CADILLAC — MacKale McGuire turned 14 on Valentine's Day and celebrated with friends at Incredible Mo's in Traverse City. As the teens bowled and enjoyed pizza, they talked about MacKale's scheduled leg amputation. Afterall, the party theme was "kicking this leg to the curb."
Last Sunday, the McGuire family arrived in Gainesville, Florida, for pre-op appointments at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital.
Alone in the hospital corridor, MacKale leaned on his crutches and studied a display of the hospital's many awards. Before surgery, he wrote messages on his leg for the surgeon, Dr. Gibbs, a Gator fan, including "Plaxico Burress was here" and a Spartan block "S."
"I believe God is delighted by a happy heart," Marsha McGuire posted. "We are so happy to have your prayers."
A serious setback
In 2015, a diagnosis of bone cancer in his left tibia brought MacKale's athletic passions to a halt, including golf, basketball, soccer and skiing. In early 2016, after a tough regimen of chemotherapy, he underwent a 14-hour surgery to save his leg. MacKale worked hard to get out of his wheelchair and up on crutches. And then he slowly started getting his life back.
"I was three-quarters of the way there, back to doing the things I love," he said. "I was able to golf again and half-run, like not full running again but skipping around and stuff like that."
With help, he even went skiing.
Last April, Marsha posted on her blog, "MacKale's Journey," that the family was living blissfully "free of cancer and chemo and all things that have anything to do with osteosarcoma."
But last week, Marsha surprised many with a post of MacKale and his brothers, McCoy and MaGill, waiting for the flight to Florida for an amputation of MacKale's left leg.
Here's what happened
"Through thick or thin ... (or loss of limb) ... we are better together! Headed to Florida for the next step in MacKale's road to mobility," Marsha wrote on Facebook.
Last spring, MacKale walked on Florida beaches with his family.
But in May, when his leg began to ache, they tested for an infection or a cancer recurrence. The scans were good, but the relief was short-lived. By fall, they learned that the cadaver bone used in surgery was eroding. They consulted surgeons in Grand Rapids, Boston and Ann Arbor and were given three surgical options: complete amputation, limb-salvage, or rotationplasty, where a portion of the limb is removed and the remaining limb is rotated and reattached. None of the consultations gave them the peace they needed to move forward.
"The doctor's visits may not have brought us to a decision. But it did eliminate one possibility in MacKale's mind. He was no longer interested in saving his leg," Marsha said. "He was tired of hearing all the things he couldn't do with limb salvage. He was ready to be mobile, to be athletic, to play and get on with his life."
As Marsha scoured the internet for help in the decision, one name kept popping up: C. Parker Gibbs, M.D., chief medical officer for UF Health Shands in Florida.
Finding the right plan — a path to athletic mobility
The more she read about Gibbs, Marsha realized she had heard the name before. He was recommended to them in 2016 after a chance encounter with former Cadillac residents Ed and Sarah Dean. The Deans lived in Cadillac in the 1980s when he worked with Kysor Corp. Their son went to school with Mike and Marsha.
Gibbs had performed successful cancer surgery on the Deans' granddaughter, so they suggested that the McGuires visit them in Florida and have a consultation.
"We went out to lunch with them," Mike recalled. "At the time we had so many people recommending surgeons, we set it aside. We just needed to figure out our game plan. But now, his name kept coming up again. When we called Ed, he said he lived 30 minutes for Dr. Gibb's office and he invited us to come stay with him."
When Mike and MacKale met with Gibbs, he explained that rotationplasty was not a good choice for them. Because of the scar tissue and skin grafting on MacKale's knee, he recommended an amputation above the knee as the best path to athletic mobility.
"MacKale felt this was the guy, the place, and the right answer," Marsha said. "Amen! We had our plan."
"We knew this was the guy we've been looking for," Mike said.
It's the right thing now
"Two years ago MacKale wouldn't have been ready for amputation, but now it's the right thing," Marsha said. "The doctor asked how Mac was feeling about all this, and he said he's ready and that it's a lot easier because it's his choice, and not something being forced on him."
"People may not understand how he could want this, but you have no control over cancer," Marsha said. "I think the fact that he controls what happens to his leg gives him some peace."
"A year from now it will be great," MacKale said. "And no more surgeries.It's hard to put into words. You know you try to look at the positive side all the time."