"Overcoming Life's Curveballs"
Mike Muhlhammer attended our church in northern Pennsylvania for several years in the eighties along with his family. I recall his pleasant attitude and vibrancy toward life. I specifically remember one Sunday afternoon when we had a rather silly hot dog eating contest among the men and boys of the church where Mike distinguished himself as the Hot Dog Champ. All these years later I can't recall how many he ate!
He stood out as a very bright young man with lofty ambitions and was very active in Royal Rangers, a Christian scouting program we had in the church.
Mike and his family moved on from our area to North Carolina in 1990 but we’ve stayed in touch through the years and had the opportunity to visit them in January 2009 after not seeing them for many years.
Following his high school graduation in 1993 Mike attended a one year program at Wisconsin Wilderness Campus of Philadelphia College of Bible. Following this he was preparing to transfer to another college and, in the course of his application process, he underwent a routine physical exam. This was followed by tests which revealed that Mike had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball at the base of his skull.
Within a week Mike was in surgery. Chris, his mother shares the story:
We were told that he would be in ICU for a day or so, then out of the hospital within the week, and could go back to college later that month with a decreased academic load. Life has never been the same since that historic day. Mike suffered two strokes during surgery and came out of this complicated operation in a deep coma. Over the next several days Mike began to wake up slowly. Then, nine days after the surgery, he came down with meningitis. He had been able to breathe on his own prior to that, but now needed a tracheotomy and was put on the ventilator. Additionally he was given a stomach tube for liquid feedings.
I slept on the ICU waiting room floor every night of the 30 days he was in ICU and one of our family members was always at the hospital round the clock. We prayed with/for him, read Scripture, talked about fond memories, etc. whenever they would let us back to see him. At the end of August he was transferred to an intensive rehab wing at the hospital. For the next four months I would arrive at the hospital around 5am and stay until 7pm. Ron would come after work at 5pm and then stay until 11pm. Our youngest daughter would come after school and stay until late evening.
Initially Mike could not stay awake and attend to anything for even one minute. We used to get him in a wheelchair after his therapy in the afternoon and take him outside or anywhere around the hospital trying to stimulate his brain. Mike could not sit up or even hold his head up - he could not even control his saliva. We learned how to give him tube feedings and how to care for his tracheotomy and how to administer his medications. After Mike had been in rehab for five weeks, the case manager told me that we would never be able to take him home and that we’d better start thinking about a place to "put him". It was one of the worst days of the entire experience but we were determined not to receive such a grim outlook.
The speech therapist was not going to teach Mike to eat anymore since the entire team felt he would be unable to eat normally given his level of wakefulness. However, our family felt he could and would if given the right food stimulus - instead of the applesauce they were using each morning before I would arrive. So I made one of Mike’s favorite foods, Stove Top Stuffing, and took it with me on my next visit. Under the direction of the speech therapist, we mixed it with water to a consistency she felt he might eat - and it worked! Next we progressed to mashed potatoes, ground up meatloaf and finally pureed hotdogs! Mike had the stomach tube removed 85 days after it was initially inserted and he was permitted to eat any food he wanted. God was certainly at work.
The medical team had also decided they were not going to teach Mike to walk again. However, one morning his rehab doctor came in and Mike tried to stand up. That same day therapists reassessed the situation and began to work with Mike to help him walk again.
We finally convinced the doctors and staff that we could take care of Mike at home - they permitted us to bring him home overnight on Thanksgiving. Seeing that we could handle him, he was discharged from the hospital on Dec. 20, making it the best Christmas present we could hope for.
When Mike first came home, he was just beginning to walk with a walker about 10 feet. Over the next year, I took Mike to therapy 3 times a week. He was such a trouper and worked so hard that he made great progress!
Mike was so physically weak he could barely talk. His speech therapist used anything she could to strengthen his lip muscles, lungs, etc. After finding out that he had played the trumpet in high school, she asked us to bring his trumpet to outpatient therapy where she had him play it. One day, an older patient heard him "sound the trumpet" and told everyone with great excitement, “The end of the world is coming. I can hear the trumpets!” It was sure nice to enjoy some lighter moments of therapy!
Mike is definitely an overcomer - he has endured so much and yet has the same personality he had before the surgery. He is very mobile and can even bat around a tennis ball, goes bowling, and swims, etc. He eats everything he wants just like the rest of us. His life is very full! But more than that, he is a real inspiration to those who know him and so many people do in North Raleigh. Mike and his care provider are out and about in the community; banking, grocery shopping, going to the barber shop, and many other places all the time.
Mike is very fortunate to have a part time supported job at our YMCA as a greeter working 2 1/2 hours per day Monday through Friday. Due to his remaining neurological difficulties, he needs a job coach with him one on one, but it is Mike's personality that makes him so successful at his greeting job. He makes people smile and everyone loves him there. Last June he was voted for the honored position of Staff of the Quarter. Scores of people have told us and his care provider that Mike really makes their day with his smile. Some also have children with disabilities and have said that Mike gives them hope that their children will someday have the kind of life that he does. Last year Mike gave a talk at the Rotary Club about what working at the Y means to him – as you can tell by my writing, we are so proud of him!
He has a nice circle of friends; there is a small group of young adults with disabilities that meet at our home every month. Mike bowls almost weekly, goes to lunch once a week with friends, meets at Borders one afternoon each week for coffee, cards and/or just conversation with a friend from work, etc. The past two Novembers at church, Mike was a doorman for the Ladies Holiday Gala. The women who attended each year expressed how much they appreciate Mike’s warm greeting.
I could go on and on but I think you get the picture - this is certainly not the life I would have chosen for Mike had I been given the opportunity to do so. But now, almost fourteen years later, I can see God at work in so many places and times in his life. During his initial hospitalization, the doctors discussed death with us on three separate occasions when things did not look so good for Mike. Each time it was clear to us that God had a definite purpose for his life. He is such an inspiration to all who get to know him and readily shares his faith - he has always prayed at lunch with every care provider who has assisted him!
Mike enjoys life to the fullest as can be witnessed by the constant smile on his face.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity.""Living today anchored in God's solid foundation"
© Copyright 2008 Stephen C. Weber - All Rights Reserved
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