Every great once in a while, you meet someone who has overcome in the face of impossible odds.
Often they are quiet — living life away from the spotlight, savoring each day, happy to be alive.
I met such a man at WordCamp Denmark, in Copenhagen.
His name was Holger. And this is his story.
I remember the first time we spoke. It was in a speed networking session. Each of us had a question we were supposed to ask someone else. My question for him was this: “What was the latest project you built in WordPress?” That is how I came to know his story.
Holger told me that for six years, between 2009 and 2015, he has been lying in a hospital bed, receiving experimental drugs to fight an as yet untreatable illness, hepatitis C.
Holger’s story starts at five
In Holger’s words:
I have been sick for many years. I have a virus in my blood that causes hepatitis C. It happened back in 1961, when I was five. I got hit by a car and spent many months in the hospital. I had to have many operations as the surgeons tried to put everything back where it belonged.
Slowly, his condition worsened, until in 1999 he had to leave his last job. It had become too difficult to move and it took him too long to complete even the easiest tasks. Since then, he has had longer and more frequent hospital stays.
In 2009, as new drugs in the fight against hepatitis C were emerging, he was placed under close medial supervision to start experimental trials. But the treatments left him weak:
My body could not move, but my brain was very much alive, eager to know new things. I noticed that my arms were more and more difficult to raise. That is when I realized I had to prepare for any sort of future I could hope for, one in which I could at least use my brain to support myself and earn a living.
And then I found WordPress.
A way out of his body
He picked up his laptop and started to read everything he could about content management systems. He found WordPress to be particularly interesting, so much that he began to pick up coding, some jQuery, PHP, and a little CSS.
He discovered that he loved all this new stuff. And he now had a glimmer of hope that he could make a living for himself again.
With WordPress, Holger had found a way out of the body he could no longer command, and the will to go beyond what other people thought he could or couldn’t do.
With the most recent round of drugs, Holger’s recovery has been nothing short of amazing. By this past August he was close to 100 percent. He can now walk, work, and code. He still has minor speech issues and has not regained full use of his hands, but his overall shape is excellent.
He has attended his first-ever WordCamp, where he got to meet other people who love WordPress, other people who are coding and building websites. He was inspired by the stories he heard and the case studies he saw. And maybe, just maybe, this first WordPress conference has paved the way to a brighter future.
Holger’s incredible story is about the strength of the human spirit to overcome life’s challenges. About hope and perseverance.
Everyone has a story
I can’t help but think that there are many people like Holger out there, each of them with a story to tell. They are there, at the WordCamps, DrupalCons, JoomlaCons. They are usually in a corner, sometimes alone — unless we make the effort to draw them in.
We can learn so much from their stories if we just start talking to them. Instead of hanging around with the regulars at a WordCamp, maybe we should reach out beyond our own comfort zones, and start up a conversation with someone new to the event.
Because, like Holger, everyone has a story.
But we will never know them unless we are willing to skip a meal or leave our own ‘tribe’ for a few minutes.
To say hello to a stranger. To ask them what lights them up, what passions they have, what they do for fun.
Help me share Holger’s story
My goal here is to spread Holger’s story across the globe. Because the more we share stories like this, the more hope it gives others who might be struggling right now. And the more it will inspire others to make our WordPress community more inclusive, more supportive of our members who could use an ear and a helping hand.
Yes, it is possible to get up again after we fall. It is possible to leave a hospital bed and jump into the world of coding WordPress. It is possible to achieve what our bodies — and other people — feel we can’t.
I ask that you share this post, and Holger’s story, with your social media friends.
Send it to event organizers you feel need to know.
Heck, send it to Matt Mullenweg.
Send it anywhere you think it can bring encouragement, hope and support.
Please follow Holger. And while you are at it, tell him something good. Send him an uplifting word of encouragement. If you are in the position, maybe you could even offer some training to help him improve his coding skills.
If you are in Denmark, even better. Invite him to a local meetup or just to hang out for drinks. I am sure he will appreciate it.
Let’s make this a memorable week for Holger. Let’s show him that many people around the world are on his side. Show him we admire his determination and strength.
Show him we care.