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All Psyched for Mike
A computer troubleshooter finds himself on the receiving end of network support


Mike Zaloudek and his wife, Becky, sometimes bike together, though she has trouble keeping up with him. Childhood sweethearts, they're pictured here with their children, from left, Lauren, 12, Matthew, 5, and Becky, 16.

When Mike Zaloudek asked Karen Diesenberg for a donation to support research for a rare liver disease, Diesenberg, a project manager in Strategic Planning and Market Research, didn’t hesitate. Then she asked if he had a personal tie to the disease.

“Yes,” replied Zaloudek, a local area network (LAN) administrator who’s serviced computers in six different departments. “I’ve got it, and there’s no cure.”

No one was more surprised by this declaration than Zaloudek himself. “I hadn’t planned on telling anyone,” he says. “But when Karen asked, I realized I might be able to raise more awareness—and money—by telling my story.”

In 1999, after routine blood work from a life insurance physical turned up “through-the-roof” liver enzymes, Zaloudek (pronounced Za-LOAD-ek) was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis. PSC typically strikes men between the ages of 30 and 40. Bile ducts inside and outside the liver become inflamed and eventually blocked. The bile backups cause liver cell death and, eventually, cirrhosis. PSC’s cause is unknown, and the only treatment is liver transplantation.

A self-described fitness nut who occasionally bikes to work from Severna Park, Zaloudek, 34, was stunned. He didn’t feel sick and had no symptoms. But doctors said he’d need a liver transplant within 10 years.

Zaloudek began taking medications and having regular tests. Last August, after a long bike ride, he started to feel winded. Excruciating pain under his rib cage followed. Within hours, his eyes turned yellow. His wife took him to Hopkins Hospital, and Zaloudek was admitted. That’s when he learned the disease had progressed and he’d need a liver transplant within five years.

The average wait for a liver from a deceased donor is two years. With PSC, the longer one waits for a transplant, the higher the risk for developing bile duct cancer. Patents with cancer are ineligible for transplants.

After hearing the news, Diesenberg and her co-workers moved into high gear. In February, they organized a white elephant auction and raised $1,000 for PSC research. Then they sent e-mails to other departments urging support for Zaloudek’s upcoming bike ride. He plans to bike 260 miles to Pittsburgh for the annual PSC “Partners Seeking a Cure” conference, April 7–9.

Word spread fast about the affable guy who began his career as a security officer and for four years was a driver for Hopkins VIPs. Corporate Security sponsored a raffle, expected to raise another $1,700. So far, Zaloudek has received about $5,000 for PSC research.

Zaloudek draws additional encouragement from the PSC support group and people like Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug, who was diagnosed with PSC, received a liver transplant and then won a bronze medal a year and a half later. “My primary concern,” says Zaloudek, “is my family, but I’ve also become an advocate for PSC and organ donation.”

As Zaloudek prepares for the ride to Pittsburgh, his friends at work are worried it will be too taxing for him. Zaloudek won’t hear of it. “I owe it to them to at least give it my best shot.”

—Judy Minkove

 

 

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