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Movie Magic Man Gives Real-life Support to Young Patients and Their Families

Mike with multiple staff members, some wearing costumes

Mike with the nurses and the Avengers Volunteers

It is just another day in the ambulatory surgery center (ASC) at Shriners Children’s Southern California where Mike, a volunteer since 2017, sits in a vacant cream-colored recovery room in the surgical area. The warm sunlight shines and illuminates the room, which includes a bed, colorful privacy curtains, a table, a television attached to the wall, two chairs next to the patient bed and some toys in the corner. “See the room?” asked Mike while seated near the toys. “My job before was to stage movies and TV shows. When I received a script, if they wanted a hospital room, I would provide the props and create the setting just like this.”

If Mike had a screenplay written based on his own impressive life, it would open in Westchester, California, where he grew up, and include a 40-year career in Hollywood and now almost 2800 hours of volunteering in the ASC in the medical center in Pasadena.

Mike decided to retire from the film industry in 2014 after working as a property master for many decades on countless movies and television shows. First, Mike was excited to travel the world but soon realized he could not stop moving on his down time. “You got to have something to do. You can’t just stop,” he said. “I got my work ethic from my mom. I was raised by a single mom and we didn’t have a lot of money.”

With retirement, he sought a project that would also allow him the freedom to leave on one of his many adventures, yet allow him to work a flexible schedule and give back. Mike knew of Shriners Children’s from a friend, Director of Anesthesiology Rick Bushnell, M.D., and learned that the medical center was moving from Los Angeles to Pasadena, just blocks away from his home. Dr. Bushnell introduced Mike to Natalie Chicas, child life specialist, who manages the volunteer program, and he started the process of becoming a volunteer. At Mike’s request, Natalie saved him a spot in Pasadena’s ASC. So on December 4, 2017, Mike took the elevator to the second floor and worked his first volunteer shift. “I’ve been doing it ever since. The hits just keep on coming,” he said as he proudly motioned to his phone app that keeps track of his volunteer hours.

The staff at Shriners Children’s considers Mike part of the team, and values his understanding and willingness to provide compassionate, family-centered care as stated in the mission. Every team member has experienced sometimes emotional and yet amazing patient stories along their career paths at Shriners Children’s. Mike recalls a pair of international patients he encountered in his first week of volunteering, who were victims of a missile strike. When asked about them, Mike responded, “What always surprises me is their resilience. Struck me as amazing kids.”

Patients and their parents have come to see Mike as somewhat of a fixture of the medical center. He is the first face they see in the early morning when they arrive for their surgery, and the last when they leave the center to go home. Mike set up a system with the security staff to text his phone as soon as patients and their parents arrive so he can meet them in the lobby. He greets them and can immediately sense how the parents are coping, to which he said, “They are usually more nervous than the kids.”

Mike accompanies the family upstairs to the surgical floor, communicates with the nurses about the patient’s arrival and gives the patient a teddy bear. When describing his routine, Mike added, “Even the teenagers get one because one is never too old for a bear.” While the patient is in surgery, Mike accompanies their parents and families in the waiting area and even cracks a few industry jokes to help put them at ease. “When parents ask questions about medicine or procedures,” Mike said, “I always tell them I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”

Once the surgery is complete and patients are ready to go home, Mike remains full of jokes, laughter and quick witty sayings. As he wheels the kids out to their vehicles in the parking lot, one of Mike’s favorite things to say to parents to help assure them that they are capable of making sure their children heal during recovery is, “You’re the best medicine now.” This always puts a smile on everyone's face.

Near the end of our conversation in the well-lit cream-colored vacant room, Mike looked over and noticed a family meet with their child who was being rolled out of the surgery room. The globe-trotting film industry veteran quickly stood up and said, “Kiddo is back, gotta go.” And with that, it was a wrap.

Mike, thank you not only for everything you do for our patients and their families, but for Shriners Children’s Southern California as well. All the time you have donated is invaluable and we appreciate you. We’re certain your life story will be a certified box office hit.

Mike with two child life staff members

Mike with the child life department staff, ready to give away bears to our patients

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