A well-known angel investor in Silicon Valley, Brett Bullington was past the midpoint of a cross-country bike ride for charity on October 8, 2012 when he fell face-first going downhill on a highway in northern Oklahoma. He had probably been going about 30 mph. His brain injuries were severe. The prognosis wasn’t good. When he was in ICU I got an email from a mutual friend asking me to pray for him.
“I feel strongly that he has not yet passed,” she wrote at that first perilous hour. I stepped outside and said a chant in the garden.
She was right. Brett did not leave this world, but entered a long period of recovery and rehabilitation, with modest daily progress and sudden devastating setbacks. But he has been home and healthy for some time, working on getting better, and I was able to meet him in May when I visited Palo Alto.
Meeting Brett is not like meeting anyone else.
He might tell you straightaway, for instance, how many hours he slept last night or last week, along with his recent nightly average. How many steps he has taken today or yesterday. Who he saw this morning. Where he’s going this afternoon. What he’s planting in his garden. What he ate, what he read (his wife Diana reads books aloud at night) and again, how many hours he slept.
His doctor told him that walking and sleep are vital to brain recovery, so he records his progress on his Jawbone UP fitness band and posts it everyday on Facebook. People like to hear about his improvements, he says, and their appreciation fuels a continuous loop of feedback.
During our visit, we had dinner with friends and meditated together. Sitting still for several hours took a toll on Brett’s walking totals that day, but he did great. After I returned home, he friended me on Facebook. There he posts pictures of the people he meets on his daily walks, some with his dog Trudy. He puts up his Jawbone tallies, which might constitute a good day or a reason to do better tomorrow. His focus is resolutely optimistic and straight-ahead. I am always struck by the unintended profundity in his notations. Everything he does is upfront, pure and simple. In contrast, I’m embarrassed by my own clumsy efforts to say something deep and quotable.
“I am increasingly thinking about what I do with everything I have learned since the accident,” he posted recently, after he was asked to speak at Stanford medical school alongside his neurosurgeon. About his talk, he posted “I did wander a bit, but that is the way I am.”
Yesterday I was online when he sent me a message asking how I was. I asked about him in return and he said he was walking and sleeping well. I told him he was one of the most focused and wise people that I had met recently. He thought I was teasing, but I said that his single-mindedness is a great strength and attribute.
“I’m just trying to get better,” he wrote.
“As every human being is put here to do,” I replied.
“And to make things easier on my wife and family,” he said. I don’t know if Brett is still an angel investor, but in one fell swoop he became an angel, teaching us everything he has learned face-first.
Above: Pausing during a walk with his dog Trudy.
Below: The ride.
I asked if I could write about him, and he said it was fine.