10 Years of Relentless Faith

Mike Markey teaches physical education at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, New Jersey. He is also an assistant coach for the school’s wrestling and football teams. But his cheerful features and strong built belie a battle that he has been fighting for 10 years: the incredible bout with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC).

Mike has been diagnosed with the condition in 2002, as a sophomore student and member of the wrestling and football teams of the College of New Jersey. Being a varsity athlete since high school, and an impressively decorated one at that, Mike knew that weight loss and fatigue are just part of his athletic regime. But he has been losing weight too fast and his fatigue is out of the ordinary. He knew right then that something was amiss. The diagnosis for PSC soon followed.

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is a liver disease characterized by scarring and inflammation of the bile ducts in the liver. It is not inherited and is caused by bacterial infection or problems with the immune system. This condition can eventually lead to liver cancer or liver failure. At such a young age and excellent athletic form, Mike had all the right to be angry. But instead of despairing, Mike dealt with the intimidating opponent the way every great athlete does: with unrelenting determination.

Mike had to give up football and wrestling eventually. It was not until 2005 that he got a transplant. He fought through the illness for three years. It was challenging, to say the least. For much of 2005, he had to travel every morning from his home in Caldwell to Bloomfield for his daily dose of antibiotics. He needed to maintain treatment as his body easily acquired infections because of a damaged liver. But the tough part did not end after the transplant. In fact, he admits that the years after the transplant are the most trying. He had to live through life daily with tubes in his upper abdomen for the liver’s drainage. Eventually, the new liver was damaged by internal bleeding. Mike also experienced sepsis, kidney failure, and renal failure. In 2006, he had to go through another surgery.

The bile duct surgery he had in 2006 proved to be unsuccessful. There were more bleeding and transfusions. By this time, he was already a physical education teacher at West Essex High School and has found the people who made some really great difference in his life. He met namesake Mike DiPiano, Sr. who introduced him to a friend who has underwent liver transplant. The friend, Ralph Faga, referred Mike to the Columbia Prysbeterian Hospital in New York. There he met Dr. Jean Emmond.

Dr. Emmond performed an experimental surgery on Mike, cutting 50% of his liver and allowing it to regenerate by itself. The procedure has got Mike off the tubes that protruded out of his body. The physical and mental relief was overwhelming. Mike’s condition has once again deteriorated. But should we say it is unfortunate?

For Mike, it can be a little frustrating. But he with a tremendously huge spirit and a strong support group of friends from his family, school, football and wrestling teams, and his community in Caldwell, he is confident that he can get through another challenge. His faith was shaken over the seemingly endless trials but he has learned to overcome them and is now serving as an inspiration to everyone who knows him. Mike’s life has been saved by an anonymous organ donor and he now plans to spread the word about selfless generosity. With his long bout with PSC, we know that he has a whole lot to share to others. And Mike knows he is just happy to give whatever help he can to others, just as the people around him have done.