By Suzanne Rumsey, Ph.D., AIHA volunteer

Steve Eisele is an example of someone living his life to the fullest in spite of, and perhaps because of autoimmune hepatitis (AIH).

Steve joined the Army in 2000 to become a combat medic. He was stationed in South Korea in 2001 when he became very, very ill, but he felt better fairly quickly, so thought nothing more of it. Then he noticed that his urine was dark. Being a medic, he actually did a test on himself to find that his bilirubin was exceptionally high. This led to blood tests that showed his ALT and AST in the 400s. None of the doctors there knew what it was, but his numbers were elevating rapidly. He was then sent to Hawaii for a biopsy and endoscopy.

The biopsy showed liver cells that were almost entirely dead. Through a process of elimination, Steve was finally diagnosed with Type 2 AIH. Type 2 AIH is a rarer and more severe form of AIH that is predominantly found in children and young women. Once he was given a diagnosis, Steve was put on 80 mgs of prednisone and 250 mgs of Imuran daily. He was told he may only have three to five months to live. But after six months of treatment, he showed remarkable recovery and was weaned off the prednisone.

The Army medical board decided that given his disease, he was unfit for duty and would be honorably discharged. But Steve was determined to continue his military career.

“I can still do my job,” he argued.

Then, because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Army agreed to let him continue his work – but with limitations. Steve was not going to let those limitations or AIH dictate how he lived his life. He went on to be deployed three different times to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in Iraq. And his hard work eventually earned him the rank of Sergeant First Class.

Steve also decided after his deployment to Iraq that he wasn’t going to let AIH stop him from living the best and healthiest life he could. He focused his energy on his family and his career. And he focused his energy toward taking care of his body. He began to work out in 2010 because he was tired of taking medications. He cleaned up his diet as well. His approach was, perhaps, aggressive, but the results of his efforts showed in a body healthier than ever and a liver that improved over time. His hepatologist noticed his labs improving the more he worked out. He has been medication free for more than three years now.

When asked what the biggest challenges of having AIH in the military, Steve admitted that

“in a wartime military, your job is to deploy and go to combat. If you don’t or can’t do that, you’re looked down upon. Your career could stall out.”

He noted that sometimes it has been hard to handle the disease when deployed because the care available is not as good as at home. But Steve continued to overcome these obstacles. Because of his fitness and diet changes, Steve went on to compete in an elite competition, U.S. Army Best Medic Competition, in 2015. He and his partner not only got through the grueling four-day challenge, they earned second place! He competed again in 2016 and earned fourth place!

Clearly, Steve’s story is one of overcoming hardships and perseverance. AIH is a reality for him, but he does not let it hold him back. He’s set to retire from his military career this year and head into new opportunities, but he’s continuing his healthy eating and exercise routines. He gave this advice to those newly diagnosed:

“It does get better and you do have control. You can control your habits by eating right and being physically active.”

About the Author: Suzanne Rumsey, Ph.D.
Suzy Rumsey was diagnosed with AIH in 2017. She is a Professor of English and Linguistics at Purdue University Fort Wayne where she teaches technical and professional writing and researches something called literacy studies, which is how people read and write in particular situations. She has a book being published in early 2021 about family history writing, and currently she and a colleague are writing a technical writing textbook. She has been married to her best friend, David Rumsey, for more than 18 years. Dave is Associate Dean of Engineering at Indiana Tech. They have five cats – Gus, Pip, Finnegan, Cooper, and Quincy. Together they enjoy cooking and baking, eating, crafting, home improvement, gardening in their large perennial garden, and vacationing at Disney World. Because COVID-19 has kept them at home so much, they have had to up their crafting game; Dave is learning to knit and Suzy is learning embroidery.