Donors make the difference in health care. One donor in particular is tied to the life of local teen Meghan Morrison.
Donors do it for life: Meghan’s story.
Meghan Morrison waits to get on the bus for a trip with the Parry Sound High School Band.
Cody Storm Cooper/Lifestyles photo
Peter Munk, Chairman of Barrick Gold established the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in 1997. Today, the centre handles 20,000 patient visits to specialized clinics and 1,700 open-heart surgeries annually. Referrals stem worldwide but in our story the referral was a young teen from Parry Sound.
When I expressed interest in writing Meghan’s story, her mother, Heather forwarded a series of emails to me. This is Heather’s story. I have merely pieced together her daily updates to family and friends. There are heroes for sure … a local family doctor, a local technician, a Sudbury heart doctor, and several Toronto heart doctors. Financial support from Peter Munk has enabled much progress in the science of mending broken hearts. That alone makes him a hero, especially to Meghan and her family.
Easter weekend 2011, then 17-year old Meghan suffered her first of, what would be, months of fevers with her temperature often reaching 102. One night in July, it was clear Meghan no longer suffered from fever alone. With their daughter delirious and confused, her parents, John and Heather, called 911. Meghan was rushed by ambulance to the West Parry Sound Health Centre (WPSHC). There her fever was brought under control and Meghan was released.
A routine appointment with her family doctor the next day triggered a request for blood work. The following night Meghan received news that her thyroid gland was overactive and she was taken off her prescriptions. The family doctor ordered an echocardiogram to check Meghan’s heart.
Pauline, the cardiac and vascular sonographer at WPSHC has 25 years of experience – starting her career in Sudbury and eventually moving to Parry Sound. As Meghan lay attached to Pauline’s machine the wand drew an image that caused instant concern. Pauline called both the family doctor and internist on duty to meet Meghan immediately in the emergency department. Meghan had a bicuspid aortic valve instead of a normal tricuspid aortic valve and bacteria from the blood stream had lodged in it causing infection (endocarditic valve). Meghan would need a valve replacement as well as a PICC line installed right away so she could receive doses of antibiotic intravenously to kill the infection.
Meghan was air lifted to Sudbury’s Regional Hospital. There her PICC line was inserted but the valve replacement surgery was postponed until the infection had cleared. Appointments and days in the hospital faded into each other and eventually Meghan was sent home to recover.
At home in Parry Sound, the Victoria Order of Nurses provided IV treatments. Supplies – bags of meds and all tubes – came from the Health Centre. Other equipment was shipped daily from Sudbury and delivered to either Lanes Pharmacy or Richards Coffee (the local bus depot). The health team was focused on killing the bacteria or at least stopping it from damaging Meghan’s valve further. Then Meghan’s fever spiked triggering the fear of bacteria material breaking off and ultimately causing a stroke.
Quickly Meghan was back up in Sudbury. A new echocardiogram revealed the piece of bacteria had increased. Another test (using a tube inserted down the throat) was undertaken to determine the presence of an abscess in the heart valve.
Despite valium, Meghan was seriously upset by the procedure. Her surgeon talked at length explaining the types of valves. The heart surgery was now imminent. The doctors were concerned about the bacteria staying any longer in her heart. Now the endocarditic valve was interfering with the ability of Meghan’s heart to do its job. A dramatic change in a week. The bacteria had destroyed so much of the heart valve and surrounding area that Meghan needed to undergo surgery in a facility operating a tissue bank.
Meghan’s Sudbury doctor contacted world-renowned cardiologist, Dr Tyrone David at the Peter Munk Centre in Toronto. Dr. David uses the “Ross Procedure” a valve replacement using cadaveric tissue. This valve replacement lasts decades compared to artificial valves such as animal or mechanical. With Meghan’s Toronto surgery set, the next hurdle was weather.
A terrible tornado-like storm hit the area forcing mother and daughter to wait long into the night for a clearing before they could travel. Finally, the ambulance delivered them to the Sudbury airport around 2 a.m. The pair flew to Buttonville just north of Toronto with two pilots and a paramedic. Although airtime was under an hour, they didn’t arrive in their hospital room until 4 .am. They were both exhausted. Early that day, a team of six infectionists examined Meghan.
Survival depended on surgery and Meghan was presented with four options, depending on the destruction found when the doctors finally see her heart. Surgery was scheduled for the following day. Heather’s note on this date reveals all….
“…So tomorrow is a really big day and we just HAVE to get through it. Not sure where I will end up Friday night but will try to update you all. Thank you friends for all the help you have been through all of this. The damage to her heart is severe. Till next time. Heather”.
“Meggie is doing well. Just got off the phone to her nurse and they started withdrawing some of the anesthetic about 15 minutes ago. She is stable, hooked up to many tubes and hoses, heart rate and blood pressure, all good, minimal bleeding.”
“Dr. Yao had as his assisting surgeon Dr. Tirone David, Head, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery for the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre … along with two other assisting doctors and at least 2 anesthetists. What they found … was the aortic valve was almost destroyed since the first echo scan a month ago because of this growing bacteria. They removed this all together and replaced it with her right valve … replacing this valve with a homograft, which is cadaver tissue, but because it is treated there is no need to take anti-rejection drugs. They found no abscess which meant they did not have to do aortic root replacement with this homograft tissue … The surgery [Ross Procedure] was almost five hours and was a … complicated repair ... they cleaned away all the bacteria they found and have sent it to pathology to further study it. They may add a different antibiotic after the results or before I don’t know yet.... This also means no life long blood thinners at this time...”
Meghan’s return to Parry Sound brought her under the care of Dr. Fargher.
He was able to look after all of Meghan’s health needs without trips to Toronto except for the three-month checkup. Pleased with her recovery, Meghan’s Toronto surgeon told her to go enjoy a healthy lifestyle and get an echocardiogram once a year. Oh yes, and keep the scar out of the sun.
I met Heather six months after Meghan’s surgery.
Meghan is now planning for university in the fall and Heather and John’s anxieties are more common parental concerns as their youngest’s plans to leave the nest for all the right reasons.
It’s an extraordinary story. This young miraculous woman has a full life before her.
Thanks must be given to a caring donor who 15 years ago asked a team of surgeons to lead the world in finding new ways to mend broken hearts.
Having the right ‘tools’ means great services can be provided. Money raised in the Foundation’s 5th annual Do It For Life – Biosphere Walk, Run, Pole May 27th must stretch far. This year the health centre’s three anesthetic machines need to be replaced ($300,000), the x-ray or C-arm in the operating room needs to be replaced ($150,000) and the 10-year-old stress machine for testing hearts needs to be replaced ($40,000). Pledges raised in the annual event will help the Foundation buy the equipment so please join us May 27 and Do It For Life.
Lynne Atkinson is the Executive Director of the West Parry Sound Health Centre Foundation.