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NCAA National Hockey Champion Is Diagnosed With Rare Liver Disease

When Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) started shutting down her liver, an emergency transplant was the only option for this athlete.

Credit: Mayo Clinic News Network

As a former NCAA All-American Hockey Player, three-time national champion with the University of Minnesota – Duluth, and member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Julianne Vasichek was at the top of her game when she was unexpectedly diagnosed in 2008 with a rare liver disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). Although she had been experiencing unexplained symptoms for some time, including fatigue, itching and abdominal pain, she never imagined the cause was a rare and debilitating disease.

PSC is a disease that damages the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. Over time, blockages may occur, and bile becomes trapped and damages the liver. This damage can result in liver failure. With no definitive treatment or cure, many PSC patients will eventually require a liver transplant.

After getting over the shock of her diagnosis, Julianne sprang into action and joined PSC Partners Seeking a Cure and became a LifeSource Donate Life Ambassador. She found that sharing her story, connecting with others, and spreading awareness bolstered her spirit and gave her a renewed sense of purpose.

Julianne spent the next 7 years managing her disease and staying as active and healthy as possible.  

In February of 2015, her PSC seemed stable. Julianne recalls, “at this point, my disease had been fairly quiet, and I had never been listed for transplant. I figured I had maybe 2-5 years before I might need one.” 

Unfortunately, that would soon change in dramatic fashion.

On February 23rd, 2015, Julianne entered a hospital in Duluth with what she thought was an infection that would be cleared in just a couple of days. Ten days later she awoke from a coma in a hospital bed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester to learn that she had received an emergency liver transplant that had saved her life. Soon after being admitted to the hospital in Duluth, Julianne’s body had started to rapidly deteriorate. It was discovered that she suffered from a second rare liver disease called Budd Chiari and that her liver was shutting down. After being airlifted to Mayo and stabilized, Julianne was listed at the top of the liver transplant waiting list. Without a transplant, she would not make it.

Julianne’s life was saved on February 28, 2015, when she received the ultimate gift of a liver from a donor. Julianne is overwhelmed with gratitude when she thinks about her donor, “One person can make a difference. I am living proof of the magnitude of the decision to become an organ donor. I live because of another’s selfless decision to register and donate life.”

Today, Julianne is thriving. She is the Head Women’s Hockey Coach at the College of St. Scholastica, is a member of Team MN-DAK where she competes at the Transplant Games of America, and she continues to be involved with PSC Partners Seeking a Cure and LifeSource. In fact, Julianne will be honored as Ambassador of the Year at LifeSource’s Donate Life Day Virtual Event on Thursday, April 28th 2022. Julianne lives every day to the fullest in honor of her donor who gave the ultimate gift – the gift of life.