Michael Mugrage of Bluffton is a typical teenager — quiet, plays video games, loves football. But he isn’t typical in every way: Two weeks ago he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
His mother, Jessica Mugrage, said he had been having headaches and what they thought was growing pains. But on Monday, Oct. 30, after school, she got a out-of-breath call while she was at work at Haverty’s.
“Mom ... Mom, I’m about to collapse,” she said Michael told her.
She rushed him to a local urgent care center, and after one X-ray, Micheal was transferred to Coastal Carolina Hospital with a collapsed lung. An emergency surgery brought more bad news: Michael had a mass near his diaphragm that had caused his lung to collapse.
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The 15-year-old was transferred to Savannah Memorial Health Hospital, and by the end of the week, a devastating diagnosis was in: high-risk rhabdomyosarcoma.
“High-risk” means the cancer has spread widely, according to the American Cancer Society. The cancer has surrounded his left lung and was found in his bone marrow. He also has tumors on his skull.
“It’s the worst-case scenario,” Jessica said. “I haven’t been given a lot of hope, but I have to just leave it to God.”
In the last two weeks, Michael has had three surgeries and four rounds of chemo that has left him barely able to lift his head. He faces 54 weeks of treatment, and there are more surgeries ahead.
Michael is in “incredible” pain, Jessica said.
But in the midst of all this, there have been bright spots.
Michael’s favorite class at May River High School is criminal justice. When the Bluffton Police Department found out about Michael’s hospitalization, a group of officers paid him a surprise visit. The department’s Facebook page post with a photo from the visit drew hundreds of comments offering well-wishes and prayers.
Michael told his mother that was the best day he’d had since he’d been in the hospital. “It was just amazing,” she said.
Jessica Mugrage, a single mom who also has a younger son, said she’s been overwhelmed with support from the community where she has lived only about two years, after moving to Hampton Lake from Hawaii.
Bluffton Realtor Catherine Keith Donaldson, a friend and neighbor of the family, set up a Go Fund Me page to help with medical expenses.
“As a community, I am pleading that we rise up together and help Michael, his mother, Jessica, and sweet little brother Matthew right now in an effort to ease their financial burden so that they are able to focus on his recovery,” Donaldson posted on Go Fund Me.
On Monday, less than a week after its creation, the page had raised more than $21,500 of the $50,000 goal.
“Most of the people who have donated I don’t even know,” Jessica Mugrage said. “It’s blown me away, and it’s so appreciated.
“The whole community has embraced my son,” she said. “I never could have imagined that they would have rallied around my family. It’s very inspiring.”
Lisa Wilson: 843-706-8103