Alumnus Bruce Stahlman: Real Life Buzz Lightyear

A family picture of the Stahlman’s in 1992. From left to right: Bruce holds Mark, Jay is in the middle and Kelly holds Eric (Photo courtesy of Kelly Stahlman).

Since graduating from Albion in 1979, Alumnus Bruce Stahlman has remained highly involved in the Albion College community.  As someone who didn’t go to college intending to be in healthcare, Stahlman has since become an advocate in the field. He spoke to the Healthcare 101 class, using his story to teach pre-medical students what the other side of healthcare is like and the important role healthcare plays for a family.

Stahlman has become a passionate advocate for the disabled community. His work at Arc Thrift, stores located throughout Colorado, has helped many people with disabilities get the funding for advocacy and services. He is a father of three boys, an older son named Jay as well as twins named Mark and Eric. He now has two grandchildren as well.

Days at Albion

In Stahlman’s days at Albion, he was highly involved on campus. Stahlman was once a writer for The Pleiad and went on to be the business manager for a year. In addition to being involved in Greek Life, specifically Albion’s chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity, Stahlman was also a member of orchestra and marching band for a couple of years. 

Additionally, Stahlman played different intramural sports offered by the college and still holds on to his 1977 intermural soccer championship shirt. 

Raising Eric and Mark

In 1992, Stahlman’s wife, Kelly,  gave birth to twins: Eric and Mark. The twins were born twenty-eight weeks pre-maturely. After being in the neonatal intensive care, two months for Mark and three months for Eric, they were both diagnosed with cerebral palsy and medical fragility.

Mark was non-verbal but learned to talk with a speech computer. Eric, on the other hand, was verbal but needed assistance breathing. Both of the twins were immobile and needed a wheelchair to get around. 

Eric, Jay and Mark attend a Rockies game in 2012 (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Stahlman).

”They also had many surgeries growing up, but it was easily one per year for things such as spine fusions, bone and muscle lengthening, stomach Nissen, and so forth and so on,” Stahlman said in an interview.

In 2014, Mark passed away due to a blood clot at 21, and in 2015, Eric passed away from complications with sepsis or blood poisoning at the age of 23. 

“Over 600 people had attended both services,” Stahlman said in the same interview. 

Stahlman attributed this to the fact that. both of the twins were, as he said, “consistently awesome self-advocates for the disabilities community and they touched many other lives.”

Stahlman’s Own Fight 

In 2018, Stahlman was given his own battle to fight when he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in his brain. 

Stahlman stated that “in late August 2018 [he] hadn’t been feeling well for a month and was having some minor balance issues.”

On Aug. 28, 2018, Stahlman’s wife urged him to go to the ER to get his head checked out for an MRI instead of going in to work that day.

“An hour after the MRI that the attending physician comes in and says, ‘You have a large mass in your head. We’re admitting you to the ICU,’” Stahlman said. 

On Aug. 31, 2018, Stahlman went into a six-hour surgery.  

“I was missing a cancerous tumor the size of a racquetball part of my brain,” said Stahlman. “But I got a cool scar. They left most of the personality intact, which some [friends] feel it was a missed opportunity.”

To help keep cancer away, Stahlman has to wear an opportune device that zaps any cancer cells when they begin to divide, thus preventing the cancer cells from growing. 

Because of the battery pack that powers the opportune device, Stahlman says  his coworkers call him “Buzz Lightyear.” 

Stahlman’s optimistic attitude towards what life has thrown towards him also shows parallels to the character Buzz Lightyear. Both Stahlman and Lightyear have had their lives altered and changed in a drastic way, and neither back down. Rather, they adapt to what life throws at them. 

“Some say it was a rough ticket getting brain cancer after having Mark and Eric and I say they have it completely wrong,” Stahlman said. “Mark and Eric were huge blessings as we met so many great people in the disabilities community.

About Erin Lathrop 12 Articles
Erin is a sophomore from Saline, MI. She is on the Track, Cross Country, and Dive team. Erin is at Albion College studying to become a nurse. She is, also, the movie trolls number one fan.

1 Comment

  1. Great article! Bruce is my brother-in-law. He has been an inspiration to the family. When other people would give up, Bruce keeps going.
    Thanks for doing an article about him and his family.

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