Student, 13, shares struggles with illness

Morgan Gautreau, 13, took the microphone Friday to tell her St. Theresa Middle Catholic School classmates about the journey she’s traveled since being diagnosed with spina bifida.

Sitting at the back of the school gym, Morgan’s mother fought back tears as she listened to her daughter tell her story.

“This was her idea,” mom Tammy Gautreau said. “She never told anyone before and she just decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to do this.”

Reading from a prepared statement, the eighth-grader’s eyes focused on the paper she held, as her classmates looked on. At Morgan’s side was her brother, Myles, 10.

She talked about her family’s struggle to get an accurate diagnosis, surgeries, chronic back pain and how her faith helped her through the ordeal.

“You may have heard of people talking about this kid who has had to miss school up to a month at a time,” Morgan said. “You may be wondering who that kid is. That’s me.”

As young as 3, Morgan suffered with medical problems, resulting in tests and lots of doctor’s visits.

Things got worse in 2008 during a trip to an LSU football game. Morgan suffered back pain during the game, but thought it was from a muscle pull she could have suffered in a dance class.

The pain worsened.

After more doctors visits and tests, doctors said she had a tumor. A visit to another doctor revealed she has spina bifida, which caused a malformed spinal cord.

The birth defect happens in the womb, causing the spinal column to not close all the way, according to the Spina Bifida Association’s website. Morgan’s case is not the most severe type of the disease, she said.

Nevertheless, surgery was her only hope.

“By this time my pain had been with me for six months,” she said. “I attended school in pain and I danced in pain. I tried to be a normal kid.”

Despite the challenges, Morgan kept up with her school work and forged on.

Her Catholic faith and the support she got from her family helped her through the next few years.

Not long after her second surgery in July 2011, Morgan’s back pain returned. Her family took her to Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Immediately, when I walked into Boston Children’s Hospital it felt like home,” she said. “I just had this feeling that this was the right place.”

Just three days after an MRI in Boston, Morgan had another surgery.

A fourth surgery was needed to take care of other complications from spina bifida.

Today she’s pain-free and able to dance again.

“I’m unsure of what my future holds but I’m positive that God will walk beside me,” she said.

Tammy Gautreau said they are fortunate that Morgan walks without assistance. But, the future is not certain.

There is no cure for spina bifida and there is a chance she will need more surgeries.

“Throughout it all, the school has been great,” Gautreau said. “They’ve prayed for her and helped us in every way.”

Morgan said she feels blessed she can walk today and wants to give back to the hospital that treated her.

She’s organizing “Making a Difference with Morgan,” a fundraiser at the school on Oct. 22. For a $1 or $2 donation, students at St. Theresa can shed the traditional Catholic school uniform and don a yellow shirt. Yellow is the color that represents spina bifida and October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month.

Morgan hopes to raise $1,000 for Boston Children’s Hospital through the school fundraiser, with her overall goal for the hospital at $3,000.

For more information, call St. Theresa Middle at (225) 647-2803 or to donate visit howtohelp.childrenshospital.org/events/page/Tammy-Gautreau/makingadifference.htm.