Thursday, February 19, 2015

UMD Women Host Important Series, Look to Help One of Their Own

Back in Duluth, the UMD women's hockey team will host a very special night on Friday. The series that opens against Ohio State is critical for the Bulldogs' chances at home ice in the WCHA playoffs next weekend, but that's not the most important thing happening at the rink.

Julianne "Montana" Vasichek was a two-time All-American as a player at UMD (the nickname works because she is from Great Falls, Mont.). Now the hockey equipment manager and strength and conditioning coach for the women's team, Vasichek is battling a serious illness. The Bulldog program is trying to help.

Vasichek was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis back in 2002, while she was still playing for UMD. If that wasn't bad enough, she was hit with a diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) five years later.

PSC is a very rare disease that affects the liver. Vasichek has undergone multiple procedures to open her bile ducts and place stents (they're called ECRPs, she says she's had around 12-15 of them total). Thankfully, she isn't on the list for a liver transplant because her score is too low. We hope it stays that way.

Many aren't so fortunate.

According to statistics available for December through LifeSources, there were 546 people awaiting liver transplants in the local region (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) and 15,465 awaiting liver transplants nationally.  Contrast those statistics with only 118 liver transplants performed regionally in 2013, and the numbers show that about 21 people died waiting for a transplant every day.  Vasichek also points out that every 10 minutes, a person is added to the national transplant list, proving how great the need is for awareness of organ donation.

That leads us to this weekend. Vasichek's passion is multi-fold at this point. She wants to raise awareness of PSC and help raise money for research. Vasichek also wants to help get more people registered to be organ and tissue donors.

"I am not really the type of person to sit around and wait for something to happen, I like to make things happen and be involved in the process," she said. "While playing hockey at UMD, I had the opportunity to learn leadership and problem solving skills from great leaders, coaches and teammates that I played with. When I was first diagnosed with PSC and after a short period of adjustment to a life with a new chronic disease, I felt like I wanted to contribute to a solution for myself and hopefully many others."

On Friday, the Bulldogs are asking fans to help by donating to any of a number of great organizations.

If you're going to the games, you can get more information on how to help at Amsoil Arena. If not, here's a list:

PSC Partners Seeking a Cure
LifeSource (will have a table and representative at the event)
United Network for Organ Sharing
Donor Dudes (sent green sunglasses for the team)
BetheMatch (will be setting up swabbing to add people to bone marrow transplant list)
Also, Vasichek is doing a fundraiser for PSC Partners that you can contribute to here.

Even hit by a splitting headache, Vasichek was in a good mood at the rink Wednesday. She's always in a good mood at the rink. This is a great cause, and we're all pulling for "Montana" as she continues her battle.

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