Strive to Survive

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    Surviving a near-fatal accident or life-threatening disease is inspiring. But using that experience to help others is extraordinary, and this story tells the tales of two extraordinary people.


    Sink or Swim


    On June 16, 1991, Greg Marischen stood on water skis for the first time on a vacation to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 23-year-old law student was out on the water when a defective part on the boat made the boat spin out of control. When he was supposed to be facing the thrill of a water sport, he started facing the boat speeding directly toward him.


    "I saw it coming and tried to go under to get out of the way, but I had a life jacket and skis on. You can only get so far under," Marischen says. He was able to get far enough below the water that the boat passed over him, but he wasn’t so lucky with the propeller.


    usanGKomen_In-Story.jpg The boat propeller struck the left side of his head, fracturing his skull, cutting the main artery to the brain and severing all connections to the motor strip. But after the unfortunate event, Marischen’s luck came full circle. Another boater had a cell phone, a rare commodity in 1991, and quickly made a call to 911.


    And just two miles away from the accident was St. Paul Ramsey, one of the best hospitals in the country for head injuries. "So they sent a helicopter to get me and got me in record time, and they said that if it had been a couple more minutes, I never would have made it because I was losing so much blood," Marischen says.


    Even with the quick response time, though, the doctors did not have high hopes for Marischen. "At first they told my parents, ‘It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it,’ " Marischen says. After a couple hours, the prognosis improved, but the doctors expected him to be in a permanent vegetative state.


    But after nine hours of surgery, Marischen woke up. At first he was unaware of the seriousness of his accident and was puzzled why his parents had made the trip from Dayton, Ohio, all the way up to Minneapolis.


    The reality started to set in, though, when he realized he couldn’t move the right side of his body because of the severed connections in the motor strip. He asked his doctor, one of the best brain surgeons in the state, if he would be able to play basketball again. "He said, ‘No, no way.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be able to walk again, right?’ And he said, ‘No, absolutely not,’ " Marischen says.


    Doctor after doctor gave Marischen the same prognosis. But Marischen refused to believe it. He pushed for physical therapy even when his doctors said it wouldn’t help. He pushed through problems with his insurance company not wanting to cover the physical therapy. He pushed through his inability to move, and today, Marischen walks. He works out on the stair climber. And he plays basketball with his three sons.



    His brain rebuilt the connections it needed on the motor strip, and now, Marischen is working with that same concept to help children with ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s, Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorders. In researching treatment options for his 12-year-old son who was diagnosed with ADD, Marischen found the Brain Balance Program.


    Taking a three-pillar approach, this program focuses on sensory motor work, cognitive work and nutrition to help strengthen weak connections in patients’ brains. A recent study followed 122 patients with ADD/ADHD through this 12-week program.


    "Of the children examined with the Brown Scale, 81 percent of their parents said the children no longer demonstrated ADD/ADHD behaviors. The achievement subtests revealed improvements, sometimes as much as two to four grade levels in reading, comprehension, written and oral expression, and mathematic reasoning," according to a press release published online by the Business Courier.


    Now, Marischen is working to bring the Brain Balance Program to the Tri-State, and he will be opening a Brain Balance Achievement Center Oct. 15. And his son will be one of his first clients.


    To learn more about the Brain Balance Achievement Center, go to or call (513) 376-3085 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (513) 376-3085      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.


    Getting Back on the Horse — Again and Again


    In 1970, at 25 years old, Dana Siegel was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and given five years before she would be confined to a wheel chair. "I just thought, no way buddy! I’m not going to be in a wheelchair," she says.


    Instead of giving up, Siegel decided to just give. She got involved with the Arthritis Foundation. "I think just trying to do something positive with that disease is what made the difference in surviving," Siegel says.


    Then, in 1996, Siegel received a call from her oncologist. She had breast cancer. When she got the call, she was with her daughter, Andrea. "I remember she said, ‘Mom are you going to die,’ and I said, ‘Not from this, ‘ " she says.


    Again, she decided to fight her disease with philanthropy, and she got involved with the Breast Cancer Alliance. The alliance had circulated a Wall of Hope with pictures and quotes of more than 100 breast cancer survivors, but when she first started volunteering with the alliance, the wall was stashed away in a storage room. Siegel and her two breast cancer-surviving friends dusted off the wall and returned it to public view, changing display locations each month.


    If two major disease battles weren’t enough, in 2000 Siegel received a letter (yes, a letter) from her doctor letting her know that she had pulmonary fibrosis and only had about two to five years to live. She switched pulmonologists and started on intensive drug therapy to extend her life expectancy, and then she went in search for a lung transplant.


    After researching and connecting with several hospitals, she was listed in 2002 for a lung transplant at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. But she wasn’t expected to be high enough on the list to receive a transplant for another two years.


    That spring Andrea got engaged. "I just remember thinking that I hope I’m going to be here for her wedding," Siegel says. She constantly used an oxygen tank and lost pound after pound down to 78 pounds. But she kept a positive attitude and strong will. She loved to be in the pool, so she found a long enough oxygen tube to let her wade around the pool and use a kickboard here and there.


    Then on one Friday night she got a call in the summer of 2003. She considered not answering the phone, but thinking it was Andrea, she picked up. It was Indiana University Hospital and they potentially had a lung for her. One lady stood in front of Siegel, but the hospital couldn’t get in contact with her.


    "So I called Andrea and asked, ‘Would you like to drive to Indianapolis to get a lung transplant with me?’ " she says. When they reached the hospital, the hospital still had not been able to reach the lady ahead of Siegel on the transplant list, so Siegel was put through for the transplant.


    Before heading in for surgery, Siegel prayed with her family and friends a prayer she had taken from a book. Then before she went under anesthesia, she asked that the surgeon and nurses pray the same prayer with her. After they all prayed together, a nurse pinned the prayer to Siegel’s hospital gown and she received her lung transplant.


    "Andrea came in Saturday morning and said, ‘Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re not blue anymore,’ and I said, ‘I didn’t know I was blue,’ and she said, ‘I didn’t either,’ " Siegel says. So she was not Andrea’s "blue" as she and her husband walked their daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.


    But disease struck again in 2008. Siegel’s anti-rejection medication, combined with her arthritis medication, had caused Siegel to develop post-transplant lymphoma in four different places. She had to stop her arthritis medication and start on another drug to fight the lymphoma. The lymphoma medication wreaked havoc on Siegel, and she lost 20 pounds. But she also lost the lymphoma.


    Now, Siegel is 65 and still fighting. "I have no intentions of quitting," she says. "I have three grandsons who need their Nana." But she doesn’t just fight for her grandsons. She also fights for other people in need of transplants.


    Using her experience from working with the Breast Cancer Alliance, Siegel started a "Wall of Life" with LifeCenter Organ Donor Network. While Siegel passed off the "Wall of Hope" duties, she continues to be an active part in finding for the "Wall of Life" and transporting it each month. For the month of September, the wall is on display at Mt. St. Joseph, and it will move to Raymond Walters College for October.


    Even though the fight hasn’t been easy, Siegel maintains a positive and determined spirit. "I’m really tired of feeling like this, and I don’t like making commitment to things and not be able to do it because I’m not feeling well," Siegel says. "So I’ve decided to stop feeling bad, and I hope it works."




    Photographer: Linda Palacios

    Model: Greg Marischen
    Location: Cincy Chic Offices