Family, friends and faith
Mick Havrilla's battle with several diseases brings a new perspective, doesn't shake his spirit
At Moffat County’s soccer game with Battle Mountain two weeks ago, Michael “Mick” Havrilla sat in his old red truck and did what he had done for almost 30 years in Craig: He cheered.
Only his cheering was a little softer and less often than in the past.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “I wish I could be out there, but right now this is what it’s all about.”
Nine months earlier the 57-year-old was out there. Yelling his trademark “Ã¡ndale” and encouraging any local child kicking the checkered ball to play “Total FÃ°tbol.”
Things were different then.
Havrilla was Mr. Adventure. The mine safety inspector was well known in the community as someone who floated the Yampa River, cross-country skied Black Mountain and golfed often.
Now Havrilla sits in his truck to watch the soccer games because his legs might not hold him up for the entire 90 minutes.
Sitting in the truck is OK for Mick though. After being diagnosed with cancer, being diagnosed with a rare disease called amyloidosis, fighting kidney failure and battling back from congestive heart failure, Havrilla is OK with taking things at a slower pace.
“Golf isn’t about the score anymore,” he said. “Fishing isn’t about always having your line in the water.”
Life has slowed down for Mick. It was either slow down or stop and Havrilla had too many items on his “to do list” to give up.
In August of 2004 Havrilla started to notice he was tired all the time and that he didn’t have much of an appetite. A couple weeks later, his body started to swell. That is when he and his wife, Cathy, who is a registered nurse, decided something was wrong.
“She encouraged me to go to a doctor,” he said. “I went in September and they did all kinds of tests — MRI, CAT scan and heart catheterization — but nobody really found anything.”
Then, Havrilla wound up back in the hospital for a blood clot in his stomach.
That’s when doctors tested his bone marrow and found he had multiple myeloma, a cancer that causes abnormal cell buildup in the marrow and creates tumors in the bones.
Doctors also found that Havrilla was suffering amyloidosis. The rare affliction produces protein deposits in organs (the deposits are called amyloid), which break down the organ’s function. In Havrilla’s case, his liver was taking on the amyloid.
Havrilla’s body was swelling because of acute renal failure. In laymen’s terms, his kidneys were shutting down.
He went to Denver in October to have additional tests done. When Mick and Cathy were driving back from Denver, doctors were leaving messages for him at home. He needed to come back immediately because his kidneys were starting to fail.
Havrilla went through dialysis but it wasn’t helping enough and he was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center. “I heard a doctor say he only had a few minutes to help me,” Havrilla said.
He spent a month in ICU at Presbyterian before doctors could get his blood chemistry to regular levels.
He went from 220 pounds to 164 “and most of that weight was water weight.” His feet swelled to the point that the skin started to crack because it couldn’t stretch any more.
Family, friends and faith
During the most serious three months, Havrilla said there were several times where he felt so bad he thought about giving up. Then something or somebody would give him hope.
The first time he struggled was when he was at The Memorial Hospital in Craig for the blood clot in his stomach.
“I was ready to give up when my wife grabbed a hold of me and sternly said, ‘don’t you give up, you have a lot left to do.'”
While in ICU Havrilla said there were times when it was so hard to breathe or sleep, but then a card from a former player or a friend in the community would show up.
“They didn’t say anything profound but they just said, ‘you’re a fighter’ or ‘get better soon,'” he said. “I couldn’t let them down.”
He was also encouraged by how many times he learned of people and churches praying for him.
“So many people told me I was on their prayer list, it was almost overwhelming,” he said. “It wasn’t just people from my own church (St. Michael’s) — it was the community.”
Mick’s daughter, Amy, was pregnant and expecting in February. He didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be a first-time grandparent.
“Family, friends and faith,” he said. “That’s what got me through.”
It has been sixth months since Havrilla was released from ICU.
His first public appearances were embarrassing.
“People are used to seeing a go-getter but I was a shell,” he said. “I would pretend like I was looking at something in the store when really I was resting.”
During the recovery he had to relearn previous things he took for granted.
“I didn’t realize how much I had lost,” he said. “I had to relearn how to walk and how to do things like throw.”
Sometimes Havrilla was confined to a wheelchair, like when he and his wife went to the mall in Grand Junction.
“She went into a store and I had to go to the bathroom,” he said. “I almost didn’t make it because I couldn’t wheel there fast enough.”
He has put back on some of the weight, “I can eat whatever I want when I want now.”
He returned to work but hasn’t gone through a mine inspection because of the strain it would put on his body.
He takes naps after work for rejuvenation. “Mentally, I’m ready to do things,” he said. “But physically, I can’t.”
The production of cancer cells has slowed. He needs a bone marrow transplant to have a chance to fully recover. But before the transplant, his liver needs to be replaced.
Because of the amyloidosis, a liver transplant is hard to come by. “They give priority to those with a better chance for a full recovery from a transplant,” he said.
They are looking into receiving a transplant from his sister.
But he’s still at least a year away from a bone marrow transplant.
Until then, he must learn how to give himself dialysis.
These days Mick is learning to live slower, like sitting at a soccer game in his truck instead of standing on the sideline.
“This has made me realize what really counts,” he said.
One of those things is his granddaughter, Adelyn Arroyo, born Feb. 28.
“I don’t have bad days,” he said. “Every day is a treat.”
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