HAVERHILL — Bruce Michitson's family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they've received from friends, family and co-workers after he underwent numerous operations resulting from what began as an inflammation of his pancreas.
From cards and letters to flowers and gift cards and meals dropped off and even prayers for his recovery, it showed the community he lives in cared.
Then came another outpouring of support when it was announced a blood drive would be held in his honor.
Michitson, principal of Golden Hill Elementary School, required a lot of blood during 10 operations taking place over the past month.
In all, he received 92 units of red blood cells, 44 units of plasma, 11 units of platelets, and 10 units of cryoprecipitate — which is derived from plasma — said his wife of 26 years, Michelle Michitson.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who has signed up to donate," she said in reference to an American Red Cross blood drive coordinated by Golden Hill's PTO and will be held Thursday, Aug. 26, at Bradford Elementary School. "The outpouring of support makes me cry."
Michelle Michitson along with the Michitson daughters Anastasia, 24, of Lawrence, Sophia, 21, of Manhattan, and their youngest, Ariana, 17, will be serving as volunteers during the drive.
"We're all looking forward to meeting donors," Michelle Michitson said. "The Red Cross put out a call for volunteers and it nearly filled up in a day. "We will all be there thanking people and I'll be donating blood myself."
After 30 days in the intensive care unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Bruce Michitson was recently moved to a step-down room.
"He's now in a surgical floor room near the ICU just in case he needs to go back for anything," Michelle Michitson said. "The ICU nurse explained that it's common for people to need some ICU 'tune ups' after moving to the surgical floor."
Bruce Michitson had been in the hospital's intensive care unit since July 10.
How it all began
A bout of pancreatitis that began on June 1 sent Michitson to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Brighton. When he was released it seemed that things were going back to normal.
"Then in mid-June he underwent removal of his gall bladder and almost half his pancreas, which had a noncancerous tumor attached to it," Michelle Michitson said. "They said it could have been linked to a problem with his gall bladder.
"Two weeks later we were on vacation in the White Mountains and a week later, on July 10, we were back home and Bruce asked me to take him to Holy Family in Haverhill. Half way there he said he was in pain then he got out of the car and passed out on the side of the road."
Knocking on death's door
Michelle Michitson called 911 and her husband was transported to Holy Family in Haverhill, then to Lawrence General Hospital, where she said he was revived three times and nearly died.
"They said they weren't sure if he'd make it and that they needed to MedFlight him to Beth Israel," she said. "He underwent 10 operations over the first three weeks as his spleen had detached from an artery and he was bleeding internally — which affected other organs and required the removal of half of his small intestines."
She said surgeons also removed his spleen.
"His liver was badly bruised but it should recover and he was on dialysis for three weeks," she said. "His kidneys are kicking back in but we'll have to wait a bit to see how they are functioning. It hasn't been a good couple of months."
Known as a jokester who loves parading around his school dressed an as eagle — the school's mascot — as a way to connect with, entertain and motivate his students and staff, Bruce Michitson is slowly bouncing back both physically and mentally.
"His mood is improving as he knows he's loved," his wife said. "He said he can't wait to get back to his life and get on the road to recovery."
He also can't wait to get his feet back on the road, literally, as he's an avid runner who has participated in marathons and half marathons, his wife said.
"He told me has one more marathon in him, but it will be a long rehabilitation," she said.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page with the intent of helping fund renovations to the entrance of the Michitson home to make it easier for Bruce to enter and exit.
"Anything beyond those modifications I'm sending to the Red Cross," Michelle Michitson said.
As of Aug. 13, just four slots were still available for the Aug. 26 blood drive. For donation opportunities, visit redcrossblood.org.