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The Heroes Project 2018: Michael

Michael Sayles was a Georgia college student whose life changed on a dime his freshman year. “I went home to Illinois for Thanksgiving and woke up the following morning with a huge lump on my neck.”

A quick visit to the doctor led to the ER for scans. “Within hours, my exam room was filled with doctors, nurses, and scribes, all to be in the room to tell me that I had cancer.”


Michael was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and within weeks, “started the worst 6 months of my life.”


“I had chemo every other week and lost about 40 pounds and every bit of hair. I had my ups and downs with my fight, but really was energized when I was visited by all my friends and family and learned I was fighting with all them.”  Particularly important to Michael’s recovery was the group Pink Heals, a grassroots healthcare support group that partners with public safety professionals, local businesses and families to provide home visits to those fighting cancer, showing survivors “that they are loved, cherished and important to others.”  Pink Heals volunteers are instantly recognizable by their painted pink fire trucks and police cars and pink uniforms.


“After I went in to remission, I made it my goal to move back to Georgia and start a career that really helped people. I had toxic lungs and got worn out quick,” Michael recalls, “but I knew I could get back in shape if I tried. I set my goal when I saw Gwinnett County Fire Department was hiring. I worked out, ran, and ran stairs, all to get ready for it. Even with my toxic lungs, I was able to pass their physical test and begin the fire academy.”


In January of 2016, Michael started at the academy – only eight months after finishing chemotherapy. “Now I am a firefighter/paramedic for Gwinnett County at Station 12 and loving my career.”


Still on his to-do list? Starting a Pink Heals group here in Gwinnett.  Michael already owns an out-of-service fire truck and is working towards the next step – turning that red engine pink.