The Man Who Changed His Life With the Blink of an Eye

Jean-Dominique Bauby was a vivacious, handsome, charismatic man with many talents. As well as heading up French fashion magazine Elle, he could also list actor and author as professions on his impressive resume. He loved the high-life, so he lived it. One day in 1995, Jean and his son Théophile were enjoying a drive together when Jean began to see double. He was rushed to a hospital where he slipped into a coma. When he woke up three weeks later, he was completely paralyzed as a result of a rare condition called “locked-in syndrome,” which had been caused by a stroke. Although the only thing on his body he could move was his left eyelid, his mind remained fully alert. From that point on, Jean wasn’t able to eat, swallow or breathe without assistance. Sadly, Jean’s prognosis wasn’t promising. At just 43, he had no way of communicating with the world. Then one day, his friend Bernard Chapuis noticed Jean’s left eye twitching. He asked him to blink if he could understand him, and Jean did. After that, Jean began working with a speech therapist who specialized in the “alphabet of silence.” Fast-forward a couple of years and Jean was able to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with the assistance of a specialized nurse. He dictated the book through the use of eye blinking 3 hours a day, 6 days a week for months. It took him 200,000 blinks to complete the book. Sadly, Jean didn’t live long enough to see the success of his novel. Just two days after its publication, Jean died from pneumonia — with no idea he had just penned an international best-seller. Over the years, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has touched the hearts of countless readers, and has even been made into a critically acclaimed movie that was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Jean-Dominique Bauby with his children, Celeste and Théophile