car today? And just, you know, go take a high dive. I did have those thoughts. I mean, I never came close to that. I mean, you know, there’s one thing about thinking about and actually doing it. But you know, I love my family. I love my, I love my kids. I love doing dentistry. But it was a deep dark time that, you know, all that I accelerated at that early time in life. And now Ben, is I guess, starting over, you know, starting all over again, in my mid to late 40s. And, you know, being bankrupt, like, you know, get finding a job was a struggle. I go to the bank and buy a car, how do you go to the bank and get a loan to open a business? And then even have a conversation that like, well, you know, I didn’t lose my business because the business wasn’t doing well bless my business, because the court told me, you either pay this much money a month, are you going to jail? So I mean, things that things had to change. I mean, I had a I had to file bankruptcy as a strategy. But now, all the other strategies weren’t there anymore. Like how do you get a business loan? How do I start another business. And you know, the way into that a cog Pathak ends in a positive way. It, I now have three businesses, I have two dental practices, I own a medical building. And I did all that without ever going to the bank, or rich parents, or win the lottery. No, I don’t have any of that. I don’t have any money under the mattress, I couldn’t get money from the bank. And I don’t have rich relatives, it gave me the money, how to do it all on my own, with no help. And so was that it was it’s eight years later now. To have two thriving dental practices, and own the building. But that’s what I mean about getting up every time we fall. You know, because I know versus learning experience. So I’ve already done a startup. Now I did two more startups, and another practice, you know, and each time was each successive time, the timeline to start to profitability was shorter, just because you’re more experienced, you know what to do. And you just can’t give up. You gotta, you gotta you gotta move on. 


Shawn Zajas  23:51 

So Coach K to talk about what happened in 2015. You know, you went through a divorce, you experienced bankruptcy, and pretty much your whole world getting shaken. And then to realize that you actually went through a tragedy last year that eclipsed all of that. Are you are you ready to talk about what happened last year? 


Coach K  24:19 

Yeah. So, you know, life is good. I have a Christian, my wife and we have a 10 year old. And we’ve been together for, you know, she lived through all this with me for the last 15 years. And, you know, things really good. Both new practices going well, and she’s a big part of that. My oldest son had just graduated from the College of Charleston, in South Carolina. And my middle son Alex was playing A junior hockey just before going off to college. Then one morning to wake up with a couple of police officers in the driveway. Knocking on the door to tell us that our My eldest son, Luke, who had just graduated from college, Charleston had passed away last night. And so, we found out from fentanyl poisoning, he had a he had a prescription for Ativan. And he had been seen a psychologist as well actually. We had an appointment. I did a video teleconference with him, not even seven days earlier, because he asked me to be on it. And you know, me, him and the psychologists were talking and psychology asked me like, Do you have any questions? I don’t have any questions to Luke asked me to be here. So now, he wanted me to be here in this conversation. So I don’t know if he had something that he wanted to talk about. And he said, No, I just wanted my dad to be involved. So I said, Well, the only question I have, you know, then is, you know, you know, things good he would, he had just got a job. He was getting his real estate license in South Carolina, and he was about to start a job on August 1 last year. But he’s only a few weeks away from starting this new job. He had stress and anxiety issues. He was on a prescription for Ativan, which the psychologist had given him and went out with his friends one night, he called me before he went out to lovey Tao coin morning. And then later that night, after going out with his friends, and a couple of friends went back home too late at night, after the restaurants and bars closed in downtown Charleston and a bought a couple of Ativan pills at the gas station. He had a prescription for Ativan, so why he was buying out of a gas station. It was laced with fentanyl. And he, you know, was probably last more than a minute after he had taken it with his friends there. And that, probably the worst thing in the world, or worst feeling in the world that he can have. I mean, not a day goes, not a day goes by, they don’t think about, think about it. Think about him. You know, you never know what’s going to hit you. I’m talking about it right now. Last night, and I was in tears last night, just for no reason, just because some memory pops in your head. So, you know, that, that, that shut our office down for about a month. And, you know, we get we get by, and obviously went back to work. And you know, I have to I got a 10 year old I got a 23 year old in college, his two other brothers, my wife Kristin, and, you know, I got to live on for them. And, you know, he’s in heaven. He’s on the other side. And, you know, we got an angel watching over us now. And you know, besides talking about the bankruptcy and foreclosure, because I think it’s a dark place where other dentists just don’t want to help other dentists out just because maybe they don’t want anyone know, they, they’ve been through it. But, um, you know, I do those talks. And I did that first talk at some models for see because I want other people to know that there’s people out there that have been through it, that that can help you. You know, initially I was filed my bankruptcy in chapter 11 to reorganize, which didn’t work out for whatever reasons, you know, especially when your your ex wife wants to thwart the reorganization. You know, move forward. I did the I did chapter seven bankruptcy by myself, I filed by myself. I mean, I spent so much time in the court with the divorce and so much time on the court on the bankruptcy when the chapter 11 Didn’t work out. Reorganization didn’t work out. I did chapter seven by yourself. Yeah, it was stressful as hell and reach out to other people in the field or whoever, you know, there was nobody that wanted to You give me advice about divorce, there was nobody that wanted to hold your hand through the bankruptcy and don’t even hold their hand just someone to ask questions to, you know, just, you know, when, when my son passed away, there was plenty of people. It was amazing how many people I knew other people that lost their kids. We, I, there’s two charities for the last 20 years I’ve been supporting. Both of them lost their kids in their 20s. And I just been, they’ve been my two charities that we support for, for 20 years. So I knew that these two good friends of mine lost their GED in their 20s. And, you know, so I reached out to them right away. They reached out to me, but then I found so many other people that I didn’t know lost a child. And were willing to help. And there’s really, I mean, there’s nothing you can do or say, to someone who lost a child, but just knowing that other people have been through it, and they’re there to listen was helpful. And the same thing with the bankruptcy or divorce. You know, there’s, there’s there plenty other people going through it. I’m here, you know, I want to be here for just give me a call, let me know, what’s your feeling what you’re going through, nobody can help you with your exact situation, you need really good attorneys for that. But where you need to reach out to friends or colleagues just for emotional support. And, you know, just finding out other people that lost their kids, and they’re there for you just you can lean on them or just know that they’re okay. The thing that helped me the most was, we have a great priest at our church here in Wilton, Connecticut. Father Reggie is just amazing. And I always looked up to his homies at church on Sundays, and I knew him as our, our priest. And I didn’t know him personally. And that maybe four hours after the shock, can you say The shock was over after four hours, but I just didn’t know what to do. And I just after sitting around for four hours, like, I just can’t believe what just happened. I reached out to Father Reggie. I said maybe he recognized me from being in church. And I just went down there sat there and talked to him. And you know, it was so helpful to have someone else to, to talk to. And Father, Reggie is just an incredible person. And incredible priest. And, you know, he just, he’ll call me up. They’ll send me a text message every so often out of the blue. He just, I just want to know, like, I’ve done blaming yourself, or done blaming yourself. Because I know you’re still blaming yourself. I can see it. There’s nothing you could have done. You’re a good dad. You know, he there was nothing you could have done. You have to stop blaming yourself and move on. And know that he’s in a better place. Yeah, that’s, that’s hard to do. I don’t know. When they hear a lot of other dads say that to that. There’s just the hardest thing is get over the blame. What what could have you’d done? Now, especially in our profession, you know, we want to fix things. Dentists want to fix things. And you can’t you can’t fix that I could, you know, bankruptcy, I could fix your divorce. I could fix a failing business. I can fix. You know, that’s easy. You know, you had dentists, dental office that’s not performing well. I mean, I know I can go into any office in the country and get them and improve by 20% in 30 days or less. And that’s, that’s all I do. I’m not a practice management guru. But I know I can do that. Because I’ve gone into these two offices that we took over and saw them go from failure to thriving, that’s fixable. You lose, lose, lose a child. You there’s nothing. Nothing in the world that you could do and nothing in the world that’s going to take away that sick feeling. 


Shawn Zajas  35:02 

I just want to acknowledge you and just the courage you have Coach K to, to be strong enough to actually just share, like reality. Like the reality your story has been very, very difficult. And you are not alone. There’s dental professionals, there’s just humans, all around that have experienced struggle. Not maybe in the same exact way, but you know what I’m saying like, different nuances. I know one of my closest friends, he lost a son of his. He’s significantly older than me. He’s more like my dad’s age. And my friend and I told you like, right away, he started all of a sudden getting these herds of Longhorns where he’d have 70, Texas Longhorn in this herd, and he just be around them. And it was like terrifying, man, these horns are going out, it’s all around your vital organs. And it’s like, him and his wife, like they kind of just are his wife. And I realized, like, he almost lost, not lost the will to live but didn’t mind if he flirted with things that were risky, because that just means he would see his son sooner, you know, and, and just seeing how he moved on. I, I can’t imagine that, you know, my story about losing my mom. And losing a parent is natural, you know, you’re gonna lose your parent. At some point, if it’s premature. It’s unfortunate. It’s always unfortunate. But there’s nothing that compares to like, you should never lose a child, right, you should never see your child end up getting their life taken. So I just thank you so much just for sharing. One of the things I completely believe is that in moments of the greatest adversity, tragedy, while we never want tragedy to happen, we never want adversity to happen. We have a choice, whether we’re going to get embittered, whether we’re going to be resentful whether we’re going to become more victimized and blame the world. Or we actually find this gold that in these moments that can actually empower us to fulfill this mission that maybe we were here to fulfill. And like you have a way to reach people that I don’t know anyone else that can reach people that way you can coach, okay. And I don’t, I am here, with complete conviction, believing you have not yet fulfilled your greatest role in dentistry, it’s not leading a great practice, although you do that, and you do that? Well. I believe it probably is helping those in dentistry, that come again, the same exact things. And when they look around, there’s nobody there when you were bankrupt, you’re looking around. And it was almost like it was a disease. People didn’t want to catch it. Right. Maybe he’s contagious. You know, maybe his calamity is going to spread to me, and people want to stay away. And I’m so thankful for the dental community, I saw when that tragedy happened with Luke, I saw the way that Elijah and so many people came and surrounded you with prayers and support. And I know, it doesn’t take away what happened. But I’m very thankful that we’re in an industry and in a community that is so supportive. And so I don’t know, just connected, and I’m really thankful for that. I’m thankful for the way you are with me, coming off the tragedy with my mom, I don’t know why I said four years ago, I think it was only I don’t even know right now like, like, you know, with loss, it’s like time just takes on different meaning. It’s like, in some ways, it completely stops. And the pace of time never moves on the same after you encounter a loss. You know, I You said 


Coach K  38:33 

your friend kind of gotten a risky behavior after a loss of like, you know, a loss of a spouse or a divorce or something like that. And people just like, you know, one of the practices that I took over a few years ago, fantastic dentist worked way too late in his ages. And patients would say, you know, he was really getting grumpy, or and then other people say, you know, he was always grumpy. And now this for my tragedy. And I would say those patients. Do you know, he lost a son when he was when the child was 19 years old? I go, man, that’s why he’s a little cranky sometimes. And, you know, didn’t happen to me. And I said, to my older son, the 20. Now 23 year old the 10 year old was there too. But you know, I said to him, like, well, I don’t want to be that person that for the rest of my life. I’m gonna be cranky and are mad at the world. Because I got you to take care, and I gotta be here for you too. I can’t tell you that sometimes it’s not so hard to get out of bed, or not break down. I mean, you can jump in the car and be in a fantastic mood. And the wrong song comes on the radio and kills you. You can’t do anything about that. But, you know, I have a fantastic wife, Kristen, I got two other boys, Aiden and Alex that I get to be here for. And they’re hurting too. So I don’t want to be that person where, you know, when I retire, and the new guy comes in, and they say, you know, Dr. K, he, he was grumpy. Now, that’s, you know, that’s not the way to move on. That’s not the way to live. And, you know, to honor your your child that you lost and, you know, accountability. Accountability is a is a big issue in the world right now. And I don’t think it’s generational. I don’t think it’s, you know, these young kids are this that I mean, you know, accountability is an issue everywhere in the world right now in any age. And I don’t get political. I talk to all the religion I well, because it has helped me a ton. But you know, my son Luke decided to take that pill that night. It was laced with fentanyl. They know who sold it to him. That person has been arrested on other charges, because there’s no drug law in many states. We’re talking about illicit fentanyl, not a fentanyl. These in the hospital. Illicit fentanyl that are precursors are made in China. They’re shipped over the they’re shipped to Mexico. They’re put together in Mexico. They’re walked right over the border. The border issues and the MAL issues with China. It’s it’s not a political issue. And our our governments known this since 2012 2013. They crack down on opioids. And then drug deaths skyrocketed. The border Come on, Americans don’t care about immigrants. This country is built on immigrants. And plenty of immigrants got in here, the right way. Our borders are open with illicit fentanyl coming through the borders. And they’re killing kids. The number one killer of 18 to 45 year olds in this country. It’s actually brought the life expectancy of the human race down because so many 18 to 45 year olds have died. It dwarfs the number of 18 different 18 to 45 year olds. I know lots of friends that lost people from COVID. All ages, I know. A friend my own age in his early 50s passed away from COVID. You know, and I know a lot of other people that lost brothers and sisters and parents. All right. But the amount of people 18 to 45 years old that have died from illicit fentanyl versus the amount of 18 to 45 year olds that have died from COVID. That’s not even close. Fentanyl was killed 1845 year olds 20 Maybe 100 fold or COVID Did 


Shawn Zajas  44:16 

we get that’s not being talked and we don’t 


Coach K  44:19 

even have there’s not even a drug code right now for death by fentanyl, illicit fentanyl. There’s drug overdoses. There’s mixed drug toxicity. So these people are getting killed. A prince died this way. Michael Jackson died this way. One from fentanyl one from propofol. The list goes on think about like how many young you don’t hear about all the young people but you hear about movie stars. You hear about Michael Jackson, you hear about Prince? You hear about these famous people that are 18 to 45 year old drop dead why they drop dead. It’s from it’s from you From pencil and the corner has to mark down that they died of a drug overdose. They were murdered by fentanyl. Alright, my son, nobody told him to take that pill. He took the pill himself. But he thought he was taking an Ativan pill. Now that event pill laced with fentanyl. Now, accountability, yeah, might hold him accountable. He made the stupid choice. Now, because there’s no medical code for it, because there’s no law in South Carolina for it. They know the person who sold it to him, they can arrest them. They can arrest them. And then these people 18 to 45 year old are dying from this are being listed. They’re being earmarked as drug addicts, drug addicts, drug addicts. Okay, not all of them were drug addicts. I’m sure lots of people have drug problems, and overdose. But you know, they buy a Percocet pill, the recreational using stuff that they did not expect that fentanyl in it. Right. So, I mean, the awareness is, I mean, I didn’t know. And I’m, you know, I’m a doctor, I feel like I should have known a whole lot more about pencil five years ago than I do now. But I know a whole lot about it now. And I know I talked to a lot of people in the community about it. And it’s just like, they know anything about it. That and, and it gets such a misnomer. Like I said that it’s just drug addicts. It’s not as a scary issue that we have in this country that needs to have aggressive measures, just like we did with COVID. 


Shawn Zajas  47:08 

Yeah, yeah. And awareness is the first start, right, it’s bringing light to the fact that this is an epidemic that’s really killing so many people and yet, we’re not talking about it as if, you know, it’s we’re not giving it the attention that it really deserves. Then all of a sudden, it hits home. And now it’s like, oh, like, I didn’t know about this at all. Like, I didn’t know how bad this was. 


Coach K  47:31 

Right? So um, that, um, that. So, I mean, that’s where I am right now is just creating awareness for it. For so many people that don’t even know it’s an issue. And it is picking up steam on TV and stuff and the media and but I mean, how can we have something that is the number one cause of death, or you can have 45 year olds and our country just not coming at it with all we can come at it with? Right? I mean, it dwarfs everything. If you put suicide, car accidents, and gun violence together. It doesn’t equal the amount of deaths from fentanyl for the same age group. Wow. Wow. Yeah, so I suicide as well. Those all together doesn’t equal the deaths from fentanyl. Wow. 


Shawn Zajas  48:32 

If I could just circle back really, really quickly, there was something you were saying about the way that you’re getting meaning, so that you can move forward with with this tragedy. You know, after my mom passed, I was thinking like, man, like she wouldn’t want something so tragic that happened to her to then take out her family, like she wouldn’t want it to somehow be this gift that I open and now all of a sudden, my life is ruined, simply because she’s not here anymore. And she suffered and died. You know, and, and I’m thinking about Luke, and the fact that like he would want you like you have done to find a way to take what was tragic for him. And imbue it with meaning so that your light shines brighter, your your, your y becomes clearer, the impact you make is now bigger so that it’s like you’re taking him with you. And you are you father, so many people as it is. That’s just the way you’re so generous the way that you pour out even to younger people, even with your your moniker, your name coach Kate, like coaches are those that like go before and actually help lead a younger generation and encourage them. If there’s any way I can help you. Whether it’s continuing to provide a platform so your story gets out there whether it’s branding help any thing Coach K that I can do to help you have more impact in in just be able to get that message that you have out there. Like please, like I am here, that’s, that’s the littlest thing I can do. 


Coach K  50:15 

Yeah, you never, you never get over it just, it’s not something that you get over you just, you move on it becomes different. But I mean, first you have to believe that they’re in a better place. You know, like, you know, you I believe they’re in a better place you got to, you got to you gotta not blame yourself. I mean, other people make their own decisions. And accountability is a big part of it. I know, a lot of people spend so much time on these groups, online groups, like, you know, my kid was killed, my kid was killed, my kid was killed, I believe your kid was killed. He didn’t mean to take fentanyl. But come on, you gotta have some accountability. They did take the drugs. So you I believe they’re in a better place. And you got to, you know, just, you know, move, it gets different. Because different you gotta be there for your, your, your family, and your kids, you know, will you have, you know, I do have two other kids and a wife, but I gotta, I gotta take care of him. He’s on my mind all the time. But, you know, I still accept the accountability, you got to get over blaming yourself as well, as was thinking about because you can’t do anything about what they were going to do. Sorry. 


Shawn Zajas  51:45 

Oh, it’s okay. 


Coach K  51:48 

Sorry about that. I mean, yeah, just try not to blame yourself. And no one there’s accountability there and not blaming other people for it. isn’t the right thing to do either and not being able to live on the rest of your life is, is not the way to, to remember your loved ones. No. So. 


Shawn Zajas  52:13 

And that’s why I want to honor you for being so resilient. Like, again, the waves that have crashed over you, the last 10 years and Dentistry has taken out some of the best dentists. You know, like, there’s so many stories, and it’s unfortunate of people that we all know that all of a sudden, they become another statistic in dentistry of suicide. 


Coach K  52:36 

So, and yeah. 


Shawn Zajas  52:41 

Well, I’m just saying, like, I’m so proud of you, because you keep going like you, you, you have people around you, you have an amazing wife that is super supportive. You have, like you said to boys that you’re pouring yourself into, and I see you on here, I live in Phoenix. And there’s something about the Phoenix, this mythical creature that has always fascinated me, because it’s like rising from the ashes. And I feel like that is oftentimes the greatest people across any industry have had crazy adversity, and somehow, they find a way to rise again. And that’s exactly what I see you doing right now in this season of your life. 


Coach K  53:19 

Yeah, and let’s, you know, let’s, let’s change gears a little bit like your your your focus is innovate dentistry, and business leaders or innovating products or stuff like that, you know, the most. And that’s what gets me excited about that. So you can hear a change in my voice. I love dentistry. Okay. And innovate. This is my innovation in dentistry. And it’s, it’s, it’s really expensive. Not everybody can afford this in their practice. But if you just had the mindset that people hate the dentist will change your whole life. I walked into a dental meeting one time when I was 25 years old. And I’m new in town. I go a little bit though Society meeting, right? And I walk in and some old guy. He’s probably my age at the time, but I was 25 when I walked in, says to me, doesn’t even say hi, I’m the new guy in town. He doesn’t say hi. You need to take your ad in the newspaper. We had newspapers back then, too. And I said, Well, what are you talking about? Your newspaper ad that says people are afraid of the dentist? I was like, oh, so my newspaper ad said question. Are you afraid of the dentist? And then it’s an answer. An answer is my phone number. Right? Come see us. No lectures, no guilty. We’re afraid of the dentist. We will take care of you. We did sedation dentistry. So I looked at the guy and said How long have you been a dentist? I’ve been a dentist for over 40 years. Okay, well, how many new patients did you see last month? Oh, I see about three or four new patients a month. I looked at my said dude, that AD AD brought in 100 new patients last month. And he’ll just because you don’t like it next month, I’m taking up two pages. And he’s like, you’re making dentists look bad. I go. You’ve been a dentist for 40 years and you don’t understand that people are afraid of the dentist. I said, you are making dentists look bad, not me. And I never went back to another local Dental Society meeting again. There’s lots of other dental groups I am part of, but I never went back to the local dental meeting again. Not if that’s their mindset. So yeah, when I was at Tufts University in Boston, you walk down Newbury Street, and there’s these beautiful boutique stores and salons and little restaurants. And this is 1990s. And I’m like, Look at how much women enjoy walking into the salons on Newbury Street. On Saturday. They’re smiling, they’re happy, you walk in, they smell different. I go, that’s what dentistry should look like. Now in 1990, nobody had this spa dentistry thing. And I wrote a whole article for dental school about spa dentistry. And then it became a thing. In 2000 Spa dentistry became a thing, right? But like, that’s, that’s the innovation. Think about the way you walk in the office. What does it look like? What does it smell like? And are you taking care of people that are afraid of the dentist and don’t want to be lectured to and don’t want to be made to feel guilty? I can’t tell you how many times people come into my office and say, My dentist made me feel bad. He yelled at me. He told me I was a bad person. He made me feel guilty. I’m like, 


Shawn Zajas  56:45 

because everybody loves that, right? Seriously. 


Coach K  56:48 

I’m like, Just Just think your business model different. Okay? Dentists, dental office, no dental office is never going to be a Spa Salon, get a massage, but you can go to give it a better feel. And you kind of can realize that people really are stressed about coming here and trying to do something to make it nicer for them. Like, that’s all the innovation you need. You don’t need the $50,000 laser, or the $300,000 X ray machine, or whatever you need to, you need to think about the patient experience. Number one. And number two, you need to have a fantastic team. Right? That’s the magic bullet. Have an excellent team. Because if you have a good team, and somebody leaves your office, but they go to another office, they can’t buy your team, your team is only here. No, they got another team to get that team. You don’t like that team, you have to come back and see my team. So that’s innovation. Think about the patient’s experience when they’re in your office and have a fantastic team. And if you don’t have a fantastic team, train them to be a fantastic team. It’s as simple as that. 


Shawn Zajas  58:04 

So right now code k, if someone wants to find out what you’re doing, or they want to reach out to you because they want to pick your brain about, you know how you can increase their practice 20% You might end up stumbling into consulting after this podcast, or they just are really in a tough time in their life. Maybe they’re going through a divorce or bankruptcy and they just want to talk to someone that can understand what’s the best way for them to my 


Coach K  58:29 

email, which is Coach k@gmail.com and it’s it’s coach. K ay y@gmail.com. 


Shawn Zajas  58:39 

So, in closing, I have a question for you. You graduated dental school? What do you say when you’re 2424 24? So we’re in tufts that’s in it’s in Boston, right? Okay, so you’re walking down, let’s say let’s say the North End. You’re right in front of Mike’s pastries, right. And Walter of today passes 24 Year Old Walter and you have one sentiment to communicate to him. What is it that you say? 


Coach K  59:12 

Never give up? 


Shawn Zajas  59:19 

Isn’t that the famous Winston Churchill right? Never give up? That’s all he said in the speech, I believe so. 


Coach K  59:27 

Someone else say this and it’s not mine. But I just heard the other day. It’s like when you when you feel like you’re completely fresh out of ideas. They give another one. When you’re added strategies, you’re all done. You nothing worked. Come up with another one. Because somebody’s gonna work. 


Shawn Zajas  59:51 

Amen. Amen. Hey, Coach, Kate, thank you so much. Again, I just want to honor you for the way that you have been an innovator, not simply in the things you’ve done in your practice. But the way that you’ve gotten mindsets and belief sets that have allowed you to transcend these tragedies and still keep going so that you can be there for your team for your family, and for dentistry, you are part of what makes dentistry great. And I just want to say thank you so much for being part of the podcast for 


Coach K  1:00:19 

everything you do show. I appreciate you. Thank you. Thank you. 


Shawn Zajas  1:00:25 

Thanks for listening, and be sure to follow so you never miss an episode. To learn more about what’s going on in dentistry, check out innovation in dentistry.com 

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