HEROES > Greg Michels
There are approximately 400,000 Americans with MS. Every week, 200 people are diagnosed with the disease. The mission of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is to end the devastating effects of MS. The real passion of the society is changing lives in ways that reflect a quality consistent with good health and wellness. I serve on the board of trustees for the National MS Society – Georgia Chapter and our vision, as well as my personal vision, is that people with MS and their families will live their lives to the fullest capability. I have made a commitment to do everything in my power to contribute toward a cure for this devastating disease. When our backs are against the wall, we rise to the occasion and with the help of God, prevail. This story is not about me, but about my family and what we try to do to make a difference.
While I do not have MS myself, I and my family have been touched directly by this devastating disease and the challenges involved. My wife was diagnosed with MS some 20 years ago. She continued in the relapsing-remitting stage for some 10-12 years, having a fairly stable condition with very limited decline in function. After the birth of our only child, Jacob, in 1997, Mary's condition steadily declined to the point where she was bound to a wheelchair in 2001 and remains there today. Mary has been through the full regimen of drugs including chemotherapy and IV steroids in the course of her illness. The most significant decline in her mobility occurred about the time Mary had a Baclofen pump implanted and a subsequent brain hemorrhage as a complication to the surgery. This led to an emergency surgery to relieve pressure on Mary's brain due to the hemorrhage and we were blessed that she came out of this procedure in good mental health although restricted to the wheelchair. Life became more a multitude of challenges, doctors appointments, juggling of schedules, the search for quality caregivers and hopes for new treatments and cures. Our faith remained strong, knowing that God was in control. With the help of many including family, friends, caregivers and business colleagues, we have managed just fine.
Turning a difficult situation into a positive experience takes courage, faith, perseverance, a positive mental attitude, and strength. I have to admit, I think it also helps to take it one day at a time, one task at a time with a rather naïve belief that that will be enough. Chuck Knoll of the Pittsburgh Steelers used to say, "We don't do anything extraordinary, we just try to do the little things better than anyone else." When asked how we deal with life and the unknown of this disease, my wife and I often admit that we don't dwell on the future or even tomorrow, we just get through today. I believe how we deal with adversity defines who we truly are as human beings. We meet people in our lives that have overcome obstacles and inspired others around them along the way. How Mary handles herself in the face of constant adversity motivates me to be a better person and to try to make a difference. With inspiration from Mary and that same naïve belief that I could make a difference, I have sought out opportunities to do just that while at the same time being the very best husband, father, and leader in my business, church, and community as possible. I strive to live a normal family life under difficult conditions. In every area of my life, I think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege. I want to be an inspiration to those facing health problems or other difficult challenges.
Our family's involvement in fundraising for a cure of MS has included several MS 150 Bike Rides from Houston to Austin, Texas, and also in Denver, Colorado, where much money was raised for the cause. My son and I have also been involved in many MS Walks in Texas, Colorado, and Georgia. Most recently, I have served as organizer and chairman of the Travelers MS Celebrity Challenge Golf Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, for the last two years with phenomenal success. 2006 was the first year for this event; and thanks to generous support of colleagues, business partners and friends, close to $80,000 was raised for the benefit of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Georgia. I am happy to report that the 2007 Travelers MS Celebrity Challenge Golf Tournament has raised even more money for the cure of MS than the first year. The Georgia Chapter provides programs and services to more than 8,500 individuals with MS, plus family members and friends affected by MS. Donations and participation in events such as these have a direct impact on those who rely on the services provided by the Georgia Chapter of the MS Society.
As I said above, this is a family affair. Not only have I been directly involved in fundraising, but my son (now nine) has chosen to get involved in his own way. In 2001, Jacob walked (rode in a wagon) in his first MS Walk in Houston (The Woodlands) and made the local paper for his custom sign that read "Riding for my Mom." In 2003, Jacob rode in the MS 150 Bike Ride from Houston to Austin with me, wearing his tee shirt that was especially made stating, "I'm riding for my Mom." He was five years old at the time. Most recently, Jacob walked in the MS Walk on April 21, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia, with 59 co-workers of mine from Travelers. He says that he is glad that they care enough to try and help. Jacob ranked No. 33 on the Top 100 Fundraisers list for the MS Walk Atlanta 2007, raising $3,205. He says that he plans to keep walking and riding for this disease so everyone that is diagnosed will have a happier life. Jacob is a wonderful son and wants to help. He has been forced to grow up a little faster than other kids his age, needing to help his mom more often than most. His fourth grade teacher recently communicated to us that she wants to work with Jacob to make sure he continues to see his responsibilities as a privilege and not a burden. We hope and pray that this experience will enrich his life and better prepare him to take care of others.
I have been so blessed by the full support of family, colleagues, caregivers, and friends. My family has been very supportive throughout the years with my Mom and Dad often traveling many miles from Houston to Atlanta to be there for Mary and Jacob while I am traveling on business. If the family is not directly helping Mary, they are participating in MS 150 bike rides or donating money to help show support and to raise money on behalf of the MS Society. They will frequently forward our fundraising emails to friends and family to try to help generate more interest and support. My wife now has two very wonderful and attentive caregivers 5 days a week, and at night when needed. My entire family, colleagues from Travelers, church family, caregivers, and concerned and helpful friends have all been a blessing to my wife, myself, and Jacob. We have been blessed with this network of support and the financial means to deal with the day to day challenges.
Our family is just like any other family. We take small vacations each year to the beach, to the mountains to snow ski or simply to visit family on the holidays. It is great to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life; however, with Mary's disabilities, even vacations can often be exhausting. Our son keeps us busy with football, baseball and other school activities. I am an executive with Travelers Insurance and have many professional and leadership responsibilities. Yes, we are a busy family. There are daily challenges but we face them head on together and learn to deal with them.
I will continue to take courage and stand strong in my faith and lead my family to have as full and normal a life as possible. Leadership and professional responsibilities will continue in the insurance industry, but my fight for a cure for this devastating disease is more important than what takes place from nine to five. There is much work to be done, so I guess we just need to take it one day at a time and see if we can make any progress! The task can be accomplished easier through effective teamwork, and I encourage everyone to take a part in this great effort.
As Winston Church Hill once said: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."