Amy Oestreicher — a multi-talented artist, performer and writer, who battled unfathomable medical issues with courage, grace resilience and humor — died last week. Her second book, “Creativity and Gratitude” was published a few days earlier. She was just a few days shy of her 34th birthday.
Amy almost died 16 years ago, when she was 18. Her life since then was remarkable — and remarkably inspiring. Here is a story I wrote in 2013.
In 2005, Amy Oestreicher’s life was good.
After years of acting and singing locally, and auditioning in New York, she had just been accepted into the very prestigious University of Michigan musical theater program.
Suddenly, Amy suffered a major blood clot. Her stomach exploded. She lapsed into a coma.
During the 1st week of that nightmare, she had 10 surgeries. Doctors removed her entire stomach. Her coma continued for months.
Through her long siege in ICU, “my father saved my life,” Amy says. (He’s Westport dermatologist Dr. Mark Oestreicher.) Her 3 brothers were constantly by her side. (The experience helped one decide to be a doctor. Jeff is now in his 1st year of residency — as a pediatric gastroenterologist.)
For nearly 3 years, she could not eat or drink. Not one morsel of food, or a drop of water.
The Oestreichers moved to a smaller house near Compo Beach, where they could better help Amy.
She was hungry and thirsty. But as soon as she realized what lay ahead, Amy vowed not to be a permanent patient. “I wanted to live life,” she says.
Curtain Call in Stamford had a casting call for “Oliver!” “I couldn’t eat or drink, and I was as skinny as a pole,” Amy recalls. “I had tubes and bags all over. I could hardly walk.”
But she got the female lead — Nancy — and managed to do the show. By the end of the run, she was drinking 2 ounces of water a day.
The next summer, she landed a role in Staples Players‘ production of “Cats.”
“I was still starving,” Amy says. “I just needed to be around people. Doing that show was great.”
Surgeries continued. One took 19 hours, using 3 shifts of doctors and nurses. The outcome was not as good as expected.
Finally, though — 27 surgeries later — Amy can eat and drink.
She’s also — at 26 years old — just been accepted at Hampshire College.
Before she goes away to school, though, she’s working on another project. “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” is Amy’s 1-woman show.
First performed last October at the Triad in New York, it’s been called “a moving personal history told with grace and humor, and garnished with great songs sung from the heart.”
“Doing that show meant so much to me,” Amy says. “I had been so isolated. For 7 years I talked only to my parents and my doctors. Then to perform, and have people I don’t know hug me! It was so rewarding to share my story, and know it inspires people.”
Written by Amy and Jerold Goldstein — based on hundreds of pages of her journals — it returns to Bridgeport’s Bijou Theatre June 1 and 2. On June 16 and 24, Amy takes her show back to the Triad, and on July 16 to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“I’ve always written and performed,” Amy says. “So many things have happened to me over the years. I just wanted to tell my story.”
You and I may not call the past 8 years of Amy’s life “funny.” The fact that she does — and sings and talks about it with such intimacy, gusto and pride — is reason enough to put “Gutless & Grateful” on your calendar now.
In the years since that 2013 story was posted, Amy offered mixed media “Show Me Your HeART” workshops (click here for that story), and wrote 2 books. Her first was “My Beautiful Detour: An Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful.” Click here for those links.
A heartbreaking loss. My condolences to her family and friends. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her.
truly awe inspiring and incredible story, heart goes out to her family, speechless, she fought with pride, she fought like a warrior
My condolences. Her dad is one of my doctors and is such a lovely guy—I can only begin to imagine how heartbreaking this is for him and the rest of the family.
I helped Dr. Oestreicher with his move to the Compo beach area and will never forget the depth of his devotion to Amy and his determination to accommodate her needs, My heart goes out to him and his family.
Amy was a true shinning inspiration on all who were lucky to know her and meet her. Amy’s zest for life was exemplified over and over in everything she did. Her family personified utmost dedication and love ❤️
Amy will be missed by many and in our hearts forever 💕🙏🏼
Dan – thanks so much for sharing this. Amy’s story is incredible. I look forward to reading her books. Deepest condolences to her family on their heartbreaking loss.
Such a sad ending to a beautiful bold life. We had the good fortune to see Amy speak about her book & life at Barnes & Noble. I will keep the lovely memory of Dr. Oestreicher & Amy enjoying dancing lessons together always with loving smiles. Our condolences to Dr. Oestreicher & his devoted family.
I’m so sad hearing this unfortunate news.
This very sweet and friendly Compo beach neighbor who would have the biggest smile on her face when she was greeted by my late Boston Terrier Maceo.
My deepest and sincere condolences to Amy’s devoted and loving family .
A great loss indeed !
I am heartbroken for the family. Her Dad has been been my Dr for at least 30 years. Amy was a remarkable young lady who will be missed. Hugs and prayers to the family.
So very sorry to hear this. She was a powerhouse of energy and creativity…gone too soon.
Dan, our family is so grateful for your tribute to our beautiful daughter Amy-and many thanks to all the support we feel just reading the comments of these kind people. The love and support from our community has been overwhelming. Love, marilyn and Mark Oestreicher and family
I would see Amy and Marilyn at the summer library book sale and hay day! The sweetest mother daughter combination! May her memory be a blessing to your family and to all that knew and loved her. My best , Hedi Lieberman (former patient of Mark)
So sorry for the loss of Amy…such a bright light, so inspiring, and accomplished…I did an online reading of her play Factory Treasure, in the summer during the pandemic. My heart goes out to her family, and her huge circle of friends. She leaves behind quite a legacy.
I remember Amy’s Bat Mitzvah very vividly. Her entire youth choir showed up and she was the soloist for the song “When You Believe”. And indeed, her very life was a song that expressed these words “there can be miracles when you believe, though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.” She lived on air and love and faith. Amy had enormous artistic gifts, and she shared it with the world.
Amy also volunteered in our Hebrew School, (I was the education director) and was so loved by the little kids. She was dancing with them and singing with them, and she truly lighted up the classroom. I am thinking of Marilyn and Mark and their three beautiful sons. My heart aches for their loss. God gave them a gift and God had taken her away. Yehee zichra baruch, may her memory be a blessing.
I had the pleasure of learning alongside Amy this semester in an online puppetry course, and her creativity was inspiring to me. She was invested in her work and in improving and growing her craft. Her puppet creations were so vibrant and fun! My heart goes out to her family and loved ones.
We hear all of your wonderful words about our daughter Amy and these words are lifting us up through this very very difficult time. Amy loved life so much and loved the people that came into her life from the time she was a little girl. So, thank you once again for the love and support of our daughter and our family. Marilyn and mark oestreicher, and family