The Chick-fil-A at 2005 Macland Crossing Circle, at the intersection of Powder Springs Road and Macland Road, will host a fundraiser for Keim from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, when 10 percent of all sales will go to Keim’s transplant fund.
Keim, 27, has been a 911 operator since September 2004. He’s been on medical leave since last November, when he and his mother moved to Durham, N.C., where doctors and surgeons at Duke University are preparing him for a double-lung and bone marrow transplant. The organ and tissue must come from the same donor, and Keim’s family says he would be only the second person in the world to receive such a transplant.
Keim was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder as a child, and became extremely ill about 18 months ago. His sister, Angie Vanegas, said that is when his doctor, Robin Levy, referred him to the Duke program. After extensive tests, Keim joined the program and relocated to Durham for more tests, physical therapy and to wait for a donor.
“He knows no stranger,” his sister said. “He has a ton of friends there.”
Between doctor visits and physical therapy, Keim — whom his friends lovingly nicknamed “Pre-K” due to his small stature — spends his time reading and window-shopping. He enjoys politics and is a Herman Cain supporter. He and his mother are staying in a house near the Duke University hospital, though since he’s been in Durham, he has been hospitalized at least three times.
As a 911 operator, his work ethic has always been rock-solid, colleagues say.
Eulalie Long, who worked the same 12-hour day shift with him for years before she was promoted to supervisor, said he always pulled his weight and then some.
“For the last three months before he went to Durham, he was wheelchair-bound. His lungs were working at 40 percent and he was on oxygen, and still he came to work,” said Long, who said Keim is like a brother to her. “He did a lot more than others, but he’s always had that work ethic.
“He suffered for such a long time, but you’d never know it,” Long said. “He doesn’t want anyone’s pity, or to be a bother. He wants to live as normal a life as possible.”
Keim is a 2002 graduate of Hiram High School and owns a home in Paulding County. He is one of four children of Ruben and Helen Vanegas. The family is members of Grace Baptist Church in Paulding.
Keim got choked up during a telephone interview about the fundraiser.
“As much trouble as I cause them at work, I’m blessed to have such friends,” he said. “My goal is to get well and recover so I can repay it for someone else someday. It’s a rough battle, but I’m still fighting.”
Every few weeks, his dad brings his sisters to Durham for a visit, which he said “brings back normalcy.”
“Hearing my sisters argue over who’s wearing whose clothes — those are moment I cherish,” he said with a laugh.
Becky Johnson, another colleague at the 911 center, helped organize the Chick-fil-A fundraiser with her twin, Beth Hunter.
“If you know Mike, you love him,” she said simply.
Tax-deductible donations may be made to the National Transplant Assistance Fund online at www.ntafund.org for Michael Keim, or by phone, (800) 642-8399.
Checks may be made out to NTAF Southeast Bone Marrow Transplant, with the words “in honor of Michael Keim” in the memo line, and mailed to NTAF, 150 N. Radnor Chester Rd., F-120, Radnor, Pa. 19087.