When Inver Grove Heights brothers—8-year-old Sean and 7-year-old Mitchell Burns—found out this summer that their family friend and teacher Michael Ury was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, they were devastated.
Then, they decided to do something about it.
Michael Ury, a resident of Denmark Township, has been living with chronic anemia since 2002 but was diagnosed in 2011 with myelofibrosis—a disorder of the bone marrow, in which the marrow is replaced by scar (fibrous) tissue.
While blood transfusions help sustain him, Michael's best hope for a cure is a bone marrow transplant.
"While the process isn’t easy, it is definitely doable and, with a little bit of luck, can result in a full recovery," Ury says on his website www.benefitformichael.com.
The Burns' have known Ury's wife Kim and their son, also named Mitchell, since 2010 but only met Ury this summer at a homeschooling event. The boys bonded with him over a foam sword building project.
"When my kids met (Michael) they were drawn to him," Laura Burns—Sean and Mitchell's mom—told Patch. "His sense of humor, his zest for life, his giving of himself to help the kids in their public speaking class. My boys really grew to admire him, and looked forward to spending time learning from him."
MILES FOR MICHAEL
Mitchell's first reaction after hearing the news about Ury was to offer to sell his two used bikes and donate the proceeds to help their friend and teacher. Having only perfected the skill of bike-riding this past June, Mitchell's gesture was particularly poignant considering he suffers from visual-spatial skill deficiencies and his early bicycles served as a form of physical therapy.
Older brother Sean, described by his mom as "a boy meant for a life of service," was upset when he found out about Ury's condition. Laura says her son questioned how someone so funny and so full of warmth could be suffering, at one point asking her "How could God let this happen to someone so kind?"
It was older brother Sean who pointed out that the bikes probably wouldn't garner much profit, so the boys started thinking bigger.
Their combined sense of selflessness and service is what led Sean and Mitchell to create Miles for Michael—a two-day, 80-mile bike ride along the Cannon River Trail over the Labor Day weekend.
They boys will attempt to ride from Cannon Falls to Red Wing and back—40 miles round trip—on 2 consecutive days. The goal of Miles for Michael is simple: raise as much money as possible for Michael Ury and his family.
Laura described the boys' youthful ambition on her Christian HOPE page: "They realistically hope to raise $5,000, but as Sean said, 'If one million people could just give $1 … .' Yes, it’s a long way for those boys to ride, but it’s important to them, and to Michael and his family."
As circumstance would have it, Ury's upcoming bone marrow transplant is the latest in a history of medical challenges for the family.
Michael's wife Kim has multiple sclerosis (MS) and their son Mitchell suffers from Asberger's syndrome—a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others.
According to Laura Burns, Michael's blood transfusions leave him "extremely fatigued" and he has been unable to work since 2011. Michael's expenses are currently covered by COBRA insurance but only until June 2013.
According to the Christian HOPE website, the Urys have "accumulated a lot of medical expenses and they are struggling financially. He and his family need help paying their medical bills and basic living expenses."
"This family is extremely stressed," Burns told Patch. "When you see a family like the Urys constantly helping everyone else out and volunteering despite their medical conditions, and then you learn that things in their life have gotten extra challenging, you just feel like helping is the right thing to do and it feels good to help."
Despite the long road ahead, Michael Ury appears to have retained the sense of humor that resonated so deeply with the Burns family.
"The original reason to create this site was simply a way to coordinate some of the support that I will be needing before and after the procedure," Ury wrote on his benefit page. "I had thought about using other existing sites (Facebook, Caring Bridge, etc.) but I am a little data paranoid. I will have to admit it but I am one of the few people in the world that doesn’t have a Facebook page. Quite frankly, I never really thought that I had many exciting things to share."
PREPARING FOR THE RIDE OF A LIFETIME
With less than a week to go, Laura Burns is confident about her young sons' ability to finish the ambitious ride. In fact, the family completed a 58-mile ride in two days this past weekend.
"I feel like we're as ready as we need to be ... I just need to make sure the boys are well fed and hydrated and we'll be good to go next weekend," Burns said.
Even though the Burns boys are struggling a little bit to get the message out—they've raised $1795 as of Tuesday afternoon—for Laura Burns, Miles for Michael offers her boys a unique opportunity to learn an important life lesson.
"Even the small and young can do a lot to make a positive difference in someone's life," Burns said.
Editor's note: Those interested in donating to Michael Ury can do so by clicking on his Christian HOPE website.