BJ Miller

Adversity: Triple amputee, near-death experience

Advocacy: Provides palliative care to patients living and suffering with serious illness

“With my dramatic adversity comes the possibility for dramatic joy. Sharing this with others makes sweet of something tough. Life is hard enough as it is – we don’t need to suffer, too, from false isolation.”

As a sophomore at Princeton University, BJ Miller sustained electrical burns when he climbed on a commuter train and the electricity arced to his metal wristwatch. The encounter with 11,000 volts of electricity required the amputation of his left arm below the elbow and his legs below the knees. He experienced flashbacks to the incident, endured several surgeries and suffered with chronic pain.

The life-changing accident inspired BJ to study medicine in the hope of helping others dealing with loss and illness. He studied palliative care – an approach that uses team oriented, holistic approaches to treat the symptoms of illness and to relieve pain and suffering. Today, BJ is a physician as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and the executive director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. He spends nearly 75 hours a week directing the hospice project, working in an outpatient clinic at UCSF and visiting those receiving home-hospice care. “As much as we share joy, we share adversity,” BJ notes. “Adversity is the foil for triumph, for joy, for everything that brings ease. Knowing this in my bones – experiencing this dynamic in an obvious and public way – affords anyone watching in doubt to know they are not alone, and so begins the connection and the healing that comes with.”

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