Members of the Ashland High class of 2014 will return to school in the coming days minus one big-hearted Grizzly.
Michael Bruhn, featured in the Mail Tribune after being gifted a trip to the world-renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as part of a special "last wish" by the Children's Cancer Association's Link Program, lost a six-year battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia just before midnight Thursday.
Surrounded by friends and family, the witty but thoughtful high school senior's passing was almost announced, said his mother Kimberly Bruhn, by a persistent and unexplained fire alarm in the pediatric unit of Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.
"He died in the pediatric ward where he spent much of the past six years of his life, with the nurses who took care of him and treated him like they would want someone to treat their own family or their own child," said Kimberly.
"His favorite nurse came in and she wasn't even on duty. Everyone was just heartbroken because he fought so long and so hard... . Right when he passed, the fire alarm came on and kept going off and on and no one knew what the cause was."
Kimberly said friends and family packed the pediatric ward in recent days and that the family was grateful for the past year's memories, including the recent Bandon golf trip, time spent with an 8-week-old tiger through the animal conservatory Walk on the Wild Side and a chance to inspire a nonprofit when Eagle Point resident Manny Munoz gave Michael an XBOX 360 and decided to found Gamerosity in the boy's honor.
In what began as a holiday lesson for his present-hungry toddler, Munoz, a cancer survivor himself, said Michael's positive attitude inspired him and his newfound organization to provide gifts to 60 childhood cancer patients since December.
Seventeen at the time of his death, Michael was diagnosed with leukemia when he was in the sixth grade and one of the Ashland Daily Tidings final bicycle paper-route boys. Doctors thought they had the cancer under control three years later, but Michael would relapse and go on to endure three more years of treatment, experimental trials and other procedures while friends began to get their driver's licenses and plan for college.
Kimberly Bruhn said that despite being gravely ill and even "going septic," her son reviewed available classes for the upcoming year at Ashland High and even registered for his senior year.
Already in declining health during his golf trip in July, Michael shrugged off the notion that the trip was a last wish of sorts and continued to comfort concerned family members.
In an interview last month, he noted, "Even if it wasn't a last wish, I figured I couldn't think of any better way to spend my time than on a golf course with my dad and my best friend."
Munoz, who sports a tiger tattoo "looking over his shoulder," said Michael's kind spirit would be hard to forget.
"In trying to teach my 3-year-old a lesson about generosity, we left after our first visit with Michael feeling more blessed than I think even he did," Munoz said.
Family friend Ruth Staten said she hoped the Bruhn family's story would inspire further progress in treatment of childhood cancer.
"The survival rate is pretty good so it's rare that a child still dies from ALL but the survival rate should be 100 percent," Staten said. "It's just very sad. He was a good kid and no family should have to go through this.
"He had such a spirit that even when there was bad news we all honestly thought he would be OK eventually."
Ashland High School principal Michelle Zundel announced Friday via Facebook that Friday's football game — the Ashland Grizzlies vs. Klamath Union High — would be dedicated in Michael's honor.
With childhood cancer month, September, just two days away, Kimberly Bruhn said she hoped for increased support of cancer research and urged Rogue Valley families to hold their children a bit closer.
Just days before his death, Michael called three to four dozen friends to talk about his strong faith and tell them there was "a chance he might not make it."
His message, in addition to comforting his friends and talking about his faith, was to cherish every day, said his mother.
"Michael called all of his friends and he would never tolerate whining or complaining. He wouldn't let me listen when he called all of his friends so of course I was outside sobbing," Kimberly said.
"But even at the end, he was so grateful that so many people loved him and the message he wanted to leave was, 'Don't waste your life. Appreciate every day that you get.'"
Michael's family, which includes brother Max, sister Molly and his father, Eric, asked that, in lieu of flowers, anyone wanting to contribute to final expenses, donate to the Michael Bruhn fund at Umpqua Bank.
Direct donations to Gamerosity are also encouraged; see www.facebook.com/Gamerosity.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.