Duluth woman to run Grandma’s marathon seven years after liver transplant

Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 10:10 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR 6) - Julianne Vasichek, who is now the College of Saint Scholastica’s women’s hockey coach, started playing when she was a kid.

“I was just at the rink a lot when I was little,” Vasichek said. “I would fall asleep in hockey bags and those kinds of things.”

She has always been an incredibly talented athlete, earning a three-time national champion title for UMD hockey and becoming a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

But in 2009, a rare liver disease diagnosis threw her life off course.

“You feel helpless,” said Vasichek.

Her symptoms suddenly worsened in 2015, and she had to have an emergency liver transplant.

She was so sick, that she wasn’t awake during the five days she waited for a liver donor.

“When I woke up, I could barely move,” she said. “I couldn’t even push the pain button with my thumb.”

Her doctors said Vasichek’s lifestyle helped her make it through the procedure.

“Somebody who was older or less physically fit probably would’ve succumbed to this illness,” said Dr. John Poterucha with the Mayo Clinic.

When she was finally able to get up, Vasichek could only walk ten feet.

Fast forward to this weekend, and she’s now attempting to run 26.2 miles in Grandma’s Marathon.

Her road to recovery has been anything but easy.

“Every long run I take, I get choked up about three, four times because I think back and I can feel again what it was like to wake up and to be walking that ten feet,” she said.

This won’t be Vasicheck’s first full marathon.

She ran Grandma’s in 2005 and 2009.

She was planning on running again in 2015 before her illness got worse.

“I actually bought two new pairs of shoes in February about two weeks before my transplant,” Vasichek said. “So, those shoes, I just retired this year because I hadn’t run a ton of mileage.”

Even after all she has been through, Vasichek maintains an inspiring outlook, and, her competitive spirit continues to shine through as she prepares to get on the starting line once again.

“Those last few miles, I am going to want to be pushing,” she said. “I have a pretty high pain threshold, so no matter what, I am going to be competing with myself, and that’s the joyous opportunity. I am so grateful to be able to do it again.”

Vasichek will be joined on the course Saturday by one of the doctors on her team.

She said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of her loved ones and her medical team.

Vasichek will also be competing in the Transplant Games of America in late July.

She shares her story in hopes of inspiring others to donate organs.

For more information on how to do that, head to Donate Life or Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis partners.

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