Loved ones filled the hospital room at Meritus Medical Center to say goodbye to Michael Bell, who was on the verge of death.
His long fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was nearing an end.
It was a difficult predicament.
The longer Michael Bell lived, the more time family had to spend with him — and the more likely the disease would compromise his remaining organs, preventing him from fulfilling a final wish to be an organ donor. ALS is a degenerative neuromuscular disease. It had already destroyed most of his muscles and had compromised his lungs. He told his family that he didn't want to lose any more organs to the incurable, fatal disease.
He wanted to leave something behind.
A cocktail of anti-anxiety medication flowed through his veins. At Michael Bell's request, doctors removed the machine that had helped him breathe. Michael's brother, Charles Bell III, placed a hand on his head.
"He was breathing on his own for six to seven minutes," his brother, Charles Bell III, said. "And then I just watched his heart beat. The number went down, down, down ... "
Michael Bell, 35, of Hagerstown, died Monday, Feb. 21.
He is survived by his 1-year-old daughter Mikaylah R. Bell, six sisters and one brother. He is also survived by his parents Charles Bell Jr., of Hagerstown, and mother Connie Bell-Winston, who lives in South Carolina.
"He was a good son," said his father Charles Bell Jr., 68, of Hagerstown. "You really had to know Michael, know what a good guy he was. He was my son and I loved him."
Since Michael's death, family and friends have said they've felt compelled to share his story.
"Life is too short," said Candace Ingram, 34, of Hagerstown, who became his full-time, live-in caretaker before he was hospitalized.
Between sobs, she quoted what Michael Bell said to her throughout his ordeal. "Life is too short," she repeated. "But really, that's the way I have to live the rest of my life. I hope people will learn that from me. You can't waste one minute because tomorrow's not guaranteed."
Michael donated his kidneys and liver through the Living Legacy program. Charles Bell III said he was told by representatives from the organization that two men and a woman received his brother's kidneys and liver.
"I think what my brother did — I think he's a super hero," said Charles Bell III. "As many people as I can tell, I'll tell."
A young man stricken
Michael Bell, a middle child, grew up in Hagerstown and was a graduate of North Hagers-town High School.
On Sundays, Dad raced a 1969 Dodge Coronet at the Mason-Dixon Dragway, east of Hagers-town. It was a family affair.