An author couldn’t pen a more vibrant tale of love, tragedy and the everlasting bond of a group of friends than this real-life story. Bettendorf natives Brian Barquist and his wife, Stephanie, are living out a reality that reads like a fiction novel.
On the outside, Brian Barquist is an all-American, sports-loving, football-cheering kind of guy. On the inside, he is a man struggling daily with the ever-increasing symptoms of multiple sclerosis, or MS.
Barquist attended Bettendorf schools among a tight-knit group of friends that have remained close since kindergarten. These friends share all the fond memories of growing up together: Happy times such as winning their high school state football championship in 1992, and times when tragedy struck. The most tragic was the burial of their close friend and teammate, Keith Lucier, who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm 29 days after marrying Bettendorf native Jennifer Kelser in 2009.
“Brian and Keith were the best of friends,” Jennifer (Kelser) Lucier said. “As kids they attended the same schools, lived down the street from one another, and played football with each other practically every day. They knew everything about each other.
“When Keith died,” she continued, “Brian was the first one there for me, and he never left my side. The group has made me part of their lives forever.”
Lucier also remembers the funny times when Keith and Brian felt they “ruled the world” and gathered lawn chairs, sitting in the center of Middle Road on a boring Friday night, when a crowd of buddies would eventually gather in to sit with them.
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“They just naturally drew in crowds. By the end of those nights, Keith boasted that there would be 20 people gathered in the middle of the street,” Lucier remembers with a laugh.
After he graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in finance, Barquist changed career paths to follow his love of teaching. He married his longtime love, Stephanie Rudish, whom he has known since kindergarten, and eventually became a popular business teacher and varsity football coach at Bettendorf High School.
Stephanie and Brian have a son, Will, 4.
Unfortunately, Barquist’s MS worsened and has forced him to take a leave from his job and make the drastic decision to undergo a stem-cell transplant.
“He will undergo five days of extreme chemo, which will effectively kill off his entire immune system,” his wife said. “Then, the doctors will take his previously frozen stem cells and re-infuse his body with them.
Because the treatment is in the “study” phase, insurance does not cover the cost of the procedure. The deposit to begin the treatment was $125,000, which will be a fraction of the total cost, benefit organizers said. They said the treatment has a 75 percent chance of stopping the progression of Brian’s MS.
“This will be his new birthday!” she said. “His immune system should restart and hopefully show very few signs of MS, and the MS should not progress any further.”
Barquist’s stem-cell transplant took place this past week at Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital, and he is now recovering and resting. “There is no better time for Brian to be resting than during football season! He can relax and watch football while he recovers,” Stephanie Barquist said.