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.