story by Emily Tully
“I really enjoyed the pep rally last week, and being a part of that. They were never really my favorite part about school, but now everything is my favorite part.”
With a look of genuine happiness and reflection on his face, Mr. Alan Shrebtienko reflects on the beginning of the year festivities that took place in late July.
To some, pep rallies and enjoying school might seem miniscule and unimportant, but to Shrebtienko, it was the first of many more.
More importantly, it brought back feelings of normalcy.
Mr. Shreb, as his physics students call him, was out of work the entire 2016-17 school year due to a medical condition called necrotizing pancreatitis.
According to the Radiological Society of North America, necrotizing pancreatitis is a “severe form of pancreatitis characterized by necrosis in and around the pancreas.” Essentially, the pancreas is inflamed, and in this case, the tissue can become infected and die off, leading to organ failure.
For Shreb, the treatment was a long and excruciating process, lasting five months total. “I went into the hospital on July 13, and I got out on December 24,” Shreb recalls.
The disease took over his life completely for half of a year, and still affects him in his daily life.
“I can’t drive anymore… it has taken most of my vision, I mainly see silhouettes,” Shreb describes. “It’s going to be hard to get back to where I can recognize the students. I can’t even see them when they raise their hands.”
After being released from the hospital in December, recovery was another long process on this painful road to his “new normal.” Shreb explains that until as early as January 2017, he could not stand up or walk.
“The hardest part was just learning how to walk again,” Shreb said.
However these obstacles aren’t going to stop Shrebtienko from continuing what he loves doing — teaching his students.
“I missed teaching the students physics,” says Shreb. “I think it’s important for everyone to know… if you understand the nature around you, it makes it more enjoyable.”
His absence didn’t just affect him and his students, but also his fellow teachers and friends.
Biology teacher Missi Brewer explained the feelings shared among the science department about his situation.
“We are so happy for him to be back. Like, it was such a loss to Jeff High, to not have him around,” Brewer said, fighting back tears. “And his physics department [was a loss], not to mention him as a person.”
The return to school, and a normalized daily routine, isn’t something Shreb thinks is going to be easy.
“I’ve just got to take it day by day and get used to, what’s going to be, my new normal,” Shreb explained.
An experience so traumatizing and difficult comes with many challenges, but it also came with an important lesson to Shrebtienko. He says, “It’s taught me to appreciate what you’ve got because it can be taken away in a heartbeat.”