Ashton Morgan, center, poses with some of the members of his Radiology team, from left, Scott Rucker, RN, radiology; Ashton’s mother, Mercedes; Katie Hancock, RN; Ashton; Shannon Vega, RN; Ravi Kanade, RN; Debbie Kennedy, RN; and Arlene Roberts, RN.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (January 22, 2021) Every two weeks, Ashton Morgan, 2, spends his day in Forrest General’s Radiology Department. He and his mother, Mercedes, sit in what has become “their” room the better part of the day while the curly-headed boy with big brown sweet eyes receives a life-saving infusion.
At two weeks old, Ashton was diagnosed with Pompe disease, a genetic disease that is both progressive and potentially life-threatening, but manageable. This neuromuscular disorder, which affects one in 138,000 infants, is characterized by the abnormal buildup of a sugar molecule, glycogen, inside cells. Ashton’s body lacks the GAA enzyme which breaks down this sugar and turns it into energy. A buildup of sugar impairs the working of different organs and tissues, especially the heart, respiratory and skeletal muscles.
Prior to infusion treatments at Forrest General, which began in the fall of 2020, the Morgan family had to travel to Jackson twice a month for Ashton to receive treatments for this rare disorder. With two other children, the travel was putting a hardship on the family — physically, emotionally, and financially. Hattiesburg Clinic physician and Ashton’s pediatrician, Dr. Todd Benton, began research to see if it would be possible for Forrest General to administer the infusion to his young patient. “He (Benton) wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Shannon Vega, RN, Patient Care Manager-Radiology, who soon joined the effort for Ashton to be seen at Forrest General. “I have a two-year-old grandbaby, same age, in Sumrall, same town, so it just touched my heart,” Vega said. “We wanted to make it happen, but I couldn’t have done it without the staff.”
With the O.K. by administration (Vice President, Millie Swan) and radiology service line administrator, Joe Marcello, Vega, the entire Radiology team, Kristi Nesler, PharmD, Clinical Coordinator Pharmacy, and her team, Erin Potts, sales rep for the drug company, and the Family Birthplace, which donated a rocker for Ashton’s room, life became much easier for the Sumrall family. In October of 2020, infusion treatments began, but not without some in-service training first for staff on handling the rare medication, Lumizyme, they had never used.
On those Fridays when Ashton bravely walks into Radiology, Marcello, who has a grandson the same age, brings Ashton a happy. “I do it mostly to help decrease the fear,” he said. But Ashton has become a pro and shows no trepidation when it’s time for the twice monthly visits to the hospital. Scott Rucker, RN, said when he gets ready to take Ashton’s blood pressure Ashton already knows the drill and flops his arm out. Vega describes him as “a pro. He’s got this.” The infusion, through a port, takes 4 hours and then another hour of observance to make sure there are no side effects.
Mercedes says she loves being able to come to Forrest General rather than making the trip to Jackson. “It’s so much easier,” she said. “He doesn’t get fussy or anything. He mostly just sits here and plays.” And when he goes home? “He’ll run around and play like nothing has ever happened.” Vega says as long as Ashton continues to receive the infusion, he shouldn’t have any problems.
The Radiology Department adopted the Morgan family for Christmas and delivered them gifts and a holiday meal. “This has become a family for us,” Mercedes said.
For Rucker, it’s hard to put into words just what this little boy means to the department. “I love taking care of kids,” he said. “When Shannon came and said something to us treating him, I said, ‘Yes, please!’ because he was someone we could take care of and make better. After a rough week, to see him come in brings a smile.”Vice