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With a Little Help

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Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2017 8:30 am

One night last March, Jessica Griesbach woke up with terrible abdominal pain. She was throwing up and in severe pain. After a trip to the emergency room and a CT scan, the Berry College employee was told she had a condition she had never heard of but which could be fatal.

The diagnosis and the next few months would turn Jessica’s life upside down. But thanks to family, friends, coworkers and even strangers, she hopes the worst is behind her.

Jessica, a web developer at Berry College, was diagnosed with Intestinal Malrotation. Though unaware of it, she has always lived with the condition in which the intestines are not in the correct anatomical position in the abdomen. In Jessica’s case, her large intestine was pushed so far up into her abdomen that it reached her sixth rib and was pressing on her spinal column causing chronic back pain.

“The surgeon told me that in the position my intestines were in, they could twist themselves and cause obstructions,” Jessica said. “And it could happen at any time. Like that night when I was asleep and just started having pain and throwing up.”

A surgeon in Atlanta told Jessica there was a procedure that would make it less likely that she would die from the condition but all her symptoms would remain the same. She was frustrated and afraid.

“I was told that they could probably move the intestines to where they should be but they would just go back to where they were originally. So I started doing research online and finally found a support group for people with my condition,” she said. “That’s where I learned about this clinic in Ohio.”

Surgeons at The Cleveland Clinic, Jessica learned, could perform a procedure that would correct the position of her intestines and make sure they stayed that way. She decided this was the path she needed to take. She was hopeful but afraid as well.

“I had a really hard time leading up to it,” Jessica said. “ I felt like it was a really hard thing to put my family through. I’d be in Ohio for weeks and it would put a lot of burden on my parents and my husband DJ and my little boy, Colt. I could die. I was scared to leave my son without a mom.”

But a friend told Jessica that she had to be brave and that fear wasn’t going to help her. So she resolved to look past her fear and to stay positive.

As with many medical procedures, this was an expensive one. Jessica didn’t want to be a burden to her family, so she did something with which she was very uncomfortable. She asked friends for help. She opened a GoFundMe account where anyone could contribute to her medical expenses and explained in detail what her condition was and how the procedure would help her.

The support she received was overwhelming.

Within weeks, friends, family, coworkers and people she didn’t even know (many from the Rome community) had donated more than $6,500.

“Most people aren’t very good at asking for help,” she said. “I was just blown away by how supportive everyone was. People gave money and prayed for me and sent lots of encouraging words. That money covered much of my medical expenses. That was a huge blessing.”

Jessica traveled to Cleveland on Aug. 30 and was in the hospital for eight days. Her surgery lasted 8 hours and even after leaving the hospital she had to stay in Cleveland for five and a half weeks to recover.

The entire time she was there, her family was by her side. Her parents, husband and son were all at her side at various times during surgery and recovery.

Jessica is back at work now and said she’s recovering.

“After surgery I fought tooth and nail get strong again,” she said. “I’m cleared to walk so that’s my main form of exercise right now. I shouldn’t be lifting heavy things and I have to watch what I eat for now. But I feel so much better and I know it’s just a matter of time before I’m back to my old self again.”

Before her illness robbed her of strength and energy, Jessica loved to travel and explore the outdoors with her family. She’s also a photographer. Her images capture happy times she can’t wait to recreate when she’s fully recovered. She wants to go on adventures and hike again and spend as much time with her family as she can, realizing how quickly it might all been taken away from her.

And there’s also one other thing she hopes to do...

“I’m making an effort to give back to as many people as I can in as many ways I can this year,” she said. “People gave me so much when I needed it. I would like to repay that by helping others with my talents and my time and any other way I’m able. I want people to know how much they’ve made a difference.”