After 17 years in prison for eight counts of attempted murder of a police officer, Michael Guglielmo became the country’s most successful bone-marrow recruiter in an effort to save his dying son.
Normally, being ambitious is a good thing—that is, unless you channel it toward hitting rock bottom. An archetype for misplaced ambition, a young Michael Guglielmo never did anything halfway.
In 1985, enraged by the loss of his newborn child, Guglielmo went on a cocaine- and alcohol-fueled rampage. After breaking into the home of the Manchester, New Hampshire, drug dealer he intended to kill, the 23-year-old soon found the place surrounded by a SWAT team. Over the next five hours, he fired over 200 machine-gun rounds before running out of ammunition and, finally, surrendering.
“Ever since I was a kid,” Guglielmo told the Boston Herald in 2008, “my vision of the ideal death was to go out in a blaze of gunfire, like in the old James Cagney movies,” he says. “This was just the coup de grace.”
Some people need to land in prison before they can get control of their life. Michael Guglielmo is one of those people—but he’s not your everyday, run-of-the-mill, reformed ex-con.
In prison, where he would spend the next 17 years, Guglielmo discovered a passion for law. He got his GED, then a bachelor’s in paralegal science through Ohio University, then a master’s in political philosophy through California State University. He sent his thesis to the judge who had administered the original sentence; the judge came out of retirement to advocate Guglielmo’s early release.
Guglielmo found work as a dishwasher and then a roofer. He married and had a son, whom he named Giovanni. But within weeks of his birth, the baby began contracting frequent, severe infections. Boston Children’s Hospital told Guglielmo and his wife that their son had NEMO, a rare and severe genetic immune disorder, and wouldn’t live to see his first birthday unless he received a bone-marrow transplant. The odds of finding an exact match were one in 20,000.
Guglielmo’s response was to add 20,000 people to the transplant registry. After a year and a half of campaigning, he’d found 12 exact matches for his son. And in May of 2007, after six months in Children’s Hospital, Giovanni went home.
The decision to become a good man doesn’t end after that “one defining moment.” It will be repeatedly challenged, and with regards to Michael Guglielmo, repeatedly overcome.
In the video above (edited by Nikki Arena), Guglielmo talks to Lisa Hickey about his childhood, his descent, and his long road to triumph.
To help save a life, visit DKMS Americas at www.getswabbed.org.