DEARBORN — When Michael Husseini was one year old, his father wondered why he was rolling over rather than crawling like other children.
Michael was not a small child, his father Samy Husseini recalls, “but he was incapable even of riding a tricycle. I thought he was lazy, he needed someone to push him.” At two, Michael was walking slowly, but couldn’t run. Sammy and his by-then-ex-wife Janine Hill, took him for a check-up at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. There, he was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), one of nine types of muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic, degenerative diseases primarily affecting voluntary muscles. DMD eventually affects all voluntary muscles, and the heart and breathing muscles as well. Survival beyond the early 30s is rare.
The news was devastating to his parents who, six months earlier, had gone through a difficult divorce. They shared custody of Michael and his younger sister Alexandra. They had to be strong to deal with this nightmare, Sammy and Janine recalled. When Michael turned nine, he wore braces to help him walk; by ten he was confined to a wheelchair. His muscles deteriorated quickly. But Michael did not give in to the illness. And his mother was always there for him, supporting and encouraging him to fight back. Michael went to school. And on Saturday, June 2, 2007, he graduated with honor from John Glenn High School in Westland.
Two months before his graduation, Michael’s already fragile health deteriorated drastically. He had difficulty breathing and was rushed to Children’s Hospital again. After examining him his doctors told his parents that their son was approaching a critical time and advised them to use Angela Hospice to help them cope with the serious developments. Usually hospice healthcare is sought when patients are terminal.
But for Michael, it was time to graduate. He refused to surrender to his disease. He fought back and graduated on June 2, 2007 with a 3.8 GPA.
Janine wanted to throw a party for Michael’s graduation. She called Byblos Banquet Hall in Dearborn to reserve the hall for 50 to 60 people. Joe Bazzi, the manager of Byblos, apologized at first,telling Janine that the hall can only be reserved for a party of more than 200 people. He said he couldn’t accommodate her. Janine, from a Greek background, had by then remarried, to Ibrahim Zubaidi. She resorted to her Arabic bargaining skills. She told Bazzi that her son is half Arab and that she worked years ago for “The Arab American News.” (You know Osama Siblani?!…) Bazzi was listening, but he wasn’t persuaded.
Says Bazzi, “But when Janine told me that she wanted to throw a party for her ailing son, that he is terminally ill, doesn’t have much time to live and had just graduated with honor from high school, I immediately asked her to say nothing further.” Bazzi put her on hold and rushed to his office to book the party. “What day do you want?” Joe asked Janine. “Is June 12 okay with you?” Janine asked “Okay,” Bazzi said, “the party is on June 12 and it is on me, invite as many people as you want,” Bazzi told Janine.
And so it was that Tuesday, June 12, 70 people attended Michael’s wonderful graduation party. His classmates, first grade teacher, high school teacher, hospice nurses, family and friends were all there. His father Sammy, mother Janine, stepfather Ibrahim and stepmother Hanaa were all sitting at the same table sharing the same meal at his graduation party. The star of the party was Michael. Everyone wanted to pose for a photo with him. His friends were dancing around him to his favorite songs, while he watched with pride and joy, sitting motionless in his wheelchair. “I’m very happy,” Michael told his family.
Joe Bazzi and his staff were there throughout to make sure the party was successful and the food served hot and on time. Bazzi even brought his wife and four children to share the evening with Michael and his family.
Michael’s stepbrothers Ali and Adam, his stepsisters Laura and Sarah, joined him and his sister Alexandra as he delivered a short but emotional speech. His mother watched from a distance with tears running down her cheeks. Catching his breath between sentences, Michael whispered to his attentive audience, quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Michael will turn eighteen on October 9, 2007. His parents are still hopeful that stem cell research will find a cure to this deadly disease before it is too late for their son.
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