The life of an eight-year-old boy usually consists of playing video games, enjoying sports, and spending time with friends. When Michael Stolzenberg was eight, he was fighting for his life. A rare reaction to a bacterial infection turned Michael’s hands and feet black and left his body in septic shock. The only way to save his life was to amputate his hands and feet.
Michael was an avid lacrosse player before the operation. But being a quadruple amputee was not going to hold him back from playing his favorite game. He walked again a year after surgery, and returned to the lacrosse field the year after that. He scored three goals in his first tournament back. Instead of using arm prosthetics, he opted to use sockets, because it was natural for him.
“I actually don't wear prosthetics because I just naturally use my arms and bend them,” Michael said. “It's not perfect technology yet, although it's getting better. The hands I had only opened and closed and it was slow. For the stuff I wanted to do, it just didn't work as well.”
While Michael had to overcome incredible mental challenges, the physical challenges proved harder. Walking became painful. The support of family and friends, however, and the promise of playing sports again helped get him through those tough times. After everything he has endured, Michael’s perspective on life hasn’t changed: “It just keeps me staying positive no matter what happens.”
Michael and his family started the Pockets and Sockets lacrosse tournament, which helped pay for the cost of Michael’s prosthetics. The first tournament raised $30,000. After four successful years, the Pockets and Sockets tournament was renamed Clash for Cancer. Said Michael’s mom, Laura Stolzenberg, “The lacrosse coach that was instrumental in helping us start Pockets had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. We wanted the funds to be able to help others with cancer.”
Since so many people helped Michael, he wanted to continue to pay it forward. When he heard about the Boston Marathon bombings, he wanted to help. He knew some people would need amputations and sympathized. Michael and his brothers started Mikey’s Run, for which they sponsored the eldest brother, Harris, to run the next Boston Marathon. They raised $250,000, with a $100,000 donation from Oprah Winfrey. The proceeds went directly to Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Boston for outreach and community programs for the victims. In 2014, Michael was named one of America’s top ten youth volunteers.
While Michael did not meet any amputees in Boston, he did meet them in Florida. He, his brother, and his father were invited to a prosthetic conference in Orlando. He met some of the Marathon bombing survivors, and he gave them some advice: “You will be ok, you just don’t know it yet.”
Michael is now thriving in his junior year of high school, preparing for college and getting ready for lacrosse in the spring. He is very involved in school activities and loves to play football, basketball and soccer with his friends. He is the perfect example of never giving up in the face of adversity and the true definition of a hero.
Photo credits: Via Facebook (Mikey's Run), Courtesy of Dylan Goldman (Dylan and Michael)