With our MyStory video series, we’re sharing an inside look at the lives, experiences and passions of people who are part of the Highmark Health community. These videos were created by the talented members of the Highmark Health video team: Richard “Zoot” Dwyer, Tanner Rose, and Josh Elsass.
More than 43,000 people work at Highmark Health, and many more work with us through vendors and other partnerships. But no one is defined solely by their job title. From the challenges they’ve faced to the dreams they’ve chased, the members of the Highmark Health family all have a story to tell.
Justin Hucko has not let Down Syndrome stop him from having a successful career with Highmark Health affiliate companies. First hired by Highmark Inc. in 2004, he now brings his organizational skills and attention to detail to a position with Gateway Health.
The earth was gifted on august 3rd of 1980 with the presence of a boy. He has crushed every prediction and exceeded what some never thought possible. This is my older brother Justin, and every day he never ceases to amaze me.
Hi, my name is Justin Hucko. I'm a clerk for Gateway health plan. Well, basically, it's kind of like Groundhog's Day. It’s kind of the same thing every day, but basically I enter medical information of patients every day. I like being in the office setting. I like being organized, and every job I've been in, from mail center till now, they noticed even my desks are that clean, so they know I am a very organized, detailed person.
I do talk to co-workers to make sure we communicate as well as be on the same page. It's very diverse, and basically I made a lot of friends that way within this company.
I started in 2004 at Fifth Avenue Place on the fifth floor of the corporate internal mail center. And then I worked for Michelle Labash, who was an excellent boss that I had. So that's where it started basically, and I worked in the mail center for 10 years, then I wanted to advance myself as an associate clerk to better myself and to challenge myself to learn more. I ended up in Penn Avenue Place in the billing department, then after a year and a half I went to Gateway Health Plan and I found a better clerk position which is right here, and right now I’ve been here for two years.
I think Highmark is a great place to work. I can't say anything different or bad about them. I love Highmark. I love the people and Highmark is an excellent place to work.
I do have Down Syndrome. I'm Mosaic Down Syndrome. It's a cognitive delay, where it takes me longer to understand certain things based on what it is. That hasn’t stopped me from learning or pushing myself to do more. I don't feel I think it's a setback.
I'm not sure what age it was, but I know when I was a young kid, my parents had gotten me speech therapy at a therapist that was helping me learn how to talk. And basically my mom taught me a sign language, where if I did this, it means cookie, but surprisingly I used it too much to see if I can get one every single time. My mom's like, you had enough.
I have two brothers — one older, one younger. Mainly their concerns are to be there for me as much as they can to help me out and guide me like my parents.
I'm not sure at what age my younger brother Darren got into poems, and he expressed an interest in doing a poem on his older brother, Justin Hucko. Here's the poem:
At day one he was challenged with Down Syndrome
He was told he'll never be able to evolve
to half of where he stands today
And his struggle moves me
As each day passes, my pride for him grew stronger
The first time I read it, I just wanted to hug him and say, Darren, this is really cool, I love it. And my mom was crying, because my mother always cries.
My mom always wanted me to be smart and challenge myself mainly. And she felt that by going to a public school I will challenge myself. And I pushed myself from there. I wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for my mom and dad, truly.
I help out my mom as much as I can at the house, whether it's like getting stuff prepped and ready for dinner, or cleaning, which I enjoy cleaning the house a lot.
I just kind of set realistic goals. I had a goal to lose weight actually. I’m still working on that. Basically I go to the gym twice a week with a personal trainer, so I'm trying to lose weight and feel good about myself. It’s put a better smile my face where my pants can fit better hopefully.
I competed at Special Olympics doing swimming. I probably have like 20 or even 30 medals in my house. Basically after I got my metals there was a picture of me in an article about how great a swimmer I am in the swimming pools. My best was the backstroke. Everyone has a hard time beating me in that.
Basically my hope is basically at one point, I'm not sure how soon, but I do want to leave my house, I want to live on my own and be independent. Hopefully I can find someone, whether it’s a girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife or my best friend — it's to live on my own and be independent and do the things I do best.
So I always tell people, I can learn anything. And I know it could take me longer, but I can prove it by showing you. Who cares about what I don't have — let me show you what I can bring to the table. Don't just assume that you think I can't. Give me a shot. What's the worst that could happen? I'm Down Syndrome, I have a cognitive delay, and I'm proud of myself. I don’t care what others think of what I have.
As part of the pharmacy vendor team, Carley Kimmell makes sure everything works smoothly for health plan members, but she’s also an artist, and a Jefferson Award winning volunteer with Special Spaces, a group that does bedroom makeovers for kids with life-threatening illnesses. Fun fact: Carley’s mom worked for Highmark for 42 years!
Oh yeah, I'm always doodling, and don't tell my boss, but you know, when I'm in meetings I'm, yeah, drawing little things in the corners. And I'm paying attention, I swear, but it just happens.
My name is Carley Kimmel, and I'm a senior pharmacy analyst. I've been with Highmark for almost six years. I started with Highmark in 2012, and I worked in the clinical vendor area. In 2014, I moved over to clinical compliance, and then I've been in the pharmacy area since 2016. I moved around a lot because I was lucky enough to have managers that recognized some potential in me and encouraged me to pursue different things throughout the company.
We’re the pharmacy vendor operations and audit team, and I'm behind the scenes making sure that everything's working properly so that the member is getting the best experience they can. I have a fantastic team, and we're all really good co-workers. We work well together but we're also friends.
I've always been part of the Highmark community because my mom actually works for Highmark — for 42 years. And we used to actually come to the Highmark cafeteria for breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
So I think I got my inherited art talent from both my dad and my grandmother. My grandmother was a huge painter. She did a lot of landscape work, flowers, things like that. My dad was always a big goofball, which translated into his art. I asked him one time, as probably a five- or six-year-old, to draw me a picture. And he said, okay, sure, sure. So I'm sitting there watching him over his shoulder draw this picture, and I'm thinking, what is this, what is this? And it ultimately ended up being a pitcher — like a pitcher of water — because I guess that's how I had said it. And that's something that just always sticks out to me, and that's so my dad — just goofy. And I was so disappointed as a little five-year-old.
I actually have in my cubicle a page of one of his journals that says “smile you jerk, you'll feel better” in his handwriting. And it's just “DK”, his signature. It just always makes me giggle, and it's true — just smile, you'll feel better.
So as far as when I started the whole art thing, I don't have an actual moment. But I know from the very time I could hold a pencil I was always doodling. In high school, I actually drew the comic strip for our school newspaper. It was just a character I made up — his name was Zan, and it was just things that happened in our high school: um, getting to class late, having to carry a ton of books. So I think just the funny aspect of bringing laughter to life through a cartoon is really what inspires me. I do a lot of work with just pens, or Sharpies are my favorite, very heavy line work. I will actually ask my friends for certain animals — just one friend pick one animal, one friend pick another, and then a third friend will pick an activity. Like, I have a blue whale in a kiddie pool. I have a snake and a llama that are in love. Pigeons playing ping-pong. Things like that. It's just I get the ideas and they're not connected in any way and I connect them and I come up with this thing that makes me giggle as I'm making it.
So recently I worked with a local restaurant and was able to do something on a bare brick wall that they had, and I jumped at the opportunity, and here we are. I did sign it — it's on the iguana's leg and the bottom right corner — yeah on his, like, pant leg. I wanted to make it subtle.
One of the things that I have found really neat about Highmark is the Jefferson Awards program, which I was actually lucky enough to receive, in 2015 I believe it was, for some charity work that I do with the Special Spaces program. And what it does is we do bedroom makeovers for kids that are sick — you know, a kid that could be terminally ill and would be spending a lot of time in their bedroom. So in an unfortunate situation we want to make it as bright and as happy as possible. It’s a ton of fun and it's just very cool.
My father did pass away in 2010 from cancer. I think the whole experience is really tied back to my want to participate in different charities. For instance, I did that over-the-edge fundraiser for Our Clubhouse, which is a cancer support house, and I got to rappel down the Oliver Building in the middle of downtown. I was up there with my arms out. So I embraced it and I loved it — I was definitely thinking of my dad up there. It was a beautiful day. He was a big nature guy. I think that was really meaningful to me. The sun was shining, and I was 27 stories high in the sky. He was definitely on my mind when I was up there.
His rich cultural heritage comes from India, but Joseph Varghese has become fascinated by a problem we’re all focused on in the U.S.: what contributes to high health care costs and what can we do to make the system work more efficiently?
When I was young I liked to build things, so take things apart and then put it all together, build things. So be it Lego blocks, be it origami, where you're taking just a one-dimensional paper and making it into something like an animal or a three-dimensional something. That kind of grew, and then my passion in computer science grew, where it was more about taking lines of code and making into something that can do much bigger or making something out of it. So I think that's where my passion went into and that's how, when I did my engineering I focused on electronics and also in computer science.
My name is Joseph Varghese. I'm working as a senior consultant with HMHS and I've been with HMHS for around two years. I realized, like, health care is so much different here than compared to where I come from or where I come from in India. This is a big issue, and I really got interested in it. Like, why is the cost so high? How does the health care industry work? What is driving this cost? And is there a way of doing it better? So I started looking into it, researching on it, talking to people, and then my interest grew on this industry and finally I was, like, I think this is the right industry for me.
I like working at Highmark, one thing I think, because of the great team which we have — I felt I never had it in any other team. So the biggest thing I think has been the team feeling in Highmark and that's what I love about my job.
As part of the EAST BRG we are trying to promote or educate people on the different diversity — all the diversity surrounding the EAST countries, which is Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, Pacific Islanders, etc. We celebrated the Diwali event in November, because it's such a big festival — it's as big as Christmas or Thanksgiving here, and we wanted to bring that awareness, how do we celebrate it, and also along with it, what's the culture behind, what's the story behind Diwali, to Highmark so that our people at least learned a bit about the culture and about the festival.
I'm married. I have two kids. My wife's name is Amelia Mary Joseph, and my elder kid his name is Joshua, he's four years old, and I just had a daughter, she's just one month old now, and her name is Talia. So I met my wife in 2011, and it was, like, in India we call it arranged marriage. We met through a website column for marriage but it's very different how it is done in India, because we say when we marry someone in India we marry the family. It's more about sharing details about the family. Like I know in Bollywood movies they kind of emphasize it a lot, but it's really not like that, where the girl is shy and she comes out with a coffee or a juice or something like that. Nothing like that happened in my case, but it was more of, okay, we initially talked with the family, my family. Then she came out and then we — I think we talked for about one and a half hours until they sent her brother to say it's time for you to kind of stop talking and come back. During my parents’ time, my mother says she had no choice. My mother told me she had no choice, like it was all her dad or her family deciding and she was like, okay, but now I think both my wife and I, we had a choice, we could say no. I think it just worked out — even my mom and dad, my grandparents, we were all part of arranged marriage, it was not law marriage for them also.
I'll be cooking, in India we call it dosia. It looks like a crepe, like that's the best thing I can compare it to, it's like a crepe. But it's not sweet, it's something we eat for lunch, for dinner, and even for breakfast. And normally we have the dosia with something we call chutney, and we also add potato masala, we call it aloo masala.
I think your culture always lives with you. You always look back to your country where you come from, where your parents are, and that's me. I don't know, I call it the comfort zone, and that's one of the main reasons I cook also, because it takes me back to my country. That's the smell of the spices, the smell of the different ingredients you use. If you think about your country it takes you back to your time when you were with your parents or your mom was cooking for you or you were in the country. It brings the memories back.
Like what you see? There’s more where that came from!