Minnesota girl home after fighting for her life for 206 daysMickala Morinville, who will turn 17 in two weeks, was a healthy, active teenager when she was stricken suddenly last September by a virus of still-unknown origin. In two days, it nearly destroyed her lungs, putting her heart and other vital organs — her life — at risk.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
BROOKS, MINN. — She hasn’t returned yet to the softball diamond or the volleyball court where just a year ago she showed promise as an athlete.
She can’t take hard cuts with the baseball bat Joe Mauer signed and gave her this spring or walk far with a friend without trailing an oxygen tank.
But Mickala Morinville can talk with her parents and laugh with her siblings, go to movies and church services, shop for clothes and plan eagerly for the start of a new school year. She can dream of a career, something in the medical field.
And that is a remarkable thing. Breathtaking, even.
Mickala, who will turn 17 in two weeks, was a healthy, active teenager when she was stricken suddenly last September by a virus of still-unknown origin. In two days, it nearly destroyed her lungs, putting her heart and other vital organs — her life — at risk.
As her condition worsened, she struggled to breathe. A machine oxygenated her blood as she was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where a cardiovascular surgeon and other medical personnel worked to save her life.
In intensive care, her condition continued to deteriorate, and she was placed on heart, lung and kidney transplant lists.
“Things were looking very desperate,” Dr. Gregory Schears, leader of Mickala’s initial care team at Mayo, said in an article titled “Mickala the Miracle” that appeared in a Mayo online publication last month.
“She had renal failure and was on dialysis. Her heart wasn’t functioning properly. And she had severe lung injury without recovery after six weeks,” Schears said.
“Honestly, if you would’ve had that situation a couple of years ago, we would have withdrawn support.”
Mickala spent 206 days — nearly seven months — at the hospital. There were times when it was touch and go whether she’d survive, and there were hard, traumatic times when the work and pain of recovery seemed almost unbearable.
Yet today, sitting in a chair in her home just outside Brooks, a cat named Kobe dozing in her lap, Mickala is able to smile and say she is glad to have gone through it all.
“I appreciate everything a lot more now,” she said.
A long recovery
Mickala’s lungs are still healing. Oxygen, either from a cylinder or a shoulder bag, is a constant companion. There is still a small chance she will need a lung transplant if there is a complication, but that worry recedes day by day.
“There is still some scar tissue,” said Judy Morinville, Mickala’s mother. “It could be up to two years for recovery.”
Mickala also lost much of the use of her right arm and hand when nerves were affected by a medical procedure at the hospital, and her three-times-a-week therapy sessions at Sanford Medical Center in Thief River Falls, Minn., include strengthening tasks, such as opening drawers to find and grip bean bags and carry them to a collection point.
Exercises with large medicine balls gradually build her lung capacity and stamina.
“A month ago, a couple of bends would have tired her out,” said Karli Muscha, an occupational therapist who works with Mickala at Sanford. “Unloading the dishwasher, taking a shower, opening drawers — all those household things take a lot of movement.”
Mickala is doing them all on her own. And each sign of progress cheers Judy Morinville.
“She left me a note the other day,” Judy said, “and at the end she wrote, ‘With my right hand!’
“She is who she was before all this. She still has all her funny, quirky things, her wit.”
Mickala said her friends “have been really good to me,” spending time with her but not defining her by her medical trials.
“At first, they acted a little differently,” she said. “But then they realized I was the same person. They hadn’t expected me to be so … me.”
Throughout her ordeal, she wanted desperately “just to go home,” she said. But “in a way, I was sad to leave.”
She had to say goodbye then to doctors, nurses and others who had become close and important, including a 6-year-old boy named Cameron, another patient, who was waiting for a new heart. Mickala celebrated Cameron’s birthday with him, brought him a stuffed animal, and — at a nurse’s suggestion — talked to the boy, reassuring him, before a difficult procedure.
She said goodbye to them all, “and then she cried on our way home,” Judy said.
But she is shout-to-the-world proud of her daughter.
“She never gave up,” Judy said. “There are pictures of her where you can see she is absolutely miserable in pain. But she worked so hard. She was so determined.”
Churches throughout Minnesota and North Dakota set up prayer chains while Mickala was hospitalized. Student athletes and teachers at her school wore supportive T-shirts. Members of UND’s volleyball team, hearing of her love for the sport, signed and delivered a ball.
Her CaringBridge site logged 212,000 posts, comments and visits, including her mother’s daily updates, usually hopeful but sometimes leaning to fear, and her ardent pleas for prayers,
Friends and neighbors welcomed Mickala home on April 10 with a parade. There have been fundraisers to help with expenses, including a motorcycle ride this weekend.
One of the respiratory nurses who spent much time with her at Mayo has gone camping and dirt-biking with her since she left the hospital, and two nurses accompanied her to the Red Lake County High School prom in May — not to help or monitor her, but to share a happy time with her.
Later that month, the Morinville family attended a Minnesota Twins game in Minneapolis, guests of the team, and visited with Mauer, several other players and Manager Ron Gardenhire. In addition to the autographed bat, Mauer gave Mickala a signed No. 7 jersey and a large photograph, now a prominent feature in her room at home.
The response from friends, family and people they’ve never met was overwhelming.
“A person doesn’t realize how many kind, caring and generous people there are in this world,” Judy said, “until you go through an experience like this.”
Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to email@example.com.