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The family’s living room sounded like a raucous concert hall. As parental calls to do homework fell on deaf ears, one voice rose above the other kids as 6 year old Morgan continued to sing songs from her favorite musical of the moment, “Bye Bye Birdie”. Her parents, Scott and Lilli, threw their hands up in response. How could they stop this expression of sheer joy from a child who was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor only 14 months earlier?
Morgan’s infectious attitude blends in to her “do-it-all” lifestyle, where she dabbles in softball, cooking, gymnastics and especially theater. Her dream is to star in a play one day as her favorite “Bye Bye Birdie” character, Kim MacAfee. Morgan has already faced more challenges than most children her age, but she kept a sunny smile on her face throughout treatment.
Her journey started after several years of undiagnosed fevers including temperatures near 104 degrees. Seemingly every year on her birthday, she woke up with a blistering fever like this, but last September she took additional tests.
“We went to the pediatrician and they couldn’t find anything really wrong,” said Lilli. “They brought us in for bloodwork and tested her for a bladder or kidney infection just for the heck of it.”
They didn’t find a trace of an infection, but found out later this was because Morgan’s cancerous kidney had already shut down. Still, the fevers continued. Her family was out of potential solutions, until one painfully lucky day in their Glendora, NJ backyard last September.
“My boys (Michael and Miles) were outside playing flag football and she was doing a cheer on the side. She did a cartwheel in the field and one of them kicked her in the side,” said Lilli. “Our first thought was a perforated kidney, but we rushed her to the ER.”
After a quick scan, the doctor told them he saw a mass on the kidney that indicated Wilms’ tumor. Morgan was rushed by ambulance to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for immediate surgery. Nine months of intense chemotherapy followed, but Morgan’s scans have been clear since treatment ended in February 2017.
Her doctors at CHOP continue to monitor small spots on her lung they think stem from her initial fevers, but otherwise she’s undergoing regular scans every two months along with physical therapy. She’s hoping to get back to dancing for her starring role one day, but in the meantime she’s picked up gymnastics with her 12-year-old sister, Mackenzie.
“Mackenzie is everybody’s mom and just takes care of her siblings, she knows how to calm Morgan down too,” said Lilli. “I feel like each year just brings the two of them closer.”
Morgan has big dreams for herself, but right now her entire family is dedicated to helping other kids with cancer realize their hopeful futures too. They have attended lemonade stands for several years and started their first one last summer.
They are committed to helping organizations like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation discover cures for kids that are not as fortunate as Morgan. They hope to involve their school with next year’s stand too in order to honor a local hero who passed away from neuroblastoma.
Their support even goes beyond fundraising, as they signed up to donate Morgan’s tumor for research so future kids can hopefully benefit from her fight.
Meanwhile, nothing will deter Morgan from her theatrical tendencies. Stars are made, not born after all.
SuperSib Quote: “Morgan is amazing!” – Michael, age 13, Morgan’s brother
Information provided by Lilli Pieczara, Morgan’s mother
Updated November 2017
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