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2020 has been a bleak year, as a global pandemic has disrupted lives and economies, and it doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon.
At its core, COVID-19 is an illness that has taken almost 606,000 lives globally and 143,000 in the U.S., each one a tragedy for families and loved ones. With that proliferation, most people by now either know or know of someone who has fallen ill.
In our business, Peter Tuchman, aka the most photographed trader on the New York Stock Exchange, came down with the coronavirus in late March. He has since recovered, but the story he tells is that the virus is very serious business.
There is another tale of recovery, optimism and triumph, found in the Traders archives.
From the April 1998 Traders Magazine cover story “Lee Bulleri: The True Story of a Folk Hero”:
“Eight years ago, Lee Bulleri was given two months to live. The doctors diagnosed stomach cancer. Bulleri was scared.
“They took out most of my stomach and my esophagus and I went from 220 pounds to 130 pounds in body weight,” recalled Bulleri, the 56-year-old head and an over-the-counter trader at Sherwood Securities in Chicago.
Two nights before he was wheeled into surgery, Bulleri was at home in bed, cursing and swearing like a madman.
“I couldn’t even swallow water. I was lying awake in the dark. I was talking aloud to God using a lot of four-letter words. This was going on for about an hour or so and my wife Patricia walked by and said, Lee who are you talking to’?
“I am talking to God, I am praying,’ and she said, What, with that mouth of yours, you are talking to God?’ I said, I am praying and if he doesn’t know me by now, the last thing I want to do is tee him off.'”
“I asked God, Do I have to die and how do I die?’ I said, I really don’t want to die, I want some reason to live and to survive.'”
Bulleri paused for reflection. “Now God works in mysterious ways, as you know. I have this friend, Arnold Greenberg, a nice Jewish boy who worked in Denver for Sherwood before he recently retired. He’s a little offbeat like myself, wears jeans and has a ponytail. His wife is an holistic nurse.”
“Anyway, the next morning, the bell rings and a book is delivered, Getting Well Again [by O. Carl Simonton M.D. and Stephanie Mathew Simonton, Bantam Books] along with a tape on meditation sent by Arnold Greenberg. I read the book and listened to the tape. That night was the first night in weeks I slept without tossing and turning.”
Bulleri had found hope.
Beating back cancer for 12 months, Bulleri was on sick leave from the Chicago Corporation (now part of ABN AMRO) where he ran the desk, handling orders routed by Sherwood in New York.
But he said something inexplicably mysterious saved his life.
His friends were dumbfounded. “I honestly think, given what Lee went through, another man would have crumbled and died,” said Bill Black, a sales manager at Troster Singer in New York, and a friend of Bulleri’s. “Lee is a very very powerful man. He has tremendous internal fortitude. He rose like the Phoenix from the ashes.” Bulleri himself provides no rational explanation, but recalled facing the doctors when they told him he had perhaps a 20-percent chance of survival. “I have never done things like normal people,” Bulleri said, “so why do you think I am going to sit down and die? I was obstinate.”
Later, Bulleri, who likes a pint, was visiting a pub and saw a sign that said Good Patients Never Leave The Hospital Alive. The rest of the story is predictable. “I cursed the nurses, I cursed the doctors, I cursed the surgeons going in for my experimental treatments. A few months went by, then eight months, and I was down to 100 pounds and had tubes in me, and was as bald as a cueball, and I asked the doctors, What should I do?’ And they said, Do what you did before you were sick.’ So I realized they were not as smart as they thought they were.”
Bulleri made a full recovery, gained weight and started living life again as the fun-loving sales trader with a new purpose in life.
Bulleri’s recovery from the brink was full indeed, as he went on to live another 16 years after the Traders Magazine feature, before passing away in 2014 at age 73.
Tributes posted on his online obituary page told the story of a life well-lived.
“When I think of Lee, I always remember how generous he was. Never heard him speak an unkind word. When my Step Dad learned he had cancer, Lee mailed several books to him to assist with his journey.”
- “Lee was a true Folk Hero and man to be admired. He resonated positive energy to everyone around him.”
- “Lee was always so kind to me and was a wonderful host on my first trip to Chicago many many years ago. He was a true gentleman and great trader.”
Bulleri’s tale is an inspiration tale, as surely in 25 years there will be obituaries about people who beat COVID.
(An earlier version of this article misstated the number of COVID-19 deaths in the second paragraph.)