Newman Professor of English Dr. Bryan Dietrich will be returning this
week after collapsing on campus Feb. 21.
Dietrich took a leave of absence after collapsing on campus and being diagnosed with a rare arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis. He will be at Newman’s Literature Festival on Friday to sign copies of his newest written work.
Dietrich said Ankylosing Spondylitis is a degenerative spinal problem that he has had since he was born, but that its signs do not usually arise until mid adulthood and usually comes about as a result of an infection in the spinal cord.
He said he had been experiencing issues with his legs since October but that things didn’t get really bad until February.
“I was on campus and I collapsed. I couldn’t move my legs at all. My wife had to come pick me up and rush me to the ER, then to Wesley, where they diagnosed me with the disease,” he said.
By the next day, doctors were operating on him, shaving down the
bone spur that was pressed against his spine causing his lack of mobility, and taking samples of what they thought was the infection in his spinal cord, he said A few days later they decided they
needed a larger sample and brought him in for another operation.
“They basically took a nail and hammered it into my spine,” he said.
Dietrich said just as he was being wheeled out of the operating room, Dr. Marguerite Regan, Professor Mark Mannette and Dr. Matthew Umbarger greeted him with chocolates and comic books.
Mannette said that Dietrich seemed grateful for the friendly faces. “He said it was a very good experience for him to have friends waiting for him at the end of a very painful experience,” Mannette said.
“The whole experience just cemented my view that this is the right
place. I can’t imagine another job being more supportive,” he said. “Faculty, staff, administration, students, just everyone have been fabulously supportive. They have cooked meals for me, driven me around and guest taught my classes. I have never felt more at home in my life.”
Junior communication major Amy Emerson works on the Coelacanth, the published collection of students works, that Dietrich is in charge of every year. She said his absence was felt, but the group did their best to get things done without him.
“We knew that Dr. Dietrich had a lot going on his own plate, so we tried to be as quick and efficient as possible so that we wouldn’t leave a big amount of extra work for him,” Emerson said.
Emerson is also in Dietrich’s American Lit II class and said the
class really missed him while he was gone but appreciated
the experience the other professors brought to the table in his absence.
“ Luckily, we got to spend some quality time with substitute professors including Dr. Crane-Laracuente, Dr. Regan and Dr. Findling, who did a really great job providing their own creative takes on the literature at hand,” she said.
Dietrich said that his recovery is going well.
“I have 95 percent of my function back in my left leg, and 65 percent
back in my right, and I got off antibiotics last Thursday, so I could finally start taking the medicine for my spondylitis. I had to wait because the spondylitis medicine is an immunosuppressant,” he said.
He said he has lost 35 pounds and quit smoking since his diagnosis.
He said the experience has taught him to be grateful for a lot of little things.
“After spending days trapped in a little room, I am grateful to be able to step over a curb, or put on my pants, and even just to pick a sock up off the floor,” he said.
He will have to stay on the spondylitis medicine for the rest of his life, but says he is confident that the disease is manageable.
“There are people who are rock stars and track stars – it’s going to take awhile but it will all come back to me,” he said.
This story first appeared in the April 12, 2018 issue of The Vantage.