Brian Brandt knows a thing or two about reinventing oneself. After a successful career in marketing and advertising that included stops at Marshall Field’s, Rust-Oleum Corporation and legendary Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, he left the business world in 1993 to become a vocational teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system.
“Everybody in my family was very supportive,” Brian says, “and, fortunately, I could afford the career move. But I saw the good, the bad and the ugly — often in the same day.”
Perhaps nothing was uglier than another life-changing decision he made eight years ago, though, when his family doctor determined he was suffering from ascites (eh-SITE-ees), a condition where fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity because the liver is malfunctioning. “He suggested having my esophagus scoped to see if pressure was building in my veins,” Brian recalls. “I just thought I was getting fat or something. I ignored his advice, and life went on.”
Sort of. Until the day he passed out at home. “A vein ruptured in my esophagus,” Brian explains. “I could have bled to death, but my daughter called the paramedics, and doctors were able to seal off the vein below the rupture.”
That time, Brian got the message: He had a severe liver problem.
As his ascites worsened and his liver continued deteriorating, Brian was having six to eight liters of fluid removed from his midsection twice a week. “I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes,” he says.
Then fate intervened.
In early 2011, a friend from Brian’s church visited him at home, observed his condition and put him in touch with an acquaintance connected with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. The acquaintance invited Brian to meet the members of the UW transplant team. “I’ll never forget the words they said: ‘You are now part of our family.’”
Brian was added to the transplant waiting list in late spring 2011 and, after what he describes as a “dreadful” summer physically, in August he received another opportunity for a major life change — a matching liver was found.
“My transplant took place on August 12, 2011,” says Brian, now retired and an enthusiastic advocate for organ donation. “Aside from my birthday, it’s the most important day of my life.
After his transplant, Brian considered himself to be the luckiest guy in the world. “Today I say, ‘Well, I may not be the luckiest guy, but I still feel like I’m nationally ranked!’”