Mike’s Front Row Experience: Pirates Voyage Event
Mike Leigh looks like a typical 19 year-old young man—tall and handsome, with a glowing smile and a terrific sense of humor. He gives out great hugs and has tons of adoring fans in his hometown near Chicago. He is a survivor, through and through. His nickname is “Rockstar Mike,” and he’s got the stats to back it up! Developmentally, he is a 7-year old boy inside a young man’s body. The list of critical health challenges that he has endured is truly humbling: Tracheomalacia (a soft airway), an enlarged heart, pulmonary-hypertension, asthma, cirrhosis of the liver, enlarged spleen, platelet issues, and last but not least is his tracheotomy. He gets around using a wheelchair, and also requires around-the-clock supplemental Oxygen through tanks and compressor units. His Mom, Vicki, and his soon-to-be Step Dad, Brian, provide fulltime care for him. Mike is a weekly face at his doctor’s office and local hospital. His long list of required medications is astounding. However, despite his long list of serious health challenges and the declining strength of his body, Mike continues to put on a happy face through it all… Hence his nickname: “Rockstar Mike!”
Who ever meets Mike, will soon find out that he is infatuated with pirates. Mike’s love of pirates began when he was a young boy. He knows every “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie word for word, and loves everything about pirates. His Mom said that he even wants to be a real pirate someday! In fact, when he was a little boy he protested his oral hygiene care by telling his mom, “Mom, pirates don’t brush their teeth!” She finally convinced him to brush his teeth—what a funny memory!
When Mike’s application came in to us, it caught our attention because this was the first request we had ever had for a Front Row pirate experience. We knew we didn’t have much time though since Mike’s prognosis was not good. We soon learned that in 2010 Vicki met with Mike’s pulmonologist and forced him to be honest and forthright, and tell her how much time he had left. After some hesitation, the Dr. informed her that Mike had about 2 years of life remaining (meaning, until 2012). This shook Vicki to her core, and needless to say, the past 2 years have been very difficult and bittersweet for this family.
We set the planning phase swiftly into motion and decided to take Mike on his Front Row experience to the best pirate show the nation has to offer: “Pirates Voyage” in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Taking into consideration Mike’s declining health situation, it was very risky to plan such a major trip half way across the U.S. But, we wanted to give it our best shot—in hopes of making Mike’s dream of seeing a pirate show come true. During the planning months, Mike grew weaker and weaker. Vicki called every week with an update, and was unsure about him being healthy enough to fly; this would be his very first airplane ride! Then, just 3 days before the departure on September 23rd Vicki was given devastating news by Mike’s physicians: he only has 2-3 months of life remaining. Her only child was in his last days…something no parent ever wants to hear. She was completely inconsolable over the phone, and we knew the timing of this trip could not be better for his family.
Mike’s big day finally arrived and there was tons of excitement in the air! The morning of the flight from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, a beautiful stretch limo picked up Mike and his family very early in the morning to head for the airport. Mike had been talking about riding in this limo for weeks leading up to the event. His face lit up when he saw it in his driveway!
Arriving at the airport for his very first plane ride was quite special for he and his family. He was pretty nervous to go through security, but lived up to his nickname, “Rockstar Mike!” Everyone at the gate was excited to see Mike and hear about his big Front Row trip.
Once on board the plane, our Event Coordinator, Carey Smolensky, busted out his iPad—fully stocked with tons of pirate movies for Mike to watch.
A few hours later, the plane touched down in sunny Myrtle Beach. The weather was picture-perfect: 70s, breezy, comfortable. The hotel was right on the Atlantic Ocean.
This was Mike’s very first time seeing the ocean! His hotel had a private balcony, and he loved listening to the waves roll onto the shore below. Everyone relaxed for a couple of hours before the big adventure over to “Pirates Voyage.” Mike enjoyed his favorites: pizza, root beer, and a little Sponge Bob on the TV!
It’s time to go! The shiny black stretch Ford Excursion SUV was waiting for us in front of the hotel. When Mike saw it, his jaw dropped to the ground—he could not believe his eyes. “Surprise!” Carey said. Vicki covered her mouth and began crying when she saw how excited Mike was to ride in such a cool vehicle.
Mike felt like a real movie star pulling up to “Pirates Voyage.” Everyone was a little startled when the limo came to a halt and a real pirate opened the door and yelled in, “Ahoy maties!” Mike’s face lit up and he could not wait to get out and see all the pirates.
Before the show started, Mike enjoyed the special Pre-show complete with a juggling pirate, a singing pirate, and a dancing sea lion. He laughed and laughed! We caught his Mom staring at him, and softly smiling—taking in all his joy.
At the end of the Pre-show, the pirates all came over to meet “Rockstar Mike.” He was a bit scared at first, but then warmed right up to them once he learned they were “nice pirates.” Mike was elated to shake the hands of these real pirates!
Now it was time for the big show down in the Front Row! It was packed house, and Mike was happy to be sitting only 5 feet from all the action.
Dinner was served while watching the show, which Mike was excited about because he didn’t want to miss one moment of the show. The meal was advertised as “fit for pirates,” and consisted of: Potato Soup, Buccaneer Biscuits, Half O’ Roasted Cackler (chicken), Mashed & Flogged Taters , Cob O’ Buttery (corn), and Apple O’ Me Eye Pie. The food just kept coming, and Mike gobbled it all up like any growing boy would!
Mike sat back and took it all in—the silly acrobats, the loud Captain, the “real” pirates, and the beautiful mermaids. His face was glowing and his smile was from ear to ear.
When the show came to a close, everyone filed out of the venue, except us. A special “Meet & Greet” was arranged for Mike after the crowd had left. Some of the pirates came over and handed him a special flag with all the character’s autographs on it. He held it in his large hands, just starring down at it for about 2 minutes. He was in shock!
It was time for some final photos and handshakes. Mike couldn’t believe how quickly the show went. He loved every minute.
Back in the limo, Mike was asleep within 5 minutes. He did manage to wake up for a quick ice cream stop though—ha! He had his favorite: chocolate.
Mike’s Front Row experience was truly magical on so many levels, since he’s had such setbacks with his health in recent months. It was a miracle that he even made the trip—and to top it off, everything went perfectly according to plan. Mike will remember this trip for the rest of his life: his first airplane ride, his first limo ride, his first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean, and last but certainly not least, his first encounter with “real” pirates. His Mom and soon-to-be Step Dad had so much fun watching Mike and sharing in his joy. The entire trip was very bittersweet for everyone involved and it will go down in the Front Row history books as one of the great ones!