OU alum overcomes rare chronic disease

Jordan Jewell, Staff Reporter

Melissa Kwiatkowski developed a love for history while playing pretend in her basement.

“I would always teach my imaginary students about history,” Kwiatkowski said. “I come from a family of educators. My mom has worked in preschools, middle schools and high schools, and my brother teaches AP U.S. History at Rochester High School.”

Kwiatkowski attended Oakland University in 2007 as an undergraduate student and returned to pursue her master’s degree in 2015.

Before beginning her education at OU, Kwiatkowski was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a long-term disease that damages the bile ducts in the liver, affecting how the body digests fats and vitamins.

Exhaustion is a primary symptom of PSC. Kwiatkowski worked three jobs and did exceedingly well in her classes. She assumed the exhaustion she was feeling was just part of being a college student.

“I never really processed my disease until I was placed on the list for a liver transplant,” she said. “I guess you could say I was blissfully ignorant to my symptoms.”

Her health slowly declined over her years at OU. She noticed herself feeling tired constantly, experienced a loss of appetite and turned jaundice.

“I looked like a highlighter,” she said.

During her master’s program, Kwiatkowski worked closely with Karen Miller and Dan Clark as her advisers. Kwiatkowski was devoted to her history studies and determined to achieve her master’s degree, no matter how long it would take. Her master’s degree specialized in World War II and Cold War history.

“I’ve always been impressed by her dedication to mastering information,” Miller said. “Her desire to learn, as well as her capacity for organizing, helped her get through a very traumatic health crisis. I am very proud of her.”

Despite her determination, Kwiatkowski’s journey was not without setbacks.

“The day I got the call that it was time for my transplant started off terribly,” she said. “It was a bad day at work, I was overwhelmed and cranky. For the first time ever, I told my mom, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ We went to church that day and halfway through I received the call.”

She has since received her transplant. She earned her master’s degree and is teaching at the nationally ranked International Academy in Bloomfield Hills.

She continues her visits to the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and is devoted to staying healthy, but she’s also devoted to living life to its fullest.

“My goal is to travel as much as possible,” Kwiatkowski said. “My husband, Paul, and I have been to Disney World, Las Vegas, Missouri, Nashville, Punta Cana, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I feel so free, like I can live the life I want.”

She said she is grateful for the support from her family and from Miller and Clark, and she is grateful to OU for supporting her goals and helping her further her education.

“I feel like I was always supposed to live this life, and having the liver transplant taught me to value people and time much more than I used to,” Kwiatkowski said. “You can let a bad situation define you or you can grow from it and use it to push forward.”