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'That little boy battled with everything he had': 5-year-old Mick Macholl's legacy lives on for UNC men's tennis

5-year-old Mick Macholl was officially signed to the UNC men's tennis team in November. This was an honorary gesture for Mick, who died after an 18-month battle with neuroblastoma on Dec. 13.

5-year-old Mick Macholl was officially signed to the UNC men's tennis team in November. This was an honorary gesture for Mick, who died after an 18-month battle with neuroblastoma on Dec. 13.

Laugh, love and enjoy the little things in life.

Five-year-old Mick Macholl died Dec. 13 after an 18-month battle with neuroblastoma, but the impact he had on others — and the message he left behind — will be remembered for years to come.

“Even at 5 years old, he inspired everyone that he was around,” said Ronnie Schneider, a senior on the North Carolina men's tennis team. “Even in the worst of times, he still had the humor of people two or three times his age.”

The team was paired with the Macholl family after Mick’s parents, Rachel and Mark, transferred his care from Duke to UNC Hospitals. In that time, the team has come to think of the Macholls as part of the UNC tennis family.

In November, the Macholls decided to temporarily move out to Arizona to seek further treatment at an integrated medical facility after conventional medicine had failed to help Mick. The men's tennis team decided to send its "little brother" off the best way it knew how — by officially making Mick a member of the team in his own signing ceremony.

“It’s like our family wasn’t in it by ourselves,” Rachel said. “We had an entire team behind Mick, and behind us, and that made all the difference.”

The players and coaches find the name of the program that paired them with the family — Team IMPACT — somewhat ironic. Because while the idea of the program is to lift the spirits of the family, they feel like they have received so much more in return from the Macholls.

“That little boy battled with everything he had and showed us so much about character and optimism,” assistant coach Tripp Phillips said. “The parents — the way they loved their son, took care of their other sons and were always optimistic in the face of impossible problems — we feel like we’ve been very lucky to know them.”

Mick continued to show the same fight and determination that inspired so many once he and his family moved to Arizona. Upon arrival at the AZ Good Health Center, he was sick from the last rounds of chemotherapy and radiation he received before the trip — so sick that his parents asked him if he wanted to keep fighting to get better, or go to heaven and be with Jesus.

“No, I’m not going to go to heaven until I’m old," Mick answered. "I’m gonna fight and get better.”

So the battle continued.

He received treatment Monday through Friday for four hours a day. The idea behind the treatment plan was to give Mick’s body the tools it needed to fight the cancer itself. So he was receiving high doses of vitamins and supplements to help boost his immunity.

This form of treatment was starting to work. Within a week, Mick was back to his old ways of breakdancing in the kitchen, and the family could take adventures into town. After a couple of weeks, scans showed all of the tumors in his body were starting to die. Things were beginning to look up, and the family was hopeful life could return to normal.

But Mick got a cellulitis infection around the tube that fed into his stomach, and because of his weakened immune system from the chemo and radiation, his body was unable to fight off both the infection and cancer. Rachel said that if they had been allowed to seek these integrated medical treatments from the beginning, Mick could have survived.

Though Mick's treatment fell short, Schneider said the team's relationship with the family won't change.

“I know, even though Mick has passed, that we will definitely continue to do a lot with the family,” he said. “Because we’re definitely not going anywhere in terms of supporting them, and they are going to be a part of the North Carolina tennis family for years and years to come.”

Rachel said the continued support of the team means a lot going forward — that love and support is the best way the family can make it through the heartbreak.

“It keeps Mick alive, keeps his spirit alive, keeps everything he’s been doing relevant,” she said. “Because what Mick did was he brought everyone together in prayer. He brought people hope and laughter, and now that he is gone, that doesn’t have to end.”


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