Multiple transplant recipient wants to serve chronically ill children

Ian Kolb, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing Sunday at Pitt-Bradford, at his nurse's pinning ceremony in 2012. Photo by Alan Hancock

Ian Kolb, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing Sunday at Pitt-Bradford, at his nurse’s pinning ceremony in 2012. Photo by Alan Hancock

BRADFORD, Pa. — It takes some college students awhile to know what they want to do with their lives. Not so for Ian Kolb, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford on Sunday with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Born with a condition that did not allow his body to move as quickly as others’ do, Kolb has spent most of his life in an intensive job shadowing experience as he underwent two major transplants of multiple organs, including his small intestine, which is one of the least-often transplanted organs.

At age 10, the thin walls of his colon were perforated during a colonoscopy. He had his first transplant of three organs at the age of 14. Four years later, he would need a transplant of five organs. Both times the complicated procedures and recoveries took place at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, which has performed more liver and intestine transplants than any other pediatric center in the world.

At first, he thought of becoming a doctor to help patients like himself, but then he learned that it would take about 16 years to complete the study and residencies needed for a specialty. That’s an especially long time to someone who’d already gone through what he had.

Kolb turned his attention to nursing. It was around the time of his second transplant, and he began thinking of his favorite nurses at Children’s – people he still visits today. He noticed that when his favorite nurse was on duty, he used less pain medication. She would stop to chat with him when she had time, and would ambush him with squirts of water from a saline flush.
“Those are the things that really separate the exceptional nurse from the rest,” he said, and he knows that’s the kind of nurse he’d like to be.

Kolb graduated at the top of his class and hopes to move to Connecticut and find a job there in the Fairfield area. Ideally, he’d like to work with chronically ill children like he was because he believes he understands what they and their parents have to face.

He said that children spending long stretches of time in a hospital need someone to put in IVs and keep their cool when one of the one-in-a-million things that are always happening to chronically ill children happens. They also need someone who will keep things normal, social and maybe even a little playful.

“It’s a very close relationship in that situation,” he said. “The parents who don’t leave a child’s side need socializing, too. Your mental health goes a long way toward recovery.”

Kolb realizes also that his mere presence – a formerly chronically ill transplant patient who is living a normal life and working and doing well – would be reassuring to families who may be fighting some of their darkest fears.

That’s another lesson Kolb’s learned firsthand, first as a camper, then for three years as a counselor at Pittsburgh Children’s Camp Chihopi, a one-week residential camp near Morgantown, W.Va. for children aged 7 to 15 who have received liver and/or intestinal transplants. All of the counselors are transplant recipients who can help the children adapt to their condition as they become adults.

But one of the “good things,” if there is such a thing, of having had such a condition from birth, Kolb said, is that it’s just how his life has always been. He has always had hurdles, he says, and hurdles certainly don’t bother him.

“I’ve always thought I could do anything,” he said. Earlier this semester, he experienced an aortic aneurysm and was hospitalized just before spring break, but he didn’t seem to miss a beat. He worked with professors to make up what he missed and kept his grades up.

Kolb says he is healthy now and eager to get started helping children and their families heal their bodies and bolster their spirits.

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