Shannon Cockrell's Why

Shannon Cockrell’s daughter Morgan Humphreys taught her mom about the physiology of the heart—and the preciousness of life.




Children teach their parents many lessons. Shannon Cockrell’s daughter Morgan Humphreys taught her mom about the physiology of the heart—and the preciousness of life.

Shannon was 25 in 2001 when she gave birth to Morgan. Because Morgan was her third child, Shannon expected the nurses to bring her newborn from the nursery. But that joyous moment did not occur.

"Instead, my doctor was at the end of my bed with a two-inch stack of papers he’d printed off the Internet," Shannon said. "That sheaf of papers explained Tetralogy of Fallot, the heart condition Morgan was born with."

Tetralogy of Fallot ("fa-LOW" or "FA-low") is a very serious congenital heart defect that features four distinct problems:

  • a hole between the lower chambers of the heart
  • an obstruction in an artery from the heart to the lungs
  • the aorta (a large blood vessel) lies over the hole in the lower chambers
  • the muscle surrounding the lower right chamber becomes overly thickened

In this condition, not enough blood reaches the lungs to be oxygenated, so the heart pumps oxygen-poor blood to the body.

This wasn’t a ‘let’s see if she outgrows it’ situation. Morgan’s doctor thought she could go about six months before she would need open-heart surgery. Mother and daughter were sent home with oxygen tanks and monitors. For a month, Shannon slept on the living room floor with Morgan because she required constant monitoring and it was easier to have the equipment downstairs.

Morgan wore a pulse oximeter on her finger to track the oxygen level of her blood. "When that thing would go off," Shannon said, "it would scare me to death! She wasn’t supposed to get below a certain number."

When Morgan went in for her four-week checkup, her oxygen level was in the range of 30-40 percent, and the doctor told the Cockrells they had 24 hours to find someone to perform the necessary surgery. "We were given three doctors’ names and told to go to University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill Hospital. My ex-husband and I literally walked the halls until we found one of them," Shannon said.

Amazingly, that worked and they found a surgeon to repair the Tetralogy of Fallot defects. When he opened Morgan’s chest, he found the heart muscle of a three-year-old because her heart had been pumping so hard inside the womb.

Shannon stayed at Morgan’s side, but eventually went home to have a quick shower. That’s where she was when the hospital called — Morgan’s right lung had collapsed! Terrified her baby would die, Shannon raced to her car and began driving back to the hospital. Her hair was wet, and she was crying—and praying.

Morgan had to stay in the hospital longer because of the collapsed lung, and she was still very weak when she came home. "She was swollen and did not look like herself at all," Shannon said. "We were scared to have anyone around her or take her in public for fear she would get sick."

Morgan had a second open-heart surgery in 2010 to have an artificial pulmonary valve put in. She’s had no serious complications but is still a child with CHD. "She gets sicker than the average kid, and is not quite as physical as children without heart problems, but we are blessed," Shannon said. "She just started home schooling and is very much a typical 13-year-old girl — selfies and iPhone included!

"She’s been my ‘Why’ since the day she was born."

Everyone has a reason to live a longer and healthier life. Tell us yours. Heart.org/LifeIsWhy

 

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