A Man in Many Pieces

Tim stares at the computer, cold coffee at his elbow, lost in the problem he is trying to solve. A minute later, his eyes widen, and his hands begin to fly over the keyboard. He sees it now, and the solution in his mind begins to take shape on the screen. It’s not just any problem he is trying to solve. A soldier’s life depends on it.

Tim knows something about fighting. For twenty years, he has been at war; the enemy tearing at him day after day, breaking his body, attacking his spirit. The battle dominated his childhood, dragged him from home and school, forced him to decide if survival was even worth the cost.

And now – fittingly or ironically, it is hard to say – Tim is an engineer, designing survivability systems to protect soldiers.

He is almost literally a man of steel. Every major bone in his body has been crushed at one time or another and, where we have marrow, Tim has metal rods. But this is a small fact compared to the smile on his face. A smile. He has endured more misery than I can conceive and deals with the repercussions of his injuries every day, but he smiles and goes to work, engineering solutions to prevent other people’s pain.

Deb Bosch is a nurse, which both reduced and increased the trauma of learning that her new baby had brittle bone disease. She understood how the disease worked, but also foresaw what it would mean for Tim and the rest of their family. There is no cure for this disease and there was no way for her to protect her child from injury without starving his desire to live. It has been a hard twenty years. There are only 206 bones in the human body, yet her son’s bones have been broken about 500 times – by falls and car accidents, by doctors and seat belts and even by pajamas. Five hundred times, her heart has been broken to see his pain. Over and over again, they break and heal together.

Tim is one of ten people in the world – anywhere, ever – to be diagnosed with his version of the disease. For years, Wings of Mercy flew his family to a research and treatment specialist in Montreal. When he was a baby, Deb carried him on a pillow because a seat belt would break him. When he was bigger, Tim flew on a stretcher.

When he was old enough for school, a new problem appeared. The treatments and surgeries to strengthen and repair his many broken bones continued and Tim was often unable to attend class, but he studied with Deb and passed every grade, all the way through high school. In college, Tim suffered an especially bad break just before exam week in his Senior year. The school offered a delay, but Tim declined. He showed up like everyone else, except for his new cast, and passed the tests.

Tim’s life of trouble has produced a curious side-effect. He is familiar with pain and does not surrender to it. Like a soldier trapped behind enemy lines, he observes it and devises strategies to defeat it. He smiles and tells me that he loves his job as an engineer – that he’s “living the dream” – and somehow, in spite of all the misery he’s endured, I believe him. He strikes me as a man of steel in a brittle body; maybe even a man of steel because of a brittle body.

Last year, he helped invent a device to make wheelchairs safer and easier to operate. Tomorrow, he will stare at his computer screen and try to solve a new problem. And someday soon, a soldier will come home in one piece because of a man who has been broken into many pieces.


For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

– Psalm 139