Let’s Go! How a Near-Death Accident Changed My Perspective

The next time a co-worker gripes about “being thrown under the bus,” trust that he probably has no idea what he’s talking about. 

But, I do. Well, to be accurate, it wasn’t a bus. It was a Ford Explorer. 

It happened back in July 2001, when I was a pharmaceutical marketing director for the world’s leading Alzheimer’s treatment. My company was experiencing great financial success and changing lives along the way. Things were going well, but they weren’t optimal.

Like many people in the corporate world, I had my share of stresses. At the time, I believed they were normal parts of business. Such as:  

  • Limited development/feedback to move from functional to optimal

  • Periodic victim-loop conflict that is found within many co-promotion/matrix environments

  • Doubt that prevented me from being the bold, courageous leader I wanted to be

In retrospect, I can see how these stresses held me back from higher-level engagement and fulfillment at work.

Then in an instant, it all changed. In fact, my whole life changed.

It happened on a morning when I was training to get back into bike-racing shape. With my buddy’s travel bike, I went off to New Mexico to attend my company’s Commercial Sales and Marketing Leadership Meeting.

I thought the hotel’s service roads would be a great and safe place to log some early-morning training miles. But, on the second morning of the meeting, a few miles into my ride, that Ford Explorer crossed the centerline and hit me head-on, traveling 40 mph. 

The impact fractured my right shoulder, right femur, right tibia, and shattered my left femur. The shattering left femur lacerated my femoral artery. My injuries and blood loss were life threatening, and the only option was to a 20-minute MediVac ride to The University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Trauma Center in Albuquerque.

As strange as this sounds now, I can still remember trying to convince the EMTs that the helicopter ride wasn’t our best option, as I laid on the cool New Mexico asphalt, unable to move, and connected to a morphine IV. I was more concerned about my first helicopter flight than my injuries. I wasn’t a great flyer back then.

At UNM, I had my first of 10+ surgeries. The first 12-hour surgery saved my life that day, and illustrated the power of a connected cross-functional team. I will expand on that in a future post. 

I left New Mexico to go home to New Jersey with two femur rods, fifteen screws, and three fasciotomies. Along the way, I picked up a blood clot for good measure.

At the Hackensack Medical Center, I received skin grafts to cover my fasciotomies, and prepared for my rehabilitation stay in West Orange, NJ.

During my initial weeks of recovery, I suffered a spectrum of negativity—from denial to anger to depression. I was busy spinning in my own little victim loop.  

I had no use for comments from friends and family who would remind me how lucky I was to be alive. I simply couldn’t see it. Where was my luck right before impact? That’s when I needed to be lucky, I believed.  

Then came the moment when I snapped in a good way. I was wheeled into my new room at the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute, and saw my three roommates, who were all quadriplegics and working hard to recover. On the wall hung a plaque that read: “Motivate the challenged, challenge the motivated.”

In that moment, I started to gain the perspective that I was missing. I was determined to no longer play the victim. Instead, I would be defined by how I responded to my accident rather than being defined by it. 

That’s when I could finally see my luck.

What was the difference? 

Simple. It was a belief in my support network of friends, family, and my medical team, and ultimately a belief in myself. I finally saw that I had options. I could choose beliefs that could propel me forward or ones that would hold me back from my recovery and potential. 

I ignored opinions from naysayers who predicted a life of comprise, health concerns, and being a burden to others.

By choosing my propelling beliefs, I changed my approach and the approach of others around me.

My fresh attitude gave my medical team new possibilities that they could share with future patients. I showed up with a “Let’s Go” attitude at physical therapy, which accelerated my recovery.   

My energy cascaded and new possibilities open up. I began to realize successes, and my daughters saw a dad who dared to define himself differently.

When I returned to work, I carried new tools that serve me to this day. I call them my B.E.S.T. principles.  B.E.S.T. stands for belief, energetic-connected effort, successes/setbacks (celebration of), and transformation.

My new response to stagnant development was to seek out coaching, mentors, and other resources. The cross-functional tensions that once plagued my workplace started to transform into a “we can all win” approach. 

And I started to become the bolder, courageous leader that I desired to be.

I knew that if I could recover from my accident, almost anything was possible. I no longer feared the “bad day” because I had already overcome my most difficult one.

My path forward wasn’t easy. I had my share of hiccups along the way, but I also had choices.  As leaders in business and in life, we all have choices.

It took a lucky-to-be-alive event to help me better understand how our beliefs change our lives.  Luckily, you don’t have to go my extreme. 

Look for future postings on the genesis of E.S.T. of my B.E.S.T. principles or to learn more contact me at Michael@pelotoncc.net. 


In his coaching practice, Peloton Coaching & Consulting, Michael O'Brien partners with today's business leaders to help them move from functional performance to optimal performance. His aim is to change lives by enhancing leadership energy, engagement, and fulfillment, and demonstrating how these qualities can cascade throughout organizations. To Learn more about Michael and Peloton Coaching & Consulting, visit www.pelotoncc.net.

Source: http://www.pelotoncc.net