The Heart of Brian Boyle
By Lauren Ward Larsen
I admit it: I’m a memoir junkie. I love a good story. And I love a well-told story. And if I can get both in the same book, I’m in heaven. Recently, I got just that when I read Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back from the Dead.
Iron Heart is the story of a kid – a nice kid – who’s a competitive swimmer in high school. One month after graduation, he is “T-boned” by a dump truck that runs a stop sign and slams into the driver’s side of his Chevy Camaro. At the hospital, he’s not expected to live. He’s lost 60 percent of his blood, and his pelvis and guts are pulverized. And his heart – when the doctors opened him up on the operating table, they found his heart on the other side of his chest. That one really got to me. I mean, his heart … on the other side of his chest!
After a two-month drug-induced coma, this nice kid wakes up, but he is incapable of moving or speaking. So he lies still and listens, unable to respond when he hears words like “vegetable” and “nursing home” during discussions about his prognosis. But the kid gets the last laugh. Three years and a lot of recovery work later, he defies the odds by competing in the Kona Ironman Triathlon: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run.
As a seven-time marathoner, I found myself cheering Brian Boyle as he crossed the finish line of one of the most respected athletic races on earth. As a fellow “train wreck,” I found myself shaking my head in solidarity at much of what Brian experienced while in the ICU. As a parent, however, my response to his book was much more visceral. A mother should not have to see her child suffer such physical pain. A father should not have to beg his son not to give up on life. Upon finishing Iron Heart, I found myself as impressed with Joanne and Garth Boyle as I was with their incredible son.
Then I did what any self-respecting new Brian Boyle fan would do: I tracked him down through Facebook and invited him and his parents to dinner. When the Boyle family arrived at the offices of America’s Blood Centers earlier this week, I found his enthusiasm for helping other blood recipients even more impressive than Brian’s unlikely comeback. Over dinner, he and I brainstormed how we could work together to spread the word about volunteer blood donation – not just small-scale “practical” concepts, but big ideas. Maybe that’s the problem with those of us who’ve come back from the dead. We know that sometimes that which isn’t possible is possible, and that these things usually offer the greatest satisfaction and the most fun. And once you’ve nearly lost your life, fun becomes a much higher priority.
Having received about 50 pints of blood, Brian now gets it. And he wants to do whatever he can to help others get it. At 24 years old, he has the youth (and long hair) to relate to high school and college audiences. With his continued participation in triathlon competitions, he’s a shoo-in with athletic audiences. And having been on both the Today Show and Ellen, his reach has expanded. (Is having 5,000 Facebook Friends even legal?)
Brian Boyle is a young man – a nice young man – with a mission. And if your mission is to save lives through transfusion medicine, he can help. I don’t care where his heart was immediately following his horrific accident; it’s definitely in the right place today.
Lauren Ward Larsen is the author of “Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances,” which shares her story of becoming a 200-pint blood recipient and the unexpected life that unfolded as a result. She is also the president and chief ambassador of the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via her website at www.laurenwardlarsen.com. For more information about Brian Boyle and “Iron Heart,” visit http://www.iron-heart.org/.