February is all about love, chocolate and everything heart-shaped, and, appropriately, it’s also American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States according to the American Heart Association, but it’s congenital heart defects that impact the littlest among us. According to the CDC, congenital heart defects affect about one percent of all live births in the U.S., which is about 40,000 babies each year. The Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center at Children’s of Alabama serves children from all over the state whose hearts need a little — or a lot — of help. And in 2014, Morgan Price of Birmingham was one of them.
A New Heart for Morgan
Morgan was born on July 7, 2014, with high bilirubin levels and jaundice, but otherwise, she was seemingly a healthy and beautiful baby girl. Once her levels were stable, she was sent home with bilirubin lights and was scheduled for continued careful monitoring. Then, at just two weeks old, Morgan began choking and seizing after waking up from a nap, and her mother Arica called 911. “This choking scare was traumatic, but ultimately saved Morgan’s life,” says Morgan’s grandmother Dorothy Johnson. A chest x-ray checking for the obstruction that caused this episode revealed an enlarged heart that may otherwise have gone undetected. “It’s only by the grace of God that we found out that her heart was enlarged,” adds Dorothy.
Morgan was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition which diminishes the heart’s ability to pump blood. Medication to treat her heart was the first course of action, but it soon became clear that her heart was continuing to grow larger and weaker. It was then that Morgan’s family was presented with the reality that she needed a new heart. “When I say it was stressful, that is a gross understatement,” says Dorothy. “We were just waiting, waiting, waiting for a heart. But because she was so tiny, we knew that the donor couldn’t be more than two years old. So on the one hand, we’re praying that she gets a heart, but on the other hand, that means somebody would have to lose a child in order for your child to have a chance to live.”
On September 23, 2014, Morgan was admitted to the hospital and on Sunday, November 2, 2014, she got her heart. By the following Tuesday, she was breathing on her own. And after just a few days in intensive care, Morgan returned to her regular room in the Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center, which had truly become her home away from home. “They couldn’t believe we were back already,” Dorothy says. “It really shows you how resilient little children are. As adults, we know that that should hurt, but with little children they have no point of reference.”
Exactly one month after her surgery, the members of Morgan’s care team gathered to see Morgan and her family ring the bell signaling their joyous return home. “People that we didn’t even see, like the pharmacists, were there. So, so many people were there,” Dorothy says. They presented Morgan with a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go, lovingly signed by everyone who cared for Morgan during her stay. With this tearful sendoff, Morgan was on her way home with a new heart.
Now, Morgan is a healthy, spunky, joyful 4 year old, and her grandmother will never forget the impact Children’s of Alabama had on her granddaughter’s life. “That is the best hospital in the world, with the best staff in the world,” Dorothy says. “I try to support them every opportunity I get.” Dorothy’s car proudly sports a special Mending Kids’ Hearts car tag to showcase just that.
And in what will surely be an emotional, full-circle moment, later this year Dorothy’s family is taking Morgan on a birthday trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and if all goes according to plan Morgan will get to meet the incredible family of the little boy whose heart beats in her chest, behind the transplant scar that Morgan calls her “zipper.” Dorothy says Morgan asks to pray for his family daily, and remembers him often — as does everyone touched by Morgan’s story.
How You Can Help
In honor of Heart Month and precious kids like Morgan, a wonderful way to support the mission of the Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center at Children’s of Alabama is by purchasing a specialty Mending Kids’ Hearts car tag. “This is a great way for patient families and people who care about those patient families to rally around them and do something that directly benefits the program where that child is being treated,” says Emily Hornak, director of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The car tags serve as a billboard of sorts, raising awareness of pediatric and congenital heart defects, as well as raising funds.
In 2018, 1,400 Mending Kids’ Hearts car tags were on the roads in Alabama, and nearly $120,000 has been raised for Children’s of Alabama’s the Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center since the tag debuted two years ago. “The Mending Kids’ Hearts specialty tag provides funding for patient care, research and specialized physician training directly for the Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center at Children’s,” says Emily. “It’s a great way for them to have a consistent source of funding for those programs.”
The cost of the tag is only $50 on top of your normal taxes and tag fees, and of that $50, $41.25 goes directly to supporting the the Pediatric & Congenital Heart Center — plus, you can personalize the tag with up to six characters at no additional cost. If you’re considering purchasing a Mending Kids’ Hearts tag or renewing your license plate, please visit your local DMV and make an easy choice that will help change — or even save — a life.
Children’s of Alabama is located at 1600 Seventh Ave. S., Birmingham AL 35233. To purchase a Mending Kids’ Hearts car tag, visit revenue.alabama.gov, and to learn more about Children’s of Alabama’s various programs and patient offerings, visit them online at childrensal.org or call (205) 638-9100.
This article is sponsored by Children’s of Alabama.