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Proof of the Goodness in People

Co-op family comes together following life-changing event

April 2024

Rob Book is president and CEO of Delaware Electric Cooperative. (Courtesy Chelsea Wootten)

by Chelsea Wootten, Contributing Writer

Last summer, Rob Book was finishing up his first six months as Delaware Electric Cooperative’s president and CEO. Enjoying the challenges associated with leading one of the largest distribution cooperatives in the country, he was working long hours focusing on employee morale and reinvigorating DEC’s spirit of innovation. By September, things changed. Book was exhausted, struggling to stay focused, and felt a growing sense of unease.

With his condition deteriorating, Book was admitted to a local hospital later that month. By the following week, he was in the intensive cardiac care unit at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital fighting for his life. When doctors told him and his family that his only chance of survival was a heart transplant, they were stunned.

“At first I couldn’t quite believe it,” Book says. “Up until that moment, I assumed I was relatively fine. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. My life, and the life of my family, had changed in the blink of an eye.”

Book spent two months in the hospital, praying for a suitable donor heart to become available to him. Bacteria from a virus had caused an infection in his heart, which was functioning at less than 20%. For his family, it was a frightening time. Book says the experience has made him more thankful for his life and the people in it — it also opened his eyes to just how deep those connections are with his employee family.

“My family and I are overwhelmed with gratitude for the love and support we received from our co-op family. To know that my friends and co-workers — almost 180 people — were here rooting for me, it really proves the inherent goodness in people, and I will never be able to say thank you enough,” says Book.

The entire DEC team came together to help and support him. Recognizing the necessity of keeping daily meals on the table during that stressful time, their first step was to start an online meal train for employees to sign up to make or order food for the family. Operations Supervisor Josh Wharton attributes the great response to the overwhelming sense of family and community DEC employees share.

“One of the qualities that sets co-ops apart from other utilities is the family-like atmosphere where everyone not only knows each other, but their families as well. When tragedy strikes one of us, we all feel it,” Wharton says. “As expected, the DEC team was willing to do whatever they could.”

“For me it was all about knowing that when God is in it, there is no limit, and he was working it all out for his good,” says Gladys Aviles-Johnson, new service representative.

“I think for Rob, knowing that we were all praying for him, and after reading the heartfelt cards and hearing those kind words, it lifted his spirits, and in that moment, he knew he was loved.”

On Nov. 4, Book and his family received the best gift they could have hoped for as the holiday season approached; a donor heart had been secured — one that doctors viewed as a perfect match. A successful transplant followed the next day. DEC used its emergency texting notification program to alert employees that the surgery was successful.

“One of the most humbling aspects of being the recipient of an organ donation is realizing that in order for you to get that donation, someone else didn’t make it home to their loved ones,” Book says. “It’s a very sobering fact, and for me, it really put the gift I have been given — a new heart and a new opportunity to live my life — into perspective. I encourage everyone to sign up to be an organ donor. In doing so, you could be saving a life, and impacting many other lives in the process.”

On Feb. 7, Book received a very warm welcome back to DEC for the first time since his hospitalization in the fall.

Employees cheered as he tearfully thanked them for their support over the prior months. “For me, coming back to work was an important step in my recovery,” he says. “It gave me a chance to express appreciation to those who gave me hope and kept me going during some dark times.”

For more information, visit vmdaec.com/powerfulcareers.