Sept. 30 should have been a day of unrestrained excitement for Michael Nugent-Dolan. He was turning 13 years old and entering his teenage years. Michael received gifts and was surrounded by family, but this birthday was different.
Michael, a vibrant jokester and avid fan of Star Wars, professional wrestling and music, celebrated his big day in a hospital bed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where he has spent the last three months recovering from major complications following surgery. After returning home from a June 30 procedure, Michael faced a slew of health issues and was readmitted to the hospital on July 24.
For Michael and his family, the experience has been harrowing.
“This has been something that’s been pretty traumatic,” said Amanda Johnson, Michael’s stepsister.
Michael has been unable to pursue many of his hobbies, including saxophone, piano and guitar. He has also been separated from his classmates at Chrisman-Scottland Junior High. Still, his witty sense of humor and joyful demeanor remain, according to family members.
“It’s been really hard to see him go through that, but to see someone knocked down that far and to see how far he’s come back, that shows how resilient he is,” said Johnson, later adding, “He is talking and acting just like he normally would have.”
Chris Newhart, Michael’s stepbrother, has also noticed his brother’s fun-loving personality is still intact, despite the circumstances he is facing.
“(People) all brought up his sense of humor and jokes,” said Newhart. “It’s nice to see he still has that sense of humor.”
In addition to his cognitive recovery, Michael is also making strides physically but is still trying to regain strength. He is able to walk under his own power and do push-ups, sit-ups and squats.
“Right now, it’s kind of day-to-day,” said Johnson, who noted doctors are uncertain when Michael will be cleared to return home, although hospital staff are hoping Thanksgiving is a possible date.
In the midst of health complications and an extended recovery and stay in St. Louis, Michael and his family have received copious support and encouragement from Paris, Chrisman and beyond.
Chrisman Schools hosted a Wear Purple day in his honor and took donations to cover travel expenses for Michael’s family. Johnson’s niece, Maddie Neiswinger, hosted a special “Frosted After Dark” event at her business, Frosted by Maddie. Proceeds from the event went toward medical expenses. Participants even signed a jumbo-sized birthday card that was hand-delivered by Johnson the following day.
Finally, churches from around the community gathered on the Edgar County Courthouse lawn for a prayer vigil hosted by First Baptist Church of Paris.
“That was really awesome to see the community coming together and praying on the courthouse lawn together,” said Johnson, later adding. “Honestly, if nobody prayed for him I don’t know if he’d be here.”
Support has also poured in via text, mail and face-to-face conversations.
“It was an overwhelming outpouring of text messages from people who know us,” TJ Johnson, Amanda’s husband, explained. “There were cards from everywhere.”
Even routine errands lead to long conversations with friends and neighbors checking in on Michael.
Amanda and TJ Johnson do not mind the extra time it takes to buy groceries or grab food.
“That’s a good problem to have,” said Amanda Johnson. “It’s good to have people to talk to.”
Now, family members are drumming up community support for another big event – the Michael Nugent-Dolan Benefit, hosted by Team Michael. The benefit is 4 p.m. today, Oct. 28, at the American Legion Post 211 in Paris.
All proceeds from the event will be used to cover medical bills, both for the present, plus return trips and check-ups. Currently, the cost of Michael’s hospitalization is estimated to exceed $1 million.
The benefit will include a meal, a silent auction and multiple raffles, as well as a performance from local rock band “Switchback” and a Halloween costume contest later in the evening.
The meal is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
The silent auction is headlined by several big-ticket items, including tickets to Brett Eldredge’s Christmas-themed “Glow” concert, a Tyler Childers album autographed by the band, original art from Bryan Hand, seven passes to a historical tour of Ashmore Estates, four tickets to “Come From Away” at The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis and much more.
Additionally, participants in the costume contest will compete for one of three cash prizes.
For Johnson, Newhart and other members of Team Michael organizing the event, the willingness of local businesses and individuals to donate food, auction items and more is another impressive example of generosity.
“The community support as far as donations for the benefit has been overwhelming,” said an emotional Johnson. “It’s been so unexpected to see how this community has come together.”
“We’ve been going around to different places in the community, just trying to collaborate with as many people as possible,” said Newhart. “It’s been a really eye-opening experience. It shows me that if somebody needs help in this town, people are more than willing to help.”
While cash donations will be accepted at the event, Johnson believes participants can make a difference simply by attending and having a good time.
Johnson also hopes that Michael’s story is shared with everyone.
“I feel like it might give somebody hope who doesn’t have any,” said Johnson.
*Only adults age 21 or above will be allowed in the event after 8 p.m.