Michael Spencer, Former Firefighter/Paramedic, ITS Resident Artist
Michael Spencer is synonymous with resiliency, optimism and perseverance. Mike’s story is one that would make many of us bitter or give up on life, but Mike has taken the setbacks that life handed him and has handled them with dignity and courage. Mike joined the Chicago Fire Department as a Firefighter/Paramedic in 2005, turning down an Art Scholarship because it was always his lifelong dream to be a firefighter. Mike’s career was progressing and for more than seven years he lived his dream. That all changed on July 10, 2012 when he was injured carrying a 71 year old woman out of a building. During that call, his bicep was ripped from his bone and he had to be transported from the call to the hospital. An orthopedic surgeon was called in and the result was that surgery was required. During surgery, damage to his right radial nerve was sustained leaving him without feeling in his hands and fingers.
A long year of therapy followed, but full recovery was never attained. As with all organizations, it is a painstaking process to cross the t’s and dot the i’s when transitioning from full time employment to occupational disability, and the waiting period can be long, frustrating, and often depletes life savings.
In October of 2013, Mike began feeling flu-like symptoms, and like most of us, pretty much ignored the symptoms mostly due to the pending situation of his employment and benefits. It was at this time that he was introduced to Rich Pinskey & Ignite the Spirit. They stepped in and helped Mike financially and emotionally, which so importantly helped him feel whole and not to sink into depression. As Mike was working through the frustrations of no longer being a firefighter, he received another tragic blow in December of 2013; his Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Mike and his mom were very close and Mike did all that he could to help her thru this devastating illness. Mike continued feeling ill, and he began thinking he had pneumonia rather than the flu, but visiting and taking care of his mom consumed all of his time and he soldiered thru his symptoms and didn’t pay much attention to his own health issues. Mike’s mom deteriorated rapidly and she passed away on January 15, 2014, with Mike at her side. Ignite the Spirit continued to help Mike emotionally thru this very overwhelming time in his life.
Mike’s symptoms persisted, and he eventually went to the hospital where the initial diagnosis was pneumonia due to fluid in his lungs. But in addition to fluid in his lungs, his feet & legs were also swollen so further tests were run (EKG, Echo-Cardiogram, Chest CT) and it was determined that Mike’s heart was enlarged more than 2 times the normal size, he had 12 blood clots in his lungs, 1 in his heart, his heart was only operating at 11% of full function, and he was in congestive heart failure. He was transferred to a hospital highly regarded for their heart care, and the recommendation was a heart transplant. However, again due to the pending situation with his benefits, Mike opted to wait, take medication and treatment, and after 5 days in ICU and 5 days in the Cardio ward he was released. At this time, he was now forced to go back to the CFD for approval to be put onto heart/lung disability and until approval was received he had no benefits. Ignite the Spirit continued to support Mike emotionally through this challenging period of his life.
Since Mike had initially been placed only on a personal LOA with the CFD, he could not seek outside employment. It was at this time that Mike decided to turn to his art to subsidize his LOA income; as a child and young boy he would sketch with charcoal and pens, but now he decided to try a different medium – painting on canvas. He would sketch from pictures he had taken, paint them on canvas, and sell them on Facebook. This helped give him enough income to afford to pay for food and medication, and friends helped augment his rent until the medical heart/lung occupational LOA was approved.
During these trying times, Mike and Rich became close friends, and as Mike got back on his feet and the occupational LOA was approved, Mike wanted to “give back” to Ignite the Spirit. Mike has become Ignite’s Resident Artist, running their Wine & Painting parties, designing the label for their special holiday wine, and donating paintings to the silent auction at many of the ITS Valentine Balls.
Mike knows the meaning of adversity but does not dwell on the negative; he realizes how fortunate he is to be surrounded by supportive friends who have helped lift him up thru the darker times in his life, and how important it is to remain positive and find good in whatever life throws at you.
Mike Spencer is Someone You Should Know!