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Brett Bullington’s Road to Recovery

It was Sunny October day near Bartlesville, Oklahama. Brett Bullington, then 59, was more than halfway through his bicycle trip across America, riding from Santa Barbara to Charleston with a crew of 23. The wind at their backs and cruising at a solid 18 mph, Brett and his bike suddenly swerved and went down. The next thing he remembers, he was in a Santa Clara, CA hospital. It was one month later.

Brett had sustained massive brain trauma, resulting in nearly a dozen surgeries and a bleak path to recovery ahead. The following months were spent bouncing from Joplin, MO, Stanford and Santa Clara hospitals, with friends and family keeping track of his progress through daily updates on Brett’s Recovery Tumblr, written by his dear friend Mike. “Realistically, the possibility of a complete recovery is small. The odds are certainly against a favorable outcome. But Brett has always been an outlier,” reads a post dated October 16.

Brett, as with any obstacle in his life, got by with a little help from his friends. One such friend? Esteemed Silicon Valley reporter—and longtime friend of Brett—Kara Swisher gifted him a Jawbone UP band in January 2013. Kara thought it would help Brett on his path to recovery as he began to venture outside hospital walls once again. She was right.

A Life with UP

It all started with UP’s Idle Alert feature, which reminded Brett – and his therapist – that it was time to get moving, he said, speaking from his Palo Alto home. Brett had difficulty using his left hand, and noticed that the gentle reminder improved his mobility.

UP became a major tool in his physical therapy sessions, always on Brett’s wrist as he completed various balance and coordination exercises; there as he learned to walk again.

Then came the sleep reports. Brett’s doctors emphasized the impact sleep has on healing head injuries, so tracking it became a priority, he said.

“Doctors would always come in and say ‘How did you sleep? Did you sleep well?’” With the data from UP, Brett was able to do more than say yes. He was able to prove it by opening the UP app, where he had logged anywhere from 9 to 11 hours a night —most of it Sound sleep.

His secret to getting so much Sound sleep? Every night since the accident, his wife, Diana, reads to him. Together they’ve finished dozens of books, including “Kitchen Confidential” and San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt’s book “To Stir a Movement” (Brett’s hospital room wasn’t dubbed the Giants Shrine for nothing).

Healing in Numbers

Wearing UP, and now UP24, Brett knew what kind of data to expect. After all, Brett says, throughout our lives, we are measuring ourselves. Whether through grades, clothing sizes or weight and height metrics, society places an importance on data. With UP, Brett is able to provide more context to that data, slowly learning how his steps impact his sleep, and most importantly, how he is improving over time.

But Brett attributes a large part of his recovery to his connections to family, friends, and business associates.

“You never know where help is going to come from,” he said.

In addition to his Tumblr, Brett shares his UP Weekly Report on Facebook, and those reports continue to inspire and reassure his family and friends. And while he has UP teammates he’s known for years, there are others he has never met. Together, they share their data and encourage Brett throughout the day—and on his path to recovery. 

He is a firm believer in being very open about his story and sharing his UP data to motivate and encourage othersespecially those in recovery from illness or accidents.  “Tracking this data and being open about the struggles I’ve faced has really made me want to go out and help other people that have been hurt,” he said.

Doctors and Data

What has yet to be cracked, Brett says, is how doctors can use the data he is collecting. Brett sends his weekly reports to his doctors—even those in Missouri—and they’ve been extremely impressed with his progress. Three have even purchased UP24s for themselves.

But Brett thinks there is huge promise and value in the future of wearables, and looks forward to a time when the data can be sent directly to his doctors.

“We need to use the data in more meaningful way in the medical industry,” he said. “I measure myself day by day and week by week, and now doctors need to begin to use and analyze this information.

Back to Basics

In October of 2012, Bullington couldn’t walk or speak. Today, he regularly logs 30 miles a week, taking his dog Trudy out on walks so frequently that she looks at him with a face that says “are you really dragging me out again?,” he said.

Now that he’s well on his way to a full recovery, there’s one person Brett wants to focus on. “Right now, I’m focused on giving my wife her life back.”

About The Author

Leslie Williams

Writing, editing and all things social at Jawbone. I enjoy AP Style, french fries and drag queens. I detest mustard, pigeons and bad commercial jingles. Find me on Twitter at @ohgoodnessmeh, but for managing social media as my day job, it's a weak attempt!