Resilience Defined

I had the privilege of closing out the annual conference for the Oklahoma City chapter of the Case Management Society of America yesterday. However, I was moved – and motivated – by the lunchtime keynote speaker before I got up on the stage later in the afternoon. His name was Andrew Oberle. In case you may not have heard of him, here’s his bio as printed in the program:

Andrew Oberle nearly lost his life after being viciously mauled by chimpanzees and left for dead in South Africa almost six years ago. Now, he is the development director of the Oberle Institute at Saint Louis University, working with the doctor that helped give him his life back, Dr. Bruce Kraemer, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Together, they are working to establish a holistic, medically integrated wound healing and wellness center at Saint Louis University. He is also a graduate student in SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice working towards his Master’s degree in Health Administration. His experience as a catastrophically injured patient-turned-healthcare leader, researcher and motivational speaker gives him unique insight into approaching and advocating for care for trauma patients.

You can read more about him here.

The title of his session was “Surviving to Thriving.” Indeed.

Until he propped his hand up on the podium you’d never notice he has only one finger remaining on his left hand (and a prosthetic on his right hand) as a result of the 20-30 minutes two chimpanzees attacked him with their teeth, nails and brawn in 2012. From a distance you’d never notice he has no ears. Or that his nose was man-made. You would never know from his speech that he had paralysis at one point on the right side of his face. His gait would never give you a hint that most of his feet no longer exist. His countenance did not indicate anyone feeling physical, psychological or emotional pain. He proudly talked about his wife and 16-month old daughter, just like any other husband or father. When he talked about helping others, joy radiated from his face. Simply put, he is resilience personified.

Here’s some of the things he said that resonated with me:

  • “Human connection fuels recovery”
  • Best wishes for his recovery — and active advocacy for his best interests — from his family, healthcare providers and “random” people from around the world helped in his psychological recovery — “If these people believe in me then I should too”
  • “Successful recovery is only five percent physical — the rest is empowered resiliency
  • People treating him like a normal person, even though he didn’t look “normal” anymore, helped change his mindset and confidence
  • “How many of you survived the most difficult circumstance in your life?” Everybody’s hand went up. “How many of you did it alone?” Everybody’s hand stayed down. And that was the point.
  • Everybody in difficult circumstances asks “Why Me?”…when you get the answer to that question, it’s a game changer

But this one really hit me…

“I would gladly be attacked by chimpanzees every day in order to have the life I have now.”

Wrap your head around that statement.

Everybody is in recovery from something. Very few people are thankful for the initiating event.

He found his purpose in life. He is dedicated to use what he learned during those traumatic 20-30 minutes, the painful recovery from his physical and psychological injuries, and his transformation into somebody he never could have imagined before the incident, to help others. And he is, every day, because that is now his life’s mission. With all that he has gone through since 2012, he would do it again because he sees the end result. He is an amazing person.

According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is defined as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

He has it. Do you?