Life after death
For many years, Stephen Sroka, Ph.D. (M.Ed. ’67) espoused belief in “the power of one.”
He overcame a rough early life to become a successful chemist, a health educator, and a noted motivational speaker — telling anyone who would listen that “one person can make a difference.”
But all of that changed on the day he died.
During a speaking engagement at Medina High School in 2016, Dr. Sroka went into sudden cardiac arrest —“I coded, fell over, and died,” he says quite matter-of-factly — in a room full of 800 spectators.
It took a team of medics, a public school official, and a life-flight helicopter to the Cleveland Clinic to save his life. He never saw the world the same way again.
“I’m really lucky. I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “It was then that I realized [life] was never about the power of one. Everything I have ever been a part of was accomplished standing on peoples’ shoulders. I always thought it was ‘me,’ but it was never me.”
The adventure didn’t end there. He was diagnosed with a fatal disease: Amyloidosis. Protein deposits were causing his heart to malfunction. Doctors gave him two years to live.
“There were a lot of tears—and swear words,” Dr. Sroka laughed. “But it cleared my vision completely.”
The internationally recognized speaker, educator, consultant, and author of several books — including “The Educator’s Guide to HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases” (with 57 revised editions) — have been highly visible in the field of education and public health.
Today, he’s trying to reach as many people as possible, encouraging a healthy lifestyle and encouraging a collaborative “it takes a village” mindset for anyone and everyone who will listen. It’s his mission.
“I think what’s happening in the world has people looking for
a voice of reason,” Dr. Sroka said.
“My whole message is, it can take one person to light a fire but many to keep it burning. People don’t get that message when people are shouting at/past each other. Or ignoring each other. This solves nothing.”
Dr. Sroka offers “intelligent alternatives” to his many audiences, “not magical thinking or untenable solutions.” He’s the party of the third part: “I’m about harm reduction. You can’t manage risk to zero.”
He still operates from the heart, years beyond that proposed 24-month endgame given by doctors.
Working with kids, parents, and counselors in crisis, Dr. Sroka espouses what he calls a “Four C” philosophy: “Communicate in a language that is mutually understood; Collaborate on solutions; be Confident in cultural sensitivity and be Caring. The answers are not out there, they are inside of you.”
As a teacher, school principal, and professor of health education at CSU, Dr. Sroka has dedicated his life to promoting health and wellness among children, adolescents, and adults. He has served as a consultant to schools, school districts, and state departments of education across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe.
Dr. Sroka has also received numerous awards and honors for his work in education and public health—including the National School Health Educator of the Year award from the American School Health Association, and the Disney Health Teacher of the Year—and has been inducted into the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame.
But most people still recognize him from his television appearance on “Oprah” over 20 years ago.
“We had a wonderful interview,” he said.
“And at the end, she said to the audience, ‘Dr. Sroka has some final words of advice for parents dealing with these boy and girl issues.’
As she closed the program, I still warmly remember her sincerity and honesty as she said to me, ‘I love the walking the walk, instead of talking the talk.’