It has been nearly 20 years since Michael was able to donate blood, but that does not stop the Palatine resident from routinely finding his way inside a blood drive.
Michael will make a quick visit just to express his gratitude to the donors and tell them their actions are saving the lives of others.
If Michael sounds confident when addressing a donor and making that claim it is because he knows first-hand how important it is for one to roll up their sleeve and give blood.
In 1998 Michael was a healthy 27 year old busy planning his upcoming wedding to his fiancée, Erika. As summer was approaching, Michael began feeling a pinch in his side and both he and Erika noticed he was breathing differently.
After four weeks of discomfort, Michael decided it was time to visit the doctor. It was there he learned he had a collapsed lung and a mass roughly the size of a softball growing against his chest wall.
“I was young and healthy, I never thought the pain I was experiencing was anything serious,” Michael said.
A subsequent trip to the oncologist revealed Michael had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. The doctor’s outlook for Michael was a positive one with a 90 percent chance of defeating the cancer if he underwent a heavy dose of chemotherapy combined with a stem cell transplant.
The prognosis was correct and a few months later Michael learned he was in remission.
The cancer, unfortunately, did not stay away long.
In February of 1999, Michael began experiencing pain in his elbow and doctors told him the cancer was back. Doctors explained to Michael that he needed a bone marrow transplant and without one he would only have around three months to live. He was also given the option of undergoing an aggressive form of chemotherapy that would probably give him an additional six months to find a bone marrow match.
“I was absolutely shocked by the diagnosis and devastated that my life could be over in three months,” Michael said. “There was still so much more I wanted to do in life so I opted for the chemotherapy.”
The chemo was “really intensive” and “a whole different ball game” compared to what he experienced approximately eight months earlier.
“I thought I had it bad the first time,” he said. “This was completely different.”
A month and a half into the chemotherapy a perfect match was found in the bone marrow registry. On April 20, 1999, Michael had a successful bone marrow procedure at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He has been cancer-free since then.
“I’m alive today because of the selfless people who agree to donate blood and join the bone marrow registry,” he said. “If you are on the fence about donating or joining the registry just realize that you could literally be saving someone’s life.”
Approximately five years after the bone marrow procedure, Michael was able to meet his donor. The man, who Michael said lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and is just a few years older than him, joined the registry during a drive at his church that was organized to help a young parishioner in need of a bone marrow transplant.
“Every year on the anniversary of the procedure I give him a call to thank him and also tell him what I did and accomplished in the past year that was possible because he agreed to be a donor,” Michael said.
While his past cancer diagnosis prevents him from donating blood, Michael, who was a regular donor prior to 1998, takes great enjoyment in stopping by drives to share his story and chat with donors. The most recent drive he attended was this December at the Golf Mill Shopping Center. It was a memorable time for Michael as not only did he get to meet Chicago Bear Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard but he also took his 8-year-old daughter Ava to a blood drive for the first time.
“I wanted her to understand the importance of giving blood and also see how the process works,” Michael said. “It also gives me the opportunity to quickly thank the people who are donating and tell them how much I appreciate what they are doing.”