A Baby, an MBA, and a New Liver

The month of August 2015 was easiest the craziest one of my life due to the amount life altering events that occurred that month.

To start off the blog, I thought I’d give you an idea of me and my background. My running itself is not very notable compared to most other runners I know. However, my health and recovery make a pretty unique story. To give you an idea where most of this began, here is the story of the craziest month of my life, August 2015. Beginning the month, my wife was 37 weeks pregnant, I was starting an MBA program, and I had been on a liver transplant list for two years.

Despite being on the list for two years, I did not believe I was very high on it. My MELD score, the score that prioritizes patients on the transplant list, was around 21 on a scale of 36. Typically, people who get transplanted are around 24 or higher – at least in this region. I was actually a 36 when I was initially put on the list following a severe infection, but I dropped down to 18 following antibiotics. In the following years, my score slowly began to climb again.

Despite my score, I continued to work and live my life relatively normal despite various side effects. I made the decision when I was first diagnosed, that while getting sick sucks, I wasn’t going to use it as an excuse to interrupt my life. This is why I continued to enroll in an MBA program and start a family.

A Few Interruptions in My Studies

I had told the school that my wife was very pregnant, but I was low enough on the transplant list that I didn’t think it was worth mentioning that I was also on a liver transplant list. The first week of August was a residency week at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus as part of the MBA. The Executive MBA program crams an ethics class, a writing class, and other various supporting aspects of the program into an intense first week.

The first Monday morning of class, I get a call on my phone from a number that I immediately recognize as the Northwestern University transplant team. Generally, when they would call, I expected lab results or other tests. I was not expecting this call. So I quickly stepped out of class and answered it. Sure enough, Northwestern was getting a liver for a pediatric patient, and they thought the other half of the liver would be available for another patient. That person would likely be me if I were available.

So I quietly went back in the classroom and asked the dean to come out to the hall. She was conveniently in our classroom since it was literally our first class of the two-year program. I explained to her that I was on a liver transplant list and I just got a call for a liver. She said, “Go get your liver!” I walked back into class to pick up my laptop and the rest of my stuff. A guy who would eventually become a pretty good friend, but at this point was someone I had known for less than 24 hours, said, “Is it baby time?” I said, “not exactly” and briefly explained the situation.

Then I quickly rushed off to Northwestern’s hospital, which was conveniently only a few blocks away in Streeterville. I spent the rest of the day doing preparation tests and other things getting ready for surgery until we found out that evening that I would not be getting that liver. That was a crazy and emotional day!

So, Tuesday morning I was free to head back to class. Despite many of my new classmates looking at me like I was nuts, Tuesday went by uneventfully. At least I found a unique way to let them know that I was on a transplant list, something that would be needed down the road!

Wednesday morning, my wife Jessica, had her 37 week prenatal appointment, also at Northwestern. She called me during my morning class – eerily similar to the same time as my Northwestern call two days earlier. She had been diagnosed with preeclampsia, and the doctor wanted to induce her that day. I’ll never forget her saying, “so, I guess we’re having a baby today…” I once again said my goodbyes to my class and headed back over to Northwestern. By this point, I was pretty much an expert at leaving class and heading to the hospital. Jessica was soon induced, and Ansel Thomas Riemann was born about 12 hours later, just after midnight on August 6th, 2015.

I missed class all day Thursday, but I continued to keep in touch with my group for my ethics course and my business writing teacher about assignments via email. While Jess and Ansel were sleeping Thursday night, I caught up on any missed assignments until early Friday morning. I went ahead an attended class Friday morning. To the amazement of most of my class, I successfully made it through the first week and first two classes of my MBA, despite a ‘few distractions.’

When it Rains It Pores

We took Ansel home that weekend, and the next few weeks were relatively normal, at least for someone who had a new baby at home and was attending school. However, three weeks later, on August 28th, things would get even crazier. It was Friday about 4:45 pm and I was on the phone with my brother when Northwestern called again. I told him I better get this and that I would call him back.

Sure enough, there was another liver available. However, this time everything would go through. I went into surgery that evening and came out around 3am.

Over the next three months, I would end up being in and out of the hospital, end my tenure at our family’s company, and miss three classes in total. Still, I was able to make my classes up before graduation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the responsibilities and stress fell on my wife and the rest of my family more than me. I am incredibly blessed and grateful to everyone who was able to help and assist during these crazy times.