Former Football Star Tackles New Challenge

Friday, December 2, 2016

When Peter Westerhaus, ’16 BSB, envisioned his future, he saw himself getting paid to make tackles on Sunday. But the former linebacker and Mr. Minnesota Football had his career cut short when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis: a disease that causes inflammation in the intestine and rectum. At his lowest point, he couldn’t muster the strength to stand up from a chair.

“I had to step away from football, I had to step away from school, and I felt really alone through it all,” he says. “That's when I transferred into Carlson. I got my acceptance letter while I was in the hospital, and I remember being really excited about that. But I didn't know to what extent Carlson was going to influence my future.”

Business as a force for good

Westerhaus underwent an operation that was largely successful, but left him unable to return to football. So he channeled his passion for the game into the study of business.

He explored various subjects through I-CORE: a cluster of second-year courses that immerse undergrad students in finance, marketing, supply chain and operations, and management. Finance captured his attention immediately. And while he considered a career in investment banking, Westerhaus ultimately decided to use his business skills to found a non-profit.

“I wanted to give back to people who are suffering like I did,” he says. Various professors guided him on the path to making the non-profit a reality.

Achieving Cures Together

Westerhaus partnered with the University of Minnesota microbiome therapeutics program to accelerate research on fecal microbiota transplant: an effective treatment that helped Westerhaus overcome a potentially fatal infection while he was also fighting ulcerative colitis.

He founded Achieving Cures Together, a non-profit that runs purely on donations. Right now, the team is studying how microbial restoration can boost gut health, ease inflammatory bowel disease, and help people suffering from diabetes.

“Peter has a change-the-world kind of vision,” says Associate Professor of Medicine Alexander Khoruts, M.D. Dr. Khoruts treated Westerhaus, and now leads the team developing these therapies. “We don't know the limits of this therapy, but the potential is there for treatment of a wide variety of diseases that need to be investigated. And he's really helping us to redefine the very paradigm of medicine.”

And while leading a non-profit bring immense challenges, Westerhaus is determined to help patients access cures.

“I think everyone should learn to overcome adversity and use those skills to make the world a better place,” he says.

Spring 2017  alumni magazine cover

This article appeared in the Spring 2017 alumni magazine

Learning doesn't just take place in the classroom anymore. In this issue, we explore how the Carlson School is thinking outside-the-box to meet the education needs of today's students.

Spring 2017 table of contents