People Profile – Jeff Schmidt – Author, Illustrator and Educator

The ability to divine the future has eluded the humankind since we began to philosophise about life centuries ago. Had I known then the impact of my decisions, I may have made changes earlier, but it turns out that we must live life to truly understand it. I was born and raised in the small rural town of Morden in the centre of Canada to parents who were keen pioneers. They packed up and ventured away from the bustle of the provincial capital, Winnipeg, with my younger sister, Jenny, and I in tow. We very much felt a strong sense of kinship, love, and security, but I also developed a hunger to explore the world with romantic notions of life beyond our little town. So, after completing High School, I headed off to the University of Manitoba, embracing the fullness of life in a ’big city’. There, I was a competitive sprinter and dabbled in various creative outlets. Although rich in opportunity, my thirst for things beyond had not yet been satisfied. So, after 6 years of university, two honours degrees and a gung-ho start to my career, I jetted off to the UK. 22 years later, I am now married to an incredible woman, have two daughters and one step-son, and am snuggly settled in Bramley with an arsenal of stories under my belt, including that of a life changing event which has led to me writing a book – HEART ATTACK – Finding hope, joy and inspiration through adversity.

‘That’ evening, the one that irreversibly shook up my life, Thursday 3 December, I found myself staring eternity squarely in the face. I had returned home with my two girls. It had been a stressful day capped by a suitably heated, hard-hitting quarrel that left me trembling. I would not generally consider my life stressful, and yet I know that I run at a pretty high-octane pace. But that’s OK, because, despite warnings from others, I am, or believed I was, bulletproof. I wore my intensity like a shiny badge of honour. On that evening, however, the engine said ‘no more’; you can’t drive even the most brilliantly engineered sports cars at 5000 RPM indefinitely. It took my mum, who spotted me bent over, clutching my chest, rubbing my arms on FaceTime and my daughter’s subsequent fear-filled plea to get help for me to make the medical call. Reluctantly, in a haze of pain, I did make the call. In minutes an ambulance was there. Pride masking the danger, I couldn’t help but feel that all this commotion was quite unnecessary. The seasoned paramedics quickly assessed my traumatised frame, blood pressure surging through my veins like a blocked firehose. They looked me straight in the eyes, piercing my vanity, and said, “We are taking you to hospital. Now.” These two burly, tattoo-laden men not only had the expertise to see what was physically happening but the gift to see much deeper, to the matters of the heart.

Before I knew it I was in hospital

Since that fateful day I have often wondered, was it inevitable? Could I have seen this coming? As I search the cobweb strewn memories of my childhood, it all seems innocent enough. And ideal. Born in 1974, I was a child of a rapidly changing world, wrapped in the idealism that accompanies a boy growing up in Canada’s vast prairies. It was there that I discovered wonder and fell in love with the outdoors. Treehouses, canoe trips, and extended trips into the wilderness were regular features. I can remember, in my all-things-are-possible teenage youth, having this fairly regular conversation with my dad, regardless of the season. It would go something like this:
“Dad, looks like a great night to sleep outside. You in?”
“Are you nuts!? Why would I want to sleep outside when I have a perfectly good bed inside!”
Even before asking the question, I knew the answer would be a flat, “No,” peppered with some off-hand comment that would insinuate that I had a screw loose. I loved those conversations though. Roughly translated (in my mind) that meant, “I love you, my great adventuring son!”, which I greatly accepted, and even though I couldn’t really understand why he wouldn’t want to sleep under the endless canopy of stars philosophising about the infinite universe beyond, I gladly took those opportunities to commune with nature.

My Mum, Dad, sister and I on a canoe trip

Creativity too was a hallmark of growing up surrounded by an endless sea of golden fields. Being a prairie boy was something I felt so deeply that I had to find outlets to proclaim the awe I saw all around me. I would slip off to freshly bailed fields, lay atop the hay staring impossibly fluffy clouds and imagine, as far as my mind would allow. I even wrote a song about it- Prairies’ Grace (and one should note that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a musician). I would create magic shows, with the hope of dazzling family and friends with the wonders of the unknown. I would also regularly slip into my dad’s workshop, taking in the smells of old tools and well used paint brushes to admire his experiments with watercolours. A frustrated (and humble) artist, he was relentless in his pursuit of capturing wonderous things. I found myself watching in amazement as he and other artists recreated rich landscapes and uncanny portraits of others.

I always made time to create and perform

When my parents chose to take my sister and I away for three years and serve as missionaries on a tiny island in the Caribbean, my developing understanding of the world was exponentially expanded. The realisation that the world is a vast, varied, and, unjust played a crucial role, I am sure, in my ability to appreciate the small things.

So where did it all go wrong? According to the doctor, my heart attack was due, in part to, “bad luck”. ‘Splendid!’, I initially thought to myself, feeling I could abdicate responsibility. Then he added, “But also, likely stress and an accumulation of little (bad) choices,” Ouch! That was a punch to the gut. I trawled the landscape of my life to discover where I had gone wrong.

The answer, in part, arrived one morning as I vacantly strolled up the quaint street leading to my work, I paused at a local street-side coffee establishment. It was early, so the usual bustle had not yet started. A chirpy young barista took my order and began her artisan process, carefully measuring out the coffee beans. As I stood on the pavement waiting, I impulsively reached into my pocket and slid out my phone. Instantly the screen leapt to life with its whizzy display of colour, but before I had the chance to catch up on the latest news, I was pulled away from that hypnotic moment when the server, in her effortless south London accent, exclaimed, “Gaw, look at the sun on that spire!”

I clumsily looked up, and responded with an uncertain, “What?”

She smiled, pointed and repeated herself, “Look up, sir. Look at the sun shinin’ off that spire! How nice is that!”
She was absolutely right. The morning sun had just emerged above the Victorian terracing to illuminate the spire of an old church building…which, coincidently, happened to house the school in which I worked. Staring at the spectacular scene, I ashamedly realised that in my eight years of working at the school, I had never actually taken the time to look up and really examine the intricacies of the building, never mind when it was gilded in warm morning light. In that moment, there was an incredible feeling of calm and joy and inspiration.

This phenomenon is not new. Great minds have been pointing us heavenward for millennia, encouraging us to look beyond our own circumstances and to see the world, the greater context in which we live. When we do this there is a sense of story, one that we all share.

In a recent expedition into London, I popped over to the V&A Museum. It really is a marvellous place, with its collection of rare antiquities and treasures. However, there is a breath-taking moment when you round the corner and enter the central Cast Courts. Sitting within the cavernous hall is a replica of Rome’s 200-metre-tall Trajan’s Column. You can’t help but look up and marvel at this epic monument- the relief frieze telling the story of humanity, its struggles and its victories. I left that day, as I had the little coffee stand, feeling inspired. Inspired to look up more often, beyond myself and savour my place in a greater story.

This optimistic view of the world had become entangled in a web of vein pursuits- perfection, success and busyness. While in hospital there is a lot of time to think and reflect. It is in those places where clarity shines brightest. I was confined to a bed, and so was forced/given the opportunity to observe the comings and the goings, the nuances and the grand gestures of people. At times, I was surprised by human nature and its ability to transform the lives of those within its sphere. Take ‘The Turk,’ for example. Rotund yet sturdy in form, he was a seasoned man, one who had seen the world. Granted, he struggled with an impressive catalogue of ailments – bowel cancer, indigestion, constipation, emphysema and general grumpiness (my diagnosis). However, he, too, was a player. My initial impression was that he was a polite, generous man. Asking for help with warmth and responding with a well-oiled, apparently heartfelt, Middle Eastern, “Thank you so much”. However, his true nature slowly oozed out. His constant buzzing of the call-bell echoed throughout the ward as his list of requests grew exponentially. Inevitably, the staff were not able to grant all of his pleas, and so his requests turned into demands. The demands became increasingly more patronising – dismissing the nurses with flicks of the wrist and gnarled words. The atmosphere shifted dramatically; a sense of unease wrapped its calloused fingers around the ward. At one point, in his stewing anger, he turned to one of the nurses, and in a horrible low growl seethed, “I don’t want to talk you anymore, go away, I’m finished!”

Not only was everyone in the vicinity disgusted, but their spirits were withering, including ‘The Turk’ himself, who was being sucked down a spiral of self-pity.
That was death.
That was what causes heart attacks.

And so, I quickly determined to reacquaint myself with my youth and become a student of ‘life’ again. To search for a quality that restored and healed. Fortunately, it did not take long to find it. It was in one small act: TIME. The time taken to listen to another person. The time taken to empathetically dialogue with another human being. The time taken to encourage a fellow patient. Time. Intentional, meaningful time.

Capturing life on the ward

Now, although I am a middle-aged working man, immersed in the roaring race of life, I have made significant changes, intentionally noting the lessons learned throughout the journey. For example, in the weeks following my heart attack, my wife gave me a marvellous book which reminded me that living close to nature does something deep in one’s soul.

And so, on a whim of inspiration, I heralded an invitation to the family, “Tonight it will go down to freezing, a clear sky, it will be a great night to sleep outside, who’s in?” The response was, overall…positive; optimism perched on the plinth of adventure! And so that night, after explaining the science of sleeping bags and the magical healing powers of sleeping in the outdoors, the whole family joined me on the back deck. Within the ranks there was palpable excitement, and a dash of irrational fear. Would we sleep? Would Jeff’s heart stop beating from the shrill cold? Would he die? Would we all die!? Frozen to death, five frozen corpses!? Regardless, the anticipation of the escapade pipped any looming fears. The prospect of deep, cosy warmth in the sleeping bags fending off the gnarly cold lured us in.

A night spent out under the stars enjoying creation

That evening, as the evening frost gently settled, the fragrant winter air filtering into our lungs, we all drifted off into a deep sleep…
…until 2 a.m., when a helicopter circled, reminding most of the party that they were sleeping outside in winter, and they had perfectly good beds inside.

They abandoned ship. Leaving me to myself. And the infinite sky above me.
It was heaven.

That fateful moment of trauma has been life changing. The strained, chest-crushing, arm-aching, jaw-clenching series of heart attacks removed me from the life I knew, as a (relatively) healthy overambitious 40-something professional and plunged me into a strange new reality; the journey has been profound. There have been many bleeps, groans and characters, certainly much bustling but, most significantly, there has been change. That fateful moment of impact has heralded a new era and sense of renewal, ultimately marked by a return to the core passions that I had discovered early in life but had long abandoned.

It is an experience, too, that has inspired me to capture, in word and picture, the journey with its complete melee of emotions and adventure. The art, mostly caught in situ, reflects my desire to bottle life’s goodness and capture the now. The book, HEART ATTACK – Finding hope, joy and inspiration through adversity, will be launched on Thursday 1 September in the heart of Guildford.

To find out more visit:

To attend the launch party, you can book your complementary tickets at: and use the CODE: HEART22

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