Most heroes depicted in movies and comic books have otherworldly super powers-they fly, revert time, catch villains in webs or breath fire. They are larger than life in ability and stature leaving fans in awe of their grandeur. We refer to them when playing make believe and dress as them for halloween. We wish to portray the same bravado and to earn the respect of those around us by doing so. My hero though, isn’t a Disney character or etched for DC comics. He’s a 15 year old boy named Michael and his will is stronger than all those superheroes’ forces combined.
In 1999 Michael was born with several challenges-some were apparent and of the physical nature while others lurked below the surface. They would unfold as he grew-yet each was met with the same brave face. His parents were a united front from day one ensuring Michael receive the best medical care he could to live fully. They were insistent he persevere over these handicaps and so he did. One thing that’s remained completely familiar is the signature smile he wears regardless of the circumstances.
Despite any hardships growing up Michael played tee-ball, basketball and youth soccer. Just because he was smaller meant nothing to him-the boy who doesn’t miss a beat. His determination was ever-present allowing him to trump countless surgeries and successive recoveries. Never mind his commitment to his studies. With a strategic IEP, the best tutors parents could get there hands on and a boy unwilling to falter, Michael has thrived academically. In every session, every single time they leave, I’m told how incredibly hard working Mikey is-and what a pleasure to watch his thirst for knowledge. Even on his toughest days the pencil case remains around until his work is done. Never a word of complaint just sheer commitment.
Michael is on pediatric dialysis going on a year now-a large part of the right side of his chest is consumed by the catheters for treatment carefully bandaged for the days in between. He also wears hearing aids and glasses to help. He stands a proud 4’10” and weighs about 68 pounds. He’s a force to be reckoned with. Since the day I met him nearly a year ago we were instant friends. He has the kind of glow that makes you want to know him. There isn’t much he fears or is afraid to explore. As a newbie to high school our chats run the course from his romantic interests, professional sports team stats, living environment tests to homecoming. In his own eyes he’s as regular as they come. In reality he’s as special as you get.
Waiting for the donor who will save his life Michael’s patience is unwavering. Of all the children I’ve worked with over the years in bereavement or educational settings Michael is the one who’s taught me most clearly. It is in his laughter, his stoicism and faith against all odds that I am sure there is a higher presence powerfully working among us all. Michael challenges me to examine life every single day and find it’s blessings. He smiles ear to ear to tell me how “popular and attractive” he is when he’s had a good day at school (the two times per week his treatment schedule allows him to visit). When I’m disgruntled over slow drivers Michael reassures me from the passenger seat to “relax, we get there anyway”. When he returns from dialysis 3 times per week he asks me to measure his height against the wall in his family’s kitchen where recordings for the children are etched lovingly year after year. Don’t tell him but I mostly exaggerate how he’s grown from 2 days before because it soothes him. He believes there are special ingredients in his medication that make him taller-when actually it’s only his heart and faith that have expanded.
His one pancake-shaped kidney, as opposed to our two kidney beans, is tiring but fighting a very hard fight to keep Michael going. When I first heard about it’s malformation I knew immediately why-it makes so much sense that he carries a pancake around in his body because I’m sure he has syrup in his veins. The sweetest, most resilient child I know with a smile to melt away anything you once thought troubled you. I’ve held back tears many a times watching Michael’s excitement to attend his 8th grade dance-combed hair, collared shirt, khakis and smooth dance moves to match. Or when we shopped for new golf gear- the first sport his parents have allowed him to ease into since his surgeries from catheters have limited his athletic abilities. He chose the brightest neon colored top he could find, since naturally it matches his confidence. His love for life is contagious and his high fives, the best. He’s the happiest with a bowl of mac and cheese, rap music and his Instagram followers who like his latest post. I kid you not the child’s username is “MikeySwagDragon”…for those of you who don’t know what swag is, look it up because Michael oozes it.
There’s a special place in my heart that now belongs to Michael and a growing want to help save his life. This transplant surgery will mean he can be a kid again, to enjoy the everyday things we so often take for granted. I am certain Michael gains his strength from the family and friends who have adoringly stood by his side from day one. There is no special treatment, no desperation in their actions or voices, just steadfast support and humor to get through these challenging times. They encourage and love him endlessly and wear there own bravados for his sake. In the short time we’ve known each other Michael is clear that I am both his teammate and tremendous fan. He has forever changed my life in the loving lessons he doesn’t even know he’s teaching.
If after all heroes can be ordinary people, then he is the extraordinary kind.
Thank you Mikey for every day being mine.