Remembering Teddy

April 21, 2019

My family’s commitment to helping build the Reilly Children’s Hospital at Lehigh Valley Health Network was recently profiled in the hospital’s Generosity report for Winter 2019.  This project has given my wife, Gina, and I purpose and a way to remember an important member of our family: Our son, Teddy.  Here is the article as it recently appeared…

Gina and Dennis Morton’s second child, Teddy, arrived on schedule at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest on Dec. 15, 2008. But the couple and Teddy’s medical team immediately knew something was wrong.

Devastating Diagnosis

“Teddy was born with tiny black and blue marks all over his body,” Gina says. The next day, test results confirmed the worst possible news: Teddy, with a reddish tint to his wispy hair and blue eyes, had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood and bone marrow cancer. The diagnosis was rare. Teddy was only the 31st case of congenital AML on record in the world.

Compounding matters, little Teddy had to be transferred to a hospital in central Pennsylvania for chemotherapy because Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital didn’t yet exist. With no family close by, how would the Allentown couple take care of 2-year-old Charlie, Teddy’s older brother, with Teddy in the hospital in Hershey? At the time, both sets of grandparents were still working.

“Sometimes the hardest part is not the sick child but figuring out how to manage the rest of the family,” Gina says. Daily, Gina had to decide between visiting Teddy in the hospital or staying with toddler Charlie, while Dennis commuted after work from Allentown.

A Glimmer of Hope

After 10 days of struggling with the juggling, however, “we had a glimmer of hope,” Dennis says. Teddy was well enough to be transferred to his own room in the hospital’s main floor, and the family spent Christmas Day together. With Charlie playing in the room and little Teddy looking on, “we had a glimpse of what normalcy just might be,” Dennis says.

After two rounds of chemotherapy, however, Teddy’s cancer returned, along with a diagnosis of RSV, a respiratory infection. “Teddy was just fighting so many things,” Gina says.

Yet, the couple held out hope. After all, Teddy was smiling, gaining weight and showing hints of improving, so much so that Dennis decided to spend a Sunday night at home in Allentown so that he could be rested for work on Monday. But at 11:30 p.m. that night, the hospital called. “I raced across the state, hoping to see my son before he died,” Dennis says. Luckily, Dennis made it. At just 4 months old, Teddy passed away in Gina and Dennis’s arms the next day, April 21, 2009.

Quality Care Close to Home

It’s difficult to make sense of such a loss. But as a result of their experience with having to travel so Teddy could receive medical care, the Mortons came away knowing one thing: Having access to children’s hospital services right in the community would have made their heartbreaking experience better if not for the simple fact that both Dennis and Gina would have been able to spend time with Teddy.

Although Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital is now available, the Mortons are sharing their story and raising awareness about the impact your support can have to ensure that children’s hospital services continue to be a vital resource for local children and their families.

The couple is also making a difference financially for the Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. In addition to a substantial individual gift, they have also committed to an aggressive fundraising goal. They have involved their family and friends, as well as hosted events and one-on-one meetings where they share their story and describe the benefits of having a children’s hospital in the community. Their family’s loss inspired a profoundly personal cause.

“We need to keep quality care close to home,” Dennis says.