Senior stays strong in a six month battle against cancer

By Hannah Miller — Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a cancer characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.

“The first question that I asked my mom was- ‘Am I going to die?’” senior Michael Tovissi said.

Tovissi was diagnosed on May 1, with AML at Akron Children’s Hospital. Tovissi’s mother Juli Haines and stepfather Jason Haines, share that in hindsight Tovissi had shown symptoms dating back to mid-March.

On April 20, Tovissi was working at Taggart’s and fell towards the end of his shift, both Tovissi and his parents thought nothing of it as he showed no signs of injury.

A few days later he started running a fever so his parents took him to StatCare. The doctor’s diagnosis was “Impressive bruising from the fall and a flu bug- both totally unrelated.”

Approximately one week later, and after many days of feeling extremely tired and week, Tovissi woke up for school and did not feel right and as the day progressed he got worse. He told his parents and they took him to see Dr. Tom Nguyen. Nguyen realized the magnitude of Tovissi’s illness and sent him to Aultman Hospital for blood work.

Within hours, Nguyen called with Tovissi’s alarming blood work results. Tovissi’s white blood cell count was 168,000 and his platelets were 10,000. A normal white blood cell count for a person is between 4,500 and 10,000. Nguyen advised the family to take Tovissi to Akron Children’s Hospital where a team would be waiting for them.

“Within two hours we were given the devastating news: ‘Your son has leukemia,’” Juli said.

Within 48 hours Tovissi would have a broviac surgically implanted in his chest and start chemotherapy for treatment.

“We were told Michael had a 50 percent chance of survival,” Juli said.

There were four rounds of intense chemotherapy that Tovissi would undergo. The first two rounds were called “Induction 1 and 2” and the final two were “Intensification 1 and 2”. During the induction rounds Tovissi had very few side effects, while in the intensification rounds he suffered from a high fever, chills, sickness and spent four days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“Michael had an amazingly positive outlook the whole time. He had goals and a date to get out of there,” Jason said. “That mental strength was extremely helpful.”

After the initial diagnosis and during treatments Tovissi has had many visits from his father, Mark Tovissi, Juli, Jason,  and other friends and family.

“I am the luckiest person to have them in my life,” Tovissi said. “Thank you guys for being there for me when I needed you all the most.”

Tovissi and his family comment that it is overwhelming to see the amount of support and care they have received from their family and friends. Tovissi said that the love he felt from each card received and each visit will never be forgotten.

“When I visited him this summer, he was so upbeat and optimistic; he was the same Michael,” senior Ali Workinger-Guy said. “Not many people our age go through such difficulties and for him to battle leukemia with such an amazing attitude is truly an example for all of us.”

Tovissi said that all of the support showed how much his friends love and care for him and that has definitely helped him through this difficult time.

“I envy him for his strength and how sweet he is,” senior Natalie Welch said. “I never take off my “Team Michael T.’ bracelet because I will always be here for him.”

Tovissi and his family have worked with two main doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital during his illness. Both Dr. Prasad Bodas, MD (Attending Physician) and Dr. Daniel Pettee (Resident Physician), along with many oncology nurses,  have helped Tovissi throughout the duration of his stay in the hospital.

After a total of 119 days at the hospital, on Sept. 4. Tovissi finished his chemotherapy and has been in remission since June 7.

“My diagnosis has changed my life because it has taught me that I should appreciate my life more, and be thankful for what and who I have in my life,” Tovissi said.

Tovissi is healthy and doing well and has plans to return to school at the beginning of second semester. Tovissi shares that he is most excited to see all of his friends that he misses so much. While his parents are excited as well, they also share some concerns about his exposure to germs and the dramatic schedule change for him.

“Everything’s alright. Don’t worry about me,” Tovissi said.

His reassurance to his parents is just another example of the immense amount of strength that Tovissi has.

“I don’t know if we could be more proud,” Jason said. “I don’t think anyone, including myself, could go through what he went through and keep such a positive attitude.”

Tovissi will be returning to school where he hopes to be welcomed by his teachers and friends. The support he has received from his friends and family has been overwhelming. Tovissi is very thankful and blessed to have everyone in his life that he does.