Jake Deister had a good life.
He had a beautiful wife, a great job working for Montgomery County as a political liaison between the county and its cities, and a nice home.
“I had a really good job that was 8 to 5, no weekends,” he said. “It was a really good life we had. The kind of life that everybody wants.”
Then one day he decided to go to medical school.
He discussed it with his wife, Brooke. They methodically counted costs, made plans, set goals, and embarked on their journey. But life intervened in ways Jake and Brooke never imagined.
In his job with Montgomery County, Jake had lobbied to restore state funds to a program run by the Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps (BCMH), which provided money to families with children who are disabled and who have exhausted their medical insurance coverage.
He heard stories from families who were forced to divorce to get aid and those whose children’s lives depended on getting the assistance. “I spent a number of months trying to lobby for them on their behalf,” he said. “There was no support for it. The frustration of that was tremendous.”
He realized he wanted to help people but in a more direct way.
But medical school wasn’t even on his radar until one of his brothers became paralyzed by Guillain Barre, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack parts of the nervous system. His brother was a on a college mission trip as a basketball player in India when he was stricken.
“My four brothers are my best friends, and there’s no one that approaches them,” he said. “To watch this strong guy be paralyzed was very hard.”
His brother was flown home to be treated at Miami Valley Hospital, where the family met with an internist.
“The doctor sat with us in our room for over two hours and talked with us,” Jake said with amazement.
The next day, Jake was sitting in the Wendy’s at Miami Valley with his mother when she said, “Why don’t you be a doctor?”
“It’s like a light went off, and I said I have to figure this out,” he said. With a B.A. in philosophy and an M.B.A. from the University of Cincinnati, Jake had never taken any of the courses necessary for admittance into medical school, so he had to start from scratch. He wasn’t even sure if he would like medicine. So in the fall of 2004, two weeks after the quarter had begun, he enrolled in anatomy and physiology at Wright State.
His decision was made after five minutes in his first class in anatomy. “When I saw how amazing it was, things that I didn’t even know existed—just in a basic anatomy course—it just hit me, and I said this is it.”
He talked to Brooke, who agreed to support him with just one stipulation: she did not want to delay starting a family.
They set about making detailed plans. They would both return to school, Jake to take the premed courses he needed and Brooke to finish her nursing degree so that she could support them while Jake attended medical school. They sold their house and moved into a smaller two-bedroom condo.
How hard can it be?
“I remember having a thought before medical school,” said Jake. “How hard can it be? I can work hard. I can study hard. Can it really be that hard?”
As it turned out, it was much harder.
On January 3, 2005, Jake quit his job and went back to school full time as an undergraduate. To pay the bills, he and Brooke waited tables in a restaurant while they attended school. “I remember the first time that I actually served food to one of my former employees,” he said. “It was a very humbling time and a very hard transition of lifestyle for both of us.”
During those two undergraduate years, Jake and Brooke had their first child, Jacob. Six days after the birth, Brooke returned to class, baby in tow.
In 2007, Jake was accepted into medical school at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. “We set some goals for ourselves about how we’re going to do this,” Jake says of his entry into medical school.
The goal was to maintain as normal a family life as possible, including weekly dates for him and Brooke. “The problem is that no matter how much you try to count the costs of what medical school is going to be like, you can’t. There are just too many variables,” he said. “And for us, the variables were more kids.”
Medical school and more babies
When Jake started medical school, Brooke was working full time as a nurse at Miami Valley Hospital and expecting their second child. Will was born that November.
During Jake’s second year, Brooke found herself pregnant again—this time with twins. “The third pregnancy was a shock,” said Brooke. “When we found out there were two…” her voice trailing off.
With their new family expanding to six, they decided to sell their two-bedroom condo and buy a larger house. Jake had settled on a career in orthopaedic surgery and was working hard to keep his grades up so he could get into a good program.
Things were fine until seven weeks before the twins were due. Jake got a frantic call from Brooke following a routine doctor’s visit for an ultrasound. She told him they had to meet. He met her at a local restaurant where she handed him a piece of paper.
“It was a note from the obstetrician that said spina bifida vs. encephalocele,” Jake said. “Brooke didn’t know what encephalocele was. I’m glad she didn’t, and I didn’t want to tell her.” They were both devastated.
Encephalocele is a rare neural tube defect that causes a protrusion of the brain and the membranes that cover it through an opening in the skull.
Brooke was put on bed rest and was unable to work while the doctors ran tests to determine exactly what was wrong with the daughter she carried and how to treat her. The maternal fetal medicine specialists determined there wasn’t any brain in the tumor. But they didn’t know what it was—and it was growing fast.
The twins were born at 39 weeks at Miami Valley Hospital. Their daughter had a large tumor on her left side between the back of her head and her left shoulder. It was much larger than anyone had expected. Her twin brother, Weston, was fine.
The worst of times
In addition to the emotional anguish of worrying whether his daughter would survive, Jake had a big exam coming up three days after the twins were born, and he had to move into a new home.
“Brooke is obviously trying to recover from a difficult labor and delivery,” Jake said. “We’ve got other kids who have their things going on. We sold our house that week and we’re living in the ICU at Children’s hospital, trying to manage all of this. It was exhaustion beyond anything I’ve ever dealt with.”
Jake left the hospital the day after they were born and went to White Hall at Wright State to study. “I bought a case of Monster Energy Drink, and I stayed up for 72 hours straight studying for the exam and took the exam,” he said. He passed the test.
The week after the exam his new daughter, Julia, underwent numerous tests and major surgery at Children’s Medical Center of Dayton.
She has made a complete recovery. “She is beautiful,” Jake said. “The only thing that you could see now is a very small scar and her left shoulder sits a little lower than her right.”
“That was the hardest thing we’ve ever been through,” said Jake.
A little help from our friends
With the birth of twins, Jake and Brooke found themselves with four kids in diapers, Brooke working full-time as a nurse to pay the bills, and Jake keeping up with his studies so he could match into orthopaedic surgery.
He dealt with the lack of sleep by studying standing up. “I always study standing up,” he said. “It keeps me awake because I know I’m not going to fall over.”
They also had help from fellow medical students. “When we had our kids, we never had to worry where meals were coming from,” he said. His classmates supplied meals for a month.
“We’ve been so blessed,” said Brooke. “When we had Will, here are all these 23-year-old guys who are single and they’re bringing us meals to our house. Ten of his classmates showed up to help us move when we moved into this house.”
“We take care of each other,” Jake says of his classmates. “I have friends at other medical schools, and it’s not like this.”
A family affair
Jake is sometimes asked how he does it all with kids. “And I wonder how you would do it without,” he said. “Because at least I have something that I can go home to. I have kids running up to me saying Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. If I didn’t have that, my whole life would be medicine, and I think that would be too much.”
“Somehow he squeezes more out of a day than anyone I’ve ever known,” his classmate Jason Ferrel said of Jake. “His wife does the exact same thing. I don’t know how they’re able to do as much as they do.”
Jake credits his wife and parents. “I don’t know that I could have gotten through four years of medical school and everything we dealt with if it weren’t for a wife who’s extraordinary and parents who instilled an ability to cope under duress.
“I’ve never met a woman like my wife,” he said. “I don’t know how she does it. And she never complained about having to do anything. She just says ‘this is what we’re dealt with, and we’re going to do it.’ She’s just amazing.”
Jake and Brooke met when Jake’s brother, Jesse, played basketball at Wright State under then-coach Ed Schilling. Brooke was best friends with Coach Schilling’s wife. Playing matchmaker, the coach and his wife tried to fix her up with Jake’s brother, but she caught Jake’s eye instead. They were married a little over a year later.
Just do what’s in front of you
“From the time I was five years old, Dad made us have a little job,” Jake said of his father. When Jake was in high school, his folks bought a plot of land with a barn and no house because it had been destroyed by fire.
His father decided that the family would live in the barn while his five sons built a house for the family to live in. Jake and his four brothers slept in the hayloft and his parents shared a bunk bed in the stall beneath for six months while the boys built the new house.
“We didn’t even think it was abnormal because you just do what’s in front of you,” Jake said. “That was one of the phrases my Dad always said. Just do the next thing.
“He instilled a very strong work ethic in us from the time we were little kids,” he said. “It’s just what you do. You work before you play. And we played hard.”
The five boys went on to do both. Two of his brothers played professional basketball, another currently plays basketball at West Point and his older brother is a successful marketing director.
Working with his hands
Although Jake enjoyed all of his clinical rotations, he discovered that orthopaedic surgery appealed to him the most. “I think a lot of it had to do with the way I was raised,” he said. “I worked on a construction crew, and then we built our own house. I liked to see something that was broken, use my hands to fix it, and then see the end result.”
His dream was fulfilled on March 17 when he matched into the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. “The fact that we matched here was the biggest dream come true I could ever imagine,” he said.
Jake said that the scholarships he received allowed him to meet his goal of maintaining a normal family life for his wife and children while he pursued his dream.
“It meant the world to us. If we didn’t have scholarship money, I have no idea what we would have done. I don’t mean to exaggerate this. It saved our marriage, and it means our kids can grow up like normal kids. I can’t thank these people enough,” he said of those who have donated to scholarships.
Doctors, Iron Man and Buzz Lightyear
Now that he’s graduating, Jake can’t believe it’s almost over. “As I went through medical school, I kept on thinking, I just want to get done with it,” he said. “I just want it over. And now this chapter in my life is done, and there’s kind of a sadness with it. It’s a rejoicing, but it’s also a sadness.”
After graduation, they’re thinking of a family beach vacation in Florida before his residency starts. And Brooke is looking forward to her retirement. “I’ve been working full time for six and a half years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to maybe switching our roles.”
She plans to stay home with the kids, especially since there’s a fifth one due in November. Jake says it’s probably their last, but who knows? “You never know,” he said. “I get teased about it so much… oh, Jake’s pregnant again. Yup, it’s about that time of year…”
And at least two of their children are already considering careers in medicine… and as super heroes. “Jacob wants to be Ironman and a doctor,” Jake said. “and Will wants to be Buzz Lightyear and a doctor.”
Count our blessings
“The theme for our life is that we had a difficult time,” said Jake. “Medical school was very hard for us. But there are people elsewhere who have it worse. We have to count our blessings and just be grateful that even though it was hard, I think we’re blessed with a good relationship and four beautiful kids and the dream of being an orthopaedic surgeon. Life is good right now.”
So Jake Deister still has a good life. In fact, thanks to his loving wife, the addition of four children (and another on the way), and a bright future in orthopaedic surgery, Jake has a wonderful life. VS