Living for today, and now well beyond

Published on: 1/10/2012

Oak Creek - To hear Carl Robl talk about it, getting a liver transplant was a mere interruption in his day.

Robl, 29, had the transplant at Froedtert Hospital a year and a half ago, and all he could think about was that he'd rather be riding his motorcycle.

'When I'm out on a back country road, it just feels so free,' said the Oak Creek resident. 'It doesn't matter what happens to you.'

Robl approached his entire ordeal with that same carefree spirit. Diagnosed with liver disease as a teenager, he chose to live each day to the fullest.

'I found out I had a liver problem when I was 13,' he said.

Doctors were trying to treat the hyperactive youth with lithium when a liver panel indicated he had a disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis.

'They also call it autoimmune hepatitis,' Robl said. 'It's particularly rare.'

Indeed. His doctor, Froedtert hepatologist Samer Gawrieh, said only one in 100,000 people will get PSC. 'It's vey uncommon,' he said. 'It's a disease that affects very few people.'

In simplest terms, PSC causes the bile ducts to become inflamed, scarred and blocked. Liver cells then die and cirrhosis develops.

Its cause is unknown, but ultimately it will lead to liver failure, said Gawrieh.

'We don't exactly know why it happens,' he said. 'Patients who have inflammatory bowel disease tend to get this disease.

'For this disease, it is typical that it would affect younger patients,' Gawrieh said. 'PSC is a progressive disease that does not have a cure.'

Robl knew right away that the likelihood was great he'd need a liver transplant some day. And the disease progressed as expected.

'I was getting ulcers in my intestine,' he said, which had to be removed in 2001.

As it progressed, Robl's legs became swollen and he became jaundiced. Time was running out, but he was not afraid.

'I don't ever get scared,' he said. 'The attitude you have to have when you have a progressive disease is you can't do anything to control it. It's kind of like you have this problem. What are you going to do about it?'

His response? Enjoy each day and trust a positive outcome.

'I don't hold myself back,' said Robl, a guitar player for the band While Step Down who is now engaged to be married. 'I didn't stop anything because I was sick.

'The reason I was OK is that I was never the person who turned down things. I know too many people who sit back and watch the world around them.'

That's not Robl, who said he never doubted he would make a full recovery. 'Your outcome is based on your attitude,' he said. 'I believe that.'

So does his doctor.

'That's something remarkable about Carl,' said Gawrieh. 'He had this amazing positive attitude. He recovered quickly because he was upbeat.'