By Blake Tennessen
I was born with gastrointestinal pseudo obstruction and severe intestinal malrotation. Surgery shortly after birth corrected the malrotation and placed a catheter for IV nutrition and gastric feeding tube. My Mother took care of all IV care and home healthcare needs while I was growing up. Both my parents always put an emphasis on me living a normal life and not being limited by my unique health needs. Growing up I participated in karate, rode dirt bikes and four wheelers, snowboarding, swimming at the cabin, wrestling with the dogs and generally lived a very normal life.
When I was 12 my health started to decline as my liver began to fail from the prolonged use of TPN. It was at this time that we started researching our options for a small intestine and possible liver transplant. On December 8th, 1998 around midnight we received the phone call we had been waiting for and were in the air shortly after. The operation went well and my family and I began the long road of recovery.
When I returned home three months after the transplant I was on a mix of IV and enteral nutrition as my body adapted to taking in calories through the new intestine. I slowly transitioned off TPN and onto more enteral nutrition over the following several months, in addition I started eating food. My catheter was removed shortly after as it had clotted off and was unneeded. I began eating more in an attempt to reduce the need for calories through enteral feeding because I was determined to get rid of the g-tube. In 2005 I transitioned to a completely oral diet and had my feeding tube removed, I was finally without any tubes or catheters.
In high school and college I was very active in autocross and driving school events. I attended 2-3 local autocross events each summer, 3-4 teen and adult car control clinics and as many high performance driving events as I could afford with the local BMW and Audi clubs. I started instructing for these clubs shortly after turning 18, first at the teen car control schools then the high performance driving schools.
After graduating from college I was given the opportunity to move to Tennessee, 1000 miles from home to start my career. Once I moved down and discovered the amazing roads in the area I quickly transitioned from four wheels to two. I bought my first street bike two months after moving and started commuting every day, regardless of weather. On the weekends I headed to the mountains to ride with friends and learn as many roads as possible. After a few months of this I picked up a dirt bike and started riding off road to improve my on road riding skills. I quickly worked up to 100 miles of dirt riding a week. I attended track days which allowed me to ride as fast as I was comfortable in a controlled environment and I attended racing schools to improve my skill level.
In June of 2010 all my riding came to abrupt halt after a bad case of the flu which was followed by a very bad case of clostridium difficile (c.diff) which hit me and my compromised gut very hard. I was admitted to the hospital and went back on IV nutrition, shortly after I transitioned to the hospital where my transplant was performed. I had a catheter and g-tube placed in October and was on full IV nutrition while slowly increasing enteral feeding as my intestine would tolerate it. I returned to Tennessee in December still on full IV nutrition supplemented with as much food as I could eat and my body could tolerate.
At this point I didn’t have much energy, was very weak, could only work limited hours and was having trouble eating food without upsetting my stomach. I still made sure to eat as much as possible and closely tracked my calories. Over the following year I steadily increased my calorie intake and slowly tapered down my IV nutrition. During this time I attended several track days and still did a fair amount of dirt riding despite having a catheter and g-tube while being on IV nutrition, I made sure these never limited what I did.
In December of 2011 I picked up a staph infection, my catheter was pulled in early January after it was determined to be the source of the staph infection and a yeast infection. This ended up working to my favor, with the catheter out I was forced to eat all my calories and left the hospital a month later with no catheter.
Determined to not just maintain my weight but to get stronger and gain weight I started eating even more and lifting weights. I now eat 4000 calories a day with 1000 (250g) of that being protein, I wake up early three times a week to lift. After work I either take the dirt bike to the trails to ride or hop on my trials bike and practice on the course I have built in my backyard. I’ve attended four track days since January and am signed up for four more this fall. I also attended a weekend riding school to improve my riding. I’m on track to put 15,000 miles on my street bike this year with daily commuting and road trips, I should put 2,500 miles on my track bike and 1,500 on the dirt bike. In October I will be competing in the Chump Car Challenge endurance race with my father and another friend.
I even gave Brazilian jiu-jitsu a try because it looked like a lot of fun. I practiced four nights a week for two months at a local dojo and not only learned a lot but improved my conditioning. This was one activity I did have to give up though, my boss and co-workers weren’t happy with my coming into work every day with new bruises all over my arms from grappling. I’ll likely start up again this fall when it’s more acceptable to wear long sleeve shirts at work everyday, I miss it.Through everything, I’ve made it a goal to stay positive and never let things limit me. I live a very active life and most people have no idea of my medical history. Being stubborn and determined to reach the goals I set for myself have helped push me outside of my comfort zone.