Constable: Sometimes shirtless, usually smiling, Michael always inspired
Completely charming Daily Herald photographer Rick West and me during our visit to his Bloomingdale home last year for a column about his inspirational effort against cancer, a shirtless Michael Carr made a request.
"How about when I'm done with all this, you put that in the paper?" he said with a smile, envisioning himself ringing that End of Chemo Bell at Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital. "That was nice, and I'm going to be able to do it again."
Michael died Thursday night, finishing a struggle he waged for half his 12 years as the son of Gia and Michael Carr, and devoted big brother to Frankie and Joey.
"Yesterday evening at 9:50 I lost a part of me. Michael fought so hard and so long," his mother posted Friday on the Miracles for Michael Facebook page. "Now you can rest and enjoy all the things that were taken from you. Life will never be the same without you, my sweet boy. I love you more than life itself. I have never been prouder to be your mom. You showed the world what life is really about and touched any and every person that has met you and even those who haven't. Until we meet again my Bubba Loo."
Within hours, hundreds of people left heartfelt messages on that Facebook page. Michael touched so many lives that Dr. Stewart Goldman, the division head of hematology, oncology, neuro-oncology and stem cell transplantation at the hospital, proclaimed him "the mayor of Lurie Children's."
Michael was there for treatment after treatment, surgery after surgery, but he always found time to dole out some joy to others.
"He'll come up and rub my belly and ask if I have twins in there, which I love," Goldman said last year. "He's an inspiration. You can't help but be happy when you spend time with Michael Carr."
Always comfortable in his own skin, Michael liked to peel off his shirt before he made his rounds to see other sick kids. Shirts irritated the skin around the port in his chest where his chemo was delivered, but being shirtless also allowed him to bond with other children who had chemo ports.
"I'm known for it there," Michael said of his shirtless look. "I'm the mayor of the 18th floor. I like to play with kids, make them laugh and help them, even if they have tubes and everything."
Michael's illness began as a first-grader at Erickson Elementary School in Bloomingdale.
"I threw up every morning," the boy said. "Then there was the day they picked me up at school and took me to the hospital and I got an IV."
On Oct. 20, 2015, Michael was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor that starts at the base of the skull. It affects between 250 and 500 kids a year. Three days later, two days before his 7th birthday, he had his first brain surgery at Lurie Children's Hospital to remove the tumor. Then came 30 days of radiation at the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center in Warrenville.
"That's where I got the stickers," Michael told our photographer before rushing off to his Chicago Blackhawks-themed bedroom to grab the laminated sheet of stickers awarded him after treatments. "I enjoyed that. They always kept me asleep for it."
In January 2017, Michael got to ring the End of Chemo Bell and have fun that summer at a backyard Done With Chemo party featuring waterslides and bounce houses. But the cancer returned in October 2017, sending him on a journey to find the newest and best treatments at Lurie Children's, one of 11 top hospitals nationwide that make up the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium.
Michael endured so much, but he still focused on the good.
"At first, getting my port in hurted. Next thing you know, I got used to it," Michael said. "I really enjoy the hospital, the doctors and nurses. I have ice cream, Coke and Goldfish, and sometimes Oreos."
In January 2020, Michael climbed 1,643 steps for Aon's Step Up for Kids fundraiser to support Family Services at Lurie Children's as part of the annual "Miracles for Michael" team of 50 family members and friends wearing matching T-shirts.
"Mine says, 'Miracles 4 Me,'" noted Michael, who also designed the logo featuring him as Superman crushing cancer.
Last month, Michael got a shout-out during a broadcast of a Chicago Bulls game. In December, a squadron of Bloomingdale police officers, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, paraded to his house to deliver a check to his foundation.
"In 20 years of doing this job, you meet so many people. But I still think about that kid every week," says the Daily Herald's West, a cancer survivor who was less than a year removed from the end of his own treatment when he photographed Michael and his family. "He had a bigger impact on me than just about any person I've met on assignment. It had such an effect on my perspective at that point in time, and it's going to stick with me forever."
A memorial service will be Saturday, April 10, at Salerno's Rosedale Funeral Chapel in Roselle. Details about how to honor Michael's life will be included when they become available. A GoFundMe: Michael Carr's Fearless Fight can be found by visiting gofundme.com and searching for his name.