Tom Ziuko on how Hero has kept him alive

Tom Ziuko

Tom Ziuko

The Hero Initiative. Without their assistance, I might still be alive, but I would almost certainly be homeless.

You may know my work as a colorist. I’ve made my living as a freelance artist in the comicbook industry since 1981. I’m 63 years old now, and up until a few years ago, I never once saw the inside of a hospital, other than to visit someone less fortunate. I enjoyed near perfect health for decades—strong like bull, that was me. During my 20s and 30s, I was under exclusive contract as a colorist for DC Comics, which included complete health insurance coverage, which I never once had to make use of. Then upon hitting middle age, the decline in my health began. I found myself in the ER—turned out I was suffering from kidney failure. This hospitalized me for months, and took me completely out of commission. Up until this point in my life, I basically lived the standard freelance artist life, existing paycheck to paycheck. But this disease prevented me from working and earning a living. The money stopped coming in, but the bills—rent, utilities, etc.—continued to pile up.

I had never heard of the Hero Initiative, but fortunately for me, a fellow freelancer, the late Alan Kupperberg, knew of the organization and made them aware of my plight. They immediately came to my aid, beginning while I was still hospitalized, sending me the funds to cover my current and back-due rent, my utilities, and my day-to-day living expenses, right down to putting food on the table. This continued until I was well enough to get back on my feet and back to work. But over the next few years I was hit with one medical ailment after another. At one point I found myself experiencing excruciating abdominal pain; it turned out that emergency surgery had to be performed in order to save my colon, which was being strangled by a hernia. Before going into the operating room, I was informed that things did not look good for me. On the downside, statistically speaking, there was the 1 in 5 chance that I might die right on the operating table. On the upside I would probably lose up to 80% of my colon, resulting in my having to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. Well, I’m overjoyed to report that I had an incredible surgical team. Not only were they able to save my life, but they saved my colon as well. No colostomy, no bag—but the procedure once again took me out of commission for a good period of time while I recuperated. And I also want to tell you that once again, the Hero Initiative was right there to come to my aid.

In the years since then I’ve been plagued with an ongoing litany of debilitating health issues. I developed Afib, which causes my heart to beat too fast, and also out of rhythm, which in turn has led to congestive heart failure, where fluid builds up in my lungs and extremities; I’ve had to undergo testicular surgery—not once, but twice; and I suffer from neuropathy in my feet and lower legs, which makes walking for any distance, or even standing for any length of time, almost impossible. And in addition to these ongoing conditions, most recently I’ve had to deal with a torn rotator cuff and bicep, as well as blood clots in my leg.

As you might imagine, every time I have to deal with another of these prolonged hospitalizations and recovery periods, it affects my ability to stay on a steady schedule as a freelancer, or even to just get work and earn a steady income. And every single time, without fail, without question, the Hero Initiative has been there to assist me financially. I’ve had to turn to them more than I want to admit over the last few years—they continue to assist me right up to this very day—but without them, I truly doubt that I’d still be alive today.

Because as debilitating as going through all these physical ailments are, you can’t imagine the psychological and emotional toll they take on a person over time. As one medical issue after another piles on top of one another, how it all finally takes a massive toll on you, and you find yourself in the depths of a deep depression. Which is then one more thing to add to the list of things you have to deal with on a daily basis…

By nature I’m really a very private person, who doesn’t enjoy having to discuss my personal life and private health matters in public. But I do so here hoping to convey how it feels to live alone, and to have to deal with medical issues beyond your control, and to have to turn to others for help. Because mere words can never express the gratitude I feel for the Hero Initiative. I can’t overemphasize the amazing work they do, providing assistance to people like myself—freelancers in the comicbook industry, who for one reason or another have fallen upon hard times, or are dealing with financial issues, loss of work or income, and health concerns.

On behalf of myself and all the other freelancers that the Hero Initiative has come to the rescue of, I urge you to make whatever contribution you can afford to—because, believe me when I tell you from my heart—it’s more than just appreciated; it’s life-saving.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: If you’ve ever been entertained by reading a comicbook, please remember that they don’t just fall out of the sky as a finished product. They’re written, drawn. lettered and colored by real people—most often freelancers, who may not be able to afford health insurance or to cover their expenses and make ends meet. If these people have ever brought you thrills, adventure, and entertainment—perhaps over the course of your childhood and into your adult years—then I urge you to give something back to them and make a donation to the Hero Initiative. Be a real-life superhero yourself—The life you save may be a comicbook creator.

Thank you.

—Tom Ziuko