FALLBROOK, CALIF.-A family-owned busi-ness has become an extended family dur-ing the recoveries of two company executives. Workers at Talco Plastics Inc., a major California plastics recycler, have rallied to the cause during the recuperation of post-consumer product sales manager Michael Carter from leukemia and President John Shedd from a freak accident. Carter, 27, battled leukemia for many months. Fellow employees gavegave him a warm welcome when he returned to work Sept. 5, initially part time. Members of the California Film Extruders & Converters Association applauded him at the group's Sept. 12 meeting.
John Shedd, Talco president, continues to recover after a serious accident that crushed his upper body. Shedd convalesces at a son's home in Fallbrook, plans to attend the company Christmas party and expects to get back to his Whittier office beginning in February.
``We are happy to see Michael and John on the mend,'' said Norma S. Fox, executive director of CFECA in Corona del Mar, Calif. ``Both are key figures in the recycling effort here.''
Carter remembers when he was a high school student selling shoes in California in 1988, and John Shedd came in looking for a certain type of shoe.
```We didn't have them, but I sold him another pair,'' Carter said in an interview in Fallbrook. ``We got to talking, he explained his business, and he asked if I wanted a job. He handed me his business card and left with the shoes that I had picked out.''
Carter impressed Shedd.
``Michael is a very upbeat type of person. At the age of 19, if the guy can sell me something I didn't come in for, then he can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. I said to myself, `There is my future salesman.' ''
Three weeks later, Carter pursued the opportunity and was hired, initially spending a year in Talco's Whittier, Calif., industrial recycling factory to learn about plastics. Soon, he moved into industrial sales and, in 1993, Shedd asked Carter to help develop the post-consumer recycling marketing department.
In early 1994, Carter began feeling ill.
``I was too busy with work and an active schedule of golf, mountain biking and other activities to think that my discomfort was more than stress or the flu.''
The doctors he saw were unable to determine a cause.
Finally, he sought medical advice about the freckle-like red spots that spread over his entire body in a weekend. On Nov. 14, he found himself in a hospital receiving a transfusion and facing a diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. Grueling chemotherapy and full-body radiation treatments extended over 10 months, and a maintenance program will continue for two years.
``I'd known nothing but good things, and there was no cancer in either side of my family,'' Carter said. ``When told at 26 years old that you have a 25 percent chance of survival, that was like a carpet being pulled out from under me.''
The leukemia was in his cerebral and spinal fluid.
``The key to fighting cancer is to be as aggressive as possible,'' Carter said. ``Being a young man, I got the strongest doses of therapy, and I almost died twice.
``Just when you think you're 10 feet tall and bulletproof, think again. After years of success, I came to find out that is not how it works. This renewed my faith in God.''
He said he has seen ``the true colors'' of people in his life and has a special appreciation for the support and prayers that he received from customers, friends and co-workers. Talco employees spent time at his side, sponsored a Red Cross blood drive and cleaned his house. Employees also have been there for Shedd in his time of need.
Shedd prided himself on being physically fit. Until the accident, he exercised vigorously three mornings a week.
Everything changed July 29 with his nearly fatal accident.
``I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and I'd rather not talk about it.''
The accident caused extensive physical damage: a crushed torso, seven broken ribs, a pelvis broken in three places, a broken shoulder and several crushed vertebrae. Internal bleeding required massive transfusions, and his blood pressure dropped dramatically.
Doctors performed risky operations.
``The whole family got together because there was one night I wasn't expected to live,'' he said.
Shedd stayed on a respirator for the first week, remained inintensive care two weeks and was hospitalized a month.
Shedd's four children provided constant support. His son Richard, an emergency room physician in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., came to Shedd's hospital and stayed nearby for the first week of critical treatments. Meanwhile, Shedd's extended family at Talco and friends throughout the industry ``sent cards and flowers and remembered me in their prayers.''
His next six weeks were spent rehabilitating.
``It was a big deal when I could roll over on my side or get out of bed or get into a wheelchair or if I could eat a hamburger,'' Shedd said. ``I had no appetite, I couldn't move and I lost 30 pounds'' off an already lean frame. ``I needed to learn to eat again.''
Shedd has gained back the weight and made great strides walking on an asphalt-paved country lane near citrus and avocado groves.
``Now, I can walk four miles each morning,'' Shedd said, ``and I can do it in 1 hour, 7 minutes. My goal is to cut off a minute each day. That's an engineer's way.''
The doctors say he is about 85 percent back, Shedd said, ``and they give me an excellent chance at 100 percent recovery.''
Reading from a yellow legal pad, Shedd enumerated some lessons learned: The company can survive and grow without him; God is the supreme physician; attitude is critical; and good physical condition is extremely important.
``I didn't have the right attitude for a while, but the family pushed me,'' he said, and ``now I can't wait to get back to the gym.''
The recuperative period ``has been a godsend to get acquainted with my eight grandchildren. I was always too busy before.''
Once back at the office in February, Shedd intends to refocus his priorities and devote himself to Talco's growth instead of day-to-day operations, now under the complete control of his sons. Jack has been with Talco eight years, and Bob, for five years. Both are vice presidents.
Shedd renewed his interest in the business in October after months of being ``concerned with whether I wanted to get well.''
Talco employs about 145 and should achieve 1995 sales of more than $15 million, Shedd said. In 1992, Talco employed 100 and had sales of $7 million.
``Whittier had its best year by far, and we're literally kicking out the walls,'' he said, attributing the growth ``to the way that Talco management carried on without me.''.
Talco is investing $2 million in equipment for a second line at the North Long Beach post-consumer recycling plant. It opened in August 1994. Monthly capacity will triple from 1 million pounds to 3 million pounds. Shedd's accident, in part, delayed the project a few months.
Also, Talco operates an El Paso, Texas, plant that collects, processes and grinds plastics and sends them to the Whittier plant to be pelletized.
Shedd takes pride in running the firm as an extended family.
``I'd say 15 percent of the employees have relatives there, and we have a lot of people who regard me as a father figure. When you own your own company, you can do it exactly the way you want to. You don't have to ask the boss, and my sons have continued this policy,'' he said.
``I worked for someone all my life up until the last nine years. I always wanted to have my own business. I got it, and we run it our way.''
He believes he's ``been given a second chance, and I'm going to make the best of it. I was a fair Christian before, but I'm going to get to be a much stronger Christian as a result of this.''