Milwaukee-Based Engineer Turns Cancer into Call to Help Others

Want to get Kyle Bareither talking?

Here are some suggested topics: deep-soil mixing, environmental remediation, in-situ bioremediation… or maybe even unconfined compression strength.

Clearly, this is a man who loves what he does and what he does is specialize in cleaning up former manufactured gas plants, working as an environmental engineer for Natural Resource Technology Inc. in Milwaukee. ASCE has selected Bareither as one of the 2016 New Faces of Civil Engineering Professionals.

But it wasn’t always that simple.

Bareither was celebrating the 2009 holidays with his family in Chicago, preparing for a 14-month project in Florida.

“It was a huge opportunity for me,” Bareither said.

He noticed some strange symptoms, though. His skin was incredibly itchy, and he had a very strong, dry cough. The doctors told him it was pneumonia and he left for Florida in the new year.

Fortunately, his mother sensed that something still wasn’t quite right. She showed his x-rays to a radiologist friend, and Bareither got an urgent phone call down in Florida soon thereafter.

“He pretty much said you have to come home now,” Bareither said. “And at that point I totally agreed with him because by then the lymph node under my left armpit had grown to be the size of a ping-pong ball.”

Bareither was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

No more talk of deep-soil mix or environmental remediation. He left the project in Florida and started chemotherapy treatments in Chicago immediately.

“It was really, really hard, as you can imagine,” Bareither said. “I usually weigh 185 pounds, and I was about 145 when I was done.”

The hockey-playing engineer could barely hold down food. He lost all of his hair – even his eyelashes.

Bareither still remembers the date – June, 28, 2010 – when he got the news that he was cancer-free.

Thus began a whole new set of challenges.

“It was just hard because I didn’t know how to integrate back into what I was doing,” said Bareither, who started back at the Natural Resource Technology office full-time in August of that year. “And I know people mean well, but you have everybody that’s all worried for you.”

It didn’t help that Bareither’s oncologist was recommending he stay out of field work for another year.

“For the rest of 2010 I was confused,” Bareither said. “I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do. The rest of the year I felt absent-minded.”

Bareither emerged from his haze with a new plan for 2011.

“I just kind of decided that I wanted to give as much of my time as possible to almost anything I could do to help people,” Bareither said.

He took on treasurer duties with the ASCE Wisconsin Section Southeast Branch Younger Member Group. He joined an organizing committee for the YMG’s STEM Expo. He also began working with the Imerman Angels, providing one-on-one support to cancer patients, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I would say my outlook on life has changed significantly,” Bareither said. “I try not to worry about small things. I’ve noticed that I’m very aware of people’s mannerisms and how they feel so I can try to make them feel comfortable, because I guess I felt so uncomfortable for that entire period.”

He talked the doctors into letting him get back into the field a little earlier than expected back in 2011. He was able to take on the role of lead engineer for a soil-stabilization project in Racine, WI. In 2013, at the client’s request, he went back to lead the second phase of the project with an accompanying building demolition and soil stabilization at the same site.

At age 30, he’s more excited than ever about talking shop and continuing to learn more, maybe even going back to school.
“I have some long-term goals, but I really just try to handle each day and handle each task as it comes,” Bareither said. “Just do the best that I can so that I don’t have any regrets.”

ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering recognition programs highlight the next generation of civil engineering leaders. By showcasing young, diverse, talented engineers the program shows that engineering is an exciting profession open to everyone. Ten honorees are selected by ASCE in each of two divisions: collegiate and professional.

The honorees will be recognized during Engineers Week, which starts Feb. 21, and at ASCE’s annual Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) Gala, March 17, in Arlington, VA.

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