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Morgan Wins Staff's Hearts

By Dawn Brazell
Public Relations

Morgan Porter's hope chest holds the typical array of treasures that a 3-year-old girl would cherish, from stuffed animals to princess stickers.

Morgan PorterMorgan Porter enjoys some pet therapy at MUSC as she waits a heart transplant that happened early in the morning hours Jan. 25. Watch the video:

Then there are the other items – the art she drew in the atrium of MUSC's Chidren's Hospital, a sterilized heart pump and the sling she used with her mechanical Berlin Heart. The device helped her wait the almost six months it took to get a heart for her transplant that happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 25.

Morgan, who's recovering well, no longer needs the cart or the mechanical pump that used to be like an appendage for her, but her mother, Sarah, said the keepsake items from that time in her life belong in her chest.

"This was part of her six months here – think about it. She's 3 1/2 years old so this has been a good portion of her life. It's part of God's plan. She may not remember because she's 3, but we'll show her because this was part of her life here," she said, her eyes tearing.

"I'm so thankful for everyone here. It's hard to put in words. This place will always remain part of our family no matter how many years go by. It'll hold a special place in our hearts. This journey has now defined Morgan and who we all are."

The Porters with
                                          an MUSC nurseMorgan's parents Robert and Sarah Porter celebrate a successful transplant surgery with nurse Laura Haley, who sees the Porters as family.

Morgan's transplant surgeon, Minoo Kavarana, said the average wait time is a month to 75 days for a heart transplant, with Morgan's wait being close to six months. She had developed antibodies that made it difficult to match a heart for her, he said. Her long stay allowed the staff to really bond with the Porters.

"They are just like family," he said. "They've blended in very well. They're a well-educated and pleasant couple, very understanding, definitely with a lot of patience. You can imagine having a child in the hospital for six months in a very critical condition with an artificial heart."

Dr. Minoo Kavarana Dr.
                                        Minoo Kavarana

Kavarana said it would be hard not to fall for Morgan.

"She's the most delightful child. She's beautiful and bubbly. I very rarely saw her upset or crying. She's always a very happy child."

Her surgery, which lasted from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., required going back in through scar tissue to remove the devices that supported her heart, putting her on the heart-lung machine to remove her heart and then implanting the new heart. This is the third pediatric heart transplant involving the Berlin Heart that he's done, and he praised efforts of all on the interdisciplinary team that helped make it a success.

MUSC doctors and nurses work together to give Morgan Porter a new heart Jan. 25. From left, Angela Allen, R.N., Drs. Minoo Kavarana and Sunil Panwar; far right seated is Jeffrey Acsell, MUSC perfusionist, and Katie Faella, MUSC student.

No matter how many he does, each one feels like a miracle.

"It starts off being a lot of hard work and effort, but when you see something like that work, it's truly miraculous. It's something that's very gratifying. Not a lot of things can feel like that. This is why pediatric heart surgery and congenital heart surgery is one of the most gratifying fields."

Laura Haley, R.N., said it'll be hard to adjust to not having Morgan around once she gets discharged. Haley, who was on duty when the Porters learned that Morgan was to receive a heart, cried when she got the news. She was elated and nervous, glad to be on duty to help Morgan prepare and recover from her transplant operation.

"Everybody loves Morgan. Morgan will be a part of my life now. She's like our unit cheerleader. She cheers us up. It's hard after six-and-a-half months not to have a friendship. When you live in the hospital, you have to make it home."

The Porters agree.

Her father, Marine Corps Maj. Robert Porter, is an F/A-18 Hornet pilot who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. He and his wife have an almost 2-year-old son, Owen, so it's been tough juggling family life. They took their daughter to the pediatrician last July because she didn't seem to be herself. They were referred to MUSC for what they thought would be a routine referral and found out Morgan would need a heart transplant.
It turned their lives upside down. Sarah said it was like going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just seconds. They learned July 27 that Morgan's cardiomyopathy would require her to get a Berlin Heart, a ventricular assist device that uses external pumps to relieve the load on the heart's ventricles, as a bridge to await a heart transplant.

Dr. Minoo Kavarana holds Morgan's new heart in his hands before the transplant.

"It was daunting in the beginning. Once they started talking heart transplant, bridge to transplant, it was scary. In hindsight now, it was the best thing because it saved her life, and it was the perfect bridge to transplant because she has a heart."

Robert said all the days seemed to blur together, but their bond with the staff kept growing.

"Each day you see the care Morgan receives, one minute her nurses are her best friends and playmates, the next they're admitting her from surgery and being the caring professionals they are. The doctors, nurses, and everyone here truly are special people and special to us."

The wait to get a heart was a roller coaster ride. Sarah said she had her good days and bad, but she found she could confide in the nurses. Morgan, who likes to dance, would cut up and joke with the staff.

"We didn't know how long we would be here. Everyone here has just embraced us. I get choked up talking about it because it's been our home. Morgan is like their little mascot here. It's like Morgan's room is a refuge from the sadness. She would always make everyone laugh or have a dance party."

Robert said Room 7 of PCICU was essentially Morgan's room, and it will always hold special memories even though she's not there anymore. It was where he was curled up in bed one afternoon with Morgan when they learned Jan. 24 that her heart was coming.

They are eager for Morgan to be able to do normal activities, such as going to the park and shopping. There's no way he and Sarah can express their gratitude to the donor family, whom they've often thought about.

"Thank you doesn't do it justice. The grief they have to be going through with what has surely turned their lives upside down, but in that moment, they thought of giving someone else the chance for life," he said.

"I hope they get some comfort knowing their son or daughter has truly given the gift of life to another and a part of their child will live on with Morgan—literally, spiritually, whatever way you want to look at it."

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Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

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