Last Friday night, I met a man without a sternum. If you aren’t familiar with human anatomy, this may not mean anything to you. However, let me assure you, the sternum is a very meaningful bone. Six inches in length and the attachment point for your ribs, the sternum plays a crucial role in protecting your heart and lungs.
In the absence of your sternum, your heart would visibly beat beneath your shirt. Such is the case for Bruce. At close glance, his shirt dances a gentle flutter as his heart contracts and expands. If you move in closer, which Bruce kindly let me do, you could lay your hand on his heart and actually feel his heart beating.
Where did his sternum go, you may wonder. I certainly did. After a standard, triple, heart bypass procedure (ok, this scares me that a triple bypass has become known as “standard,” but I digress), Bruce’s breastbone became infected.
What happened next Bruce shares in his own words in an email, which he sent to his loved ones after when he finally returned home seven weeks later. Bruce wrote, “My 5 day target (to leave the hospital) was extended to 7 days due to a slower than normal recovery. On the seventh day I was very bloated and developed a severe cough. When I coughed I could feel and hear bones clanking against each other. Suddenly and without warning, my chest burst open in several places and fluids gushed out of my thoracic cavity under pressure. Shocked and alarmed to say the least, I figured I only had a minute or two left to live! Shocked and alarmed to say the least, I figured I only had a minute or two left to live! Somehow I remained calm and the fear gave way to a profound sense of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I told my wife how much I loved her and told her I had no regrets about the wonderful life we shared together with our beautiful children and grandchildren. If it was my time to die, then I could accept it. But I was determined to put up a fight. I have been a survivor my entire life.”
And survive he did. What started as innocent chest pains and shortness of breath for Bruce, continued, days later, as mild chest pains, followed by a near death experience.
Bruce emerged from the hospital and completely restructured his life’s priorities. He sold his company. And, got into the business of being grateful for being alive. He humbly shared with me that “an attitude of gratitude” was one of his key focuses. He said, “It’s difficult to be angry when you are focused on gratitude. You can’t do both at once.”
I was so inspired by Bruce that I reached out to learn more about his story. Our email exchange resulted in Bruce sending me a list of his favorite quotes that he now lives life by. While his heart may live in anatomical vulnerability, he has found a new shield to protect his heart. It is kindness and gratitude. Bruce has a lot to teach all of us about the miracle of life and the role kindness plays in our success.