How two men used a health crisis to build a successful company.

Francesco Clark, author of Walking Papers, A True Story
Founder of Clark’s Botanicals,

The sun shone brilliantly on June 1, 2002. Twenty-four-year-old Francesco Clark had just left his job as a fashion assistant at Harper’s Bazaar and was relaxing at his summer rental. It was a perfect day for a swim. I dove into the pool, hit my chin on the bottom of the shallow end and shattered my fourth vertebra. I was immediately paralyzed, says Clark. Even though I was drowning in three feet of water and suddenly not capable of feeling or moving 99 percent of my body, I knew somehow I’d get better. His neurosurgeons, though, predicted that Clark would never move his arms or legs or breathe on his own. In a cruel twist, the nerves on the insides of his elbows and under his arms had become hypersensitive. If you brushed the inside of my elbow with a cotton swab it would feel like someone was stabbing me with a knife, he recalls.

Three years after the accident, Clark was ready to stop dwelling on coulda, woulda, shoulda, he says. I realized I had been given a second chance. It made me wonder, Well, what’s my reason for being here? For years he’d avoided mirrors, not wanting to see his lackluster, acne-prone skin. After trying every acne product he could find, Clark asked his dad, Harold, for help. Through trial and error, Clark’s father, a physician also trained in homeopathy, came across an essential oil that showed promise. Within weeks Francesco’s prematurely aging skin was fresh and glowing; he felt his confidence returning. Soon friends wanted to know his secret: jasmine absolute, an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory oil from nocturnal jasmine blossoms.

Encouraged by family and friends, in 2005 Clark launched Clark’s Botanicals; today his line is sold in select Saks Fifth Avenue stores. A percentage of every purchase goes to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for spinal-cord injury research. And Clark’s health continues to improve, defying his doctors dire prognosis. I’m regaining movement and feeling in my legs, abs and back. I can use my arms and wrists, he says. With the return of feeling comes pain, which, for me, is great.

Ramy Gafni
Founder of Ramy Beauty Therapy,

In 1997, I was a makeup artist at a Fifth Avenue salon, loving my career, which was just taking off, remembers Ramy Gafni, creator of New York City-based RAMY beauty therapy. In November, I felt a weird shooting pain from my lungs to my shoulder every time I took a deep breath. I figured I had the flu. His doctor ordered a battery of tests, including a chest biopsy. The diagnosis? Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The chest biopsy (itself) was a very painful recovery, Gafni says. Even minor things, like cleaning the bathtub, were painful. Then came the nausea and fatigue of chemotheraphy and a burning esophagus from radiation. While undergoing radiation he decided to freelance out of his apartment. Clients kept telling me that I should create my own makeup line, he says. So, in 1998 he launched RAMY beauty therapy with the goal of creating skin care and makeup for every age group and skin type, including addressing the problems he experienced during treatmentnamely sallow skin, undereye circles and the loss of eyebrows. I think anything that makes you feel better can help when you’re in pain, says Gafni. Makeup can be very empowering. Not just because it can make you look better, but you’re taking action to make yourself feel better and not give into the pain.

It helped Gafni, too, to shift his focus away from his illness. Not long after starting his business, he began volunteer-teaching beauty classes for cancer patients, offering advice on dealing with the side effects of treatment. The exchange of energy with the women in these classes and their appreciation would have me glowing; it has reminded me to appreciate how lucky I am to have a good outcome, he says. In fact, becoming a volunteer and an entrepreneur turned out to be the best treatments of all. I was so excited to begin my own business that I couldn’t wait to recover and get on with my life, Gafni says. Having something to be excited about helped me look forward and be optimistic. The illness and recovery became an afterthought.

Written by: Colleen Moriarty, a Connecticut-based writer
Originally published in Pain Solutions Magazine, Spring 2010
Photo Credit: by Wico, courtesy of Stock Free Images

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