boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe
bella english

One year later, beating the odds

Michael Milmoe with his sister, Meaghan. The heart attack victim, now 21, beat expectations. Michael Milmoe with his sister, Meaghan. The heart attack victim, now 21, beat expectations. (MILMOE FAMILY)

A year ago, on a beautiful September day, Michael Milmoe of Dedham was playing flag football with friends on the campus of the University of Vermont. Milmoe had just turned 20 and was happy to be back at UVM for his sophomore year. He'd had a great first year: he was a dean's list student and had pledged a fraternity.

In the football huddle, he suddenly collapsed, staggered to his feet and collapsed again. Friends ran for help. Both on the field and in the hospital emergency room, he was resuscitated a total of 17 times. He'd been oxygen-deprived for so long that he had suffered neurological damage. Tests revealed no reason for the heart attack. The chaplain gave him final sacraments. At Brigham and Women's Hospital, a doctor told Kathy and Jim Milmoe that their son had a 1-in-100 chance of returning to normalcy.

Mike Milmoe might just be that one. After months in the Brigham and then Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, he is now at Crotched Mountain, a rehab center in Greenfield, N.H. Gone is the wheelchair; he is now able to use a walker. Thanks to intensive therapy, his speech is also coming along. He has learned to use eating utensils and a toothbrush. His long-term memory is good; short-term needs work. His vision remains problematic: so far, he can see only vague colors and shapes.

But his attitude remains intact. "He's handled it all very well," says his mother. "He has just accepted this and worked with it. His sense of humor is still there."

Kathy Milmoe, who teaches special needs children in the Boston public schools, took last year off to spend with her son, the youngest of her three children. "I couldn't handle it," she says. "I'm very dedicated to my job and I would not be able to do the job I wanted to do. And I couldn't handle him being alone."

This week, family members and friends were there to help celebrate his 21st birthday. The boy who was all but left for dead a year ago is gradually returning to a fairly full life. He was recently able to go to the grocery store with his parents, in a motorized vehicle. When friends came to see him and play golf, he was able to ride around in the cart. When his physical therapist complimented him on learning how to use a fork, he purposely poked himself in the nose with it; he always was a bit of a ham. "His sense of humor has the entire staff and visitors laughing," says his mother.

His brother, Patrick, 25, and sister, Meaghan, 23, created a blog of his progress, which they post regularly on carepages.com. There are all sorts of photos of him, and in every one, he wears a broad smile. His mother spent much of the summer with him, his father came up on weekends, and his siblings visited regularly, along with other relatives and friends.

The Milmoes have been overwhelmed with the support they've received. The first day they brought Michael to Crotched Mountain, they left briefly to eat at a nearby restaurant. A woman they knew slightly from Dedham happened to be there, and offered to let them stay in her Greenfield cabin anytime they came up. St. Mary's Parish held a prayer service that drew nearly 500. People have cut their grass, brought food, cleaned the refrigerator, done the laundry. Mike's fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, sold rubber bracelets with "Milmoe" printed on them and raised $8,000.

And on Sept. 22, a benefit buffet, dance, and auction will be held in Mike Milmoe's honor at Moseley's on the Charles in Dedham to defray the costs of long-term rehabilitation. Insurance will cover Mike's stay through Oct. 10, but when it runs out, it will cost the family $660 a day. They don't yet know how long he will need to be there.

Bob Crisp is chairman of the event and to him, it's simple: A community takes care of its own. Particularly when the Milmoes have pitched in and helped the community over the years. Jim coached town baseball, hockey, and soccer. Kathy is a longtime member of the Dedham Junior Women's Club, which has held several charity events.

In Dedham, Mike played lacrosse, soccer, hockey, and Little League baseball. He attended Dedham Country Day School and was an honor student at Boston College High School before enrolling at UVM.

"He's a terrific kid, a great athlete with a great personality, very quick-witted," says Crisp. "And he still comes out with some good ones." For the auction, folks have donated Patriots tickets, a private jet ride to Nantucket, and use of a vacation condo, among other items, he says.

Sharie Marich, a physical therapist who is on the benefit committee, contacted Fallon Ambulance to see if they would offer a CPR course for Dedham High students. Last June, about 40 graduating seniors became certified. "It would have been beneficial for Michael if some college students began CPR immediately on the field," says Marich.

The Milmoe family says it is humbled at all the help. They plan to bring Mike down to the benefit, at least for a couple of hours. "He's beaten all the odds, that's for sure," says Jim, who is an accountant for Croce Electrical Construction Co. Adds his wife: "Our feeling is the power of prayer has brought us to a whole new dimension, a whole new faith. There is no explanation from doctors as to why he's come back as he has."

Recently, Mike, who is learning how to speak again, asked his father how long it's been since he last slept in his own bed. "Well, Michael, it's been over a year," came the reply. Michael, he says, misses his bed. And his family hopes to have him back in it, sooner rather than later.

For more information on the benefit for Michael Milmoe, contact Bob Crisp at: robert.f.crisp@verizon.net

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES