New Lease on Life

From his corner office on the 36th floor of the U.S. Bank Center, Michael “Mick” Hatch has an interesting perspective to view the downtown Milwaukee real estate world that he works in.

However, his view of life has not been the same since he woke up with excruciating stomach pain one day last year. That pain led to a gut-wrenching and life-threatening ordeal that lasted for months.

“I feel like I can’t complain and shouldn’t complain anymore,” Hatch said. “I sort of relish every day. It made me realize how fragile life is.”

Hatch is a partner in the real estate practice of Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner LLP. He is one of the most prominent real estate attorneys in town and has been lead counsel for several billion dollars of real estate transactions. During his career, he represented Trammell Crow Co. on the Milwaukee Center development, he represented Mandel Group Inc. for the East Point Commons development, he represented Van Buren Management Inc. for the Cathedral Place development and he represented Weas Development for the Kenilworth building redevelopment.

He also provided legal counsel for the purchase, and later the sale, of the Firstar Center (now the U.S. Bank Center).

But Hatch’s life-threatening health condition started on June 3, 2006.

“I woke up on a Saturday morning at 5 a.m. and had this terrible pain in my lower abdomen,” he said. “It was really horrible pain.”

He went downstairs to have a cup of coffee, hoping that would help him feel better. But it didn’t.

Hatch, then 56, crawled back up the stairs and asked his wife to take him to the hospital. She took him to Columbia St. Mary’s, where Hatch was given a morphine prescription and told to take a pill every few hours. He was in so much pain that he decided to take all four of the pills right away, but they didn’t help.

“It didn’t put a dent in my pain,” he said.

Hatch went back to the hospital that day, and then he collapsed into a coma for about a month.

He had a strangulated colon. While he was in the coma, his colon ruptured, causing sepsis (the immune system goes into overdrive, overwhelming normal processes in the blood, which can result in blood clots that block blood flow to vital organs), multiple organ failures and other problems.

His condition became so bad that Hatch’s doctors did not think he would survive. They performed nine major surgeries while he was in the coma and removed several parts of his digestive system, including his gall bladder, about half of his small intestine and about two-thirds of his large intestine.

It was an agonizing month for Hatch’s family, including his wife, Lisa, and his adult children Stuart, Andy and Gillian.

“They kept thinking I was going to be dead the next day,” Hatch said.

Miraculously, Hatch survived. Doctors said his good physical condition before the ordeal helped him survive the coma and problems with several of his organs because through it all, his heart kept beating.

“I always tried to stay in shape,” Hatch said. “I guess that helped save my life.”

The first memory he has after coming out of the coma is being pushed in a wheelchair over to a window at the hospital to watch the lakefront fireworks on July 3, a month after he entered the hospital.

Although he had survived the ordeal, Hatch’s recovery would take several months. He had nerve damage in his legs, and he was unable to walk. So he had to undergo therapy to learn how to walk again.

“It was a big deal to walk five feet,” he said. “After a month of that, I could manage to walk down the hall without a walker, so they discharged me. Then I spent several months at home recovering.”

In addition, while Hatch was on life support, he had several tubes down his throat and he underwent a tracheotomy, which caused damage to his throat. He would have to work to get his voice back. His voice is still weak today.

“I still have some recurring problems with my throat,” he said.

During his first months of therapy, Hatch realized that he wanted to go back to work and did not want to retire.

“One of the most intriguing things was how much I missed practicing law,” he said.

So, with a brace and a cane, he started coming back to work for about an hour a day in early October of 2006, while he was still going to rehab every day.

“It felt great to be back in the office,” he said. “But quite frankly, I wasn’t able to do very much.”

By the end of last year, Hatch had regained most of his weight and strength.

In January, he needed to undergo one more surgery, which required him to stay eight more days in the hospital, and then he had to spend six weeks at home to recover. He returned to work part-time at the end of February.

Gradually, he increased his workday. Around March and April, he began working full-time again. But even now, he is not working the marathon lawyer hours that he used to.

For several months, until recently, Hatch said he has constantly felt like he had a “low grade flu.”

He recalled thinking, “I’m prepared to live with that … Like I said, I shouldn’t complain about anything.”

However, last month that flu-like feeling finally went away.

“November was the best month I’ve had,” he said. “It was really nice to feel better last month.”

Hatch, who has been a full-time lawyer at Foley & Lardner since 1974, said he was amazed and grateful for how the firm accommodated him as he recovered from his life-threatening illness and for how his colleagues filled in for him in his absence.

“They exceeded my expectations,” he said. “The people here were absolutely wonderful.”

In a memo he wrote at the end of 2006, Hatch specifically thanked Foley & Lardner attorneys Sara Jelencic, Ben Abrohams and Hugh O’Halloran (all partners in the firm’s real estate practice) and his assistant, Debbie King, for handling the matters of his clients while he was fighting for his life.

“They did a wonderful job of picking up all of my projects,” Hatch said. “I just disappeared without any anticipation. It wasn’t like I was on vacation and they could ask me a question.”

Hatch said he is now about 85 to 90 percent healthy, and he continues to make slow progress. His digestive system is still improving. and he has to watch what he eats.

“The doctors tell me that what’s left of my colon will probably improve its function, and it has,” Hatch said.

The lengthy, difficult experience has changed his relationships with other people in his life, Hatch said.

“It really sort of reinforced the bonds I had with the people closest to me, including my family, my friends and my colleagues at the firm,” he said. “I was pretty overwhelmed by the support I received from the community. It made me feel really lucky.”

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