Kevin Riordan: After deepest losses, couple find a calling: Helping other parents

Frank Morgan adjusts a sunflower, the logo for their group, with wife Sharee, in their front yard. They lost two babies who were born premature. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Frank Morgan adjusts a sunflower, the logo for their group, with wife Sharee, in their front yard. They lost two babies who were born premature. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 10, 2012

After losing two children to complications related to premature births, Frank and Sharee Morgan have found a mission.

"If I can't have my babies," Sharee says, "I want to help someone else who's going through this."

"We both feel the same way," her husband adds. "You either give up, or you get up and fight."

Last month, the Winslow Township couple publicly launched a nonprofit foundation they hope will help heal the broken hearts of parents struggling with similar losses.

"We want to provide information and emotional, spiritual, and financial support," says Frank, 48.

"And there's a lot more we want to do," says his wife.

Their first child, Carissa Elizabeth Morgan, lived for 11 days in 2010. In May, Christian Louis Morgan was stillborn.

"We've been through a lot, but we feel we can give a lot," says Sharee, 35, a registered nurse at Virtua Marlton who, like her husband, is a devout Christian.

"After we lost our son, I said: 'We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure we can help other people,' " Frank adds.

The union plumber and pipe fitter, who's been unemployed since April, was told he was sterile after surgery for testicular cancer in 1995.

But the couple learned in 2009 that Frank did produce sperm suitable for in-vitro fertilization.

Sharee became pregnant, but Carissa was born 19 weeks early. After delivering Christian at 24 weeks, Sharee underwent surgery to correct a cervical condition doctors believe contributed to the premature births.

The ordeal "definitely made us stronger," she says. "We're ready for the challenge."

The Carissa E. Memorial Foundation already had been established as a surprise gift by Lauri McNair, Sharee's sister.

"Carissa was my niece. We loved her, and we still love her, and we wanted to honor her memory," says McNair, 40, of Sicklerville. Having the foundation help others, she adds, "is a blessing."

On Aug. 25, about 50 people attended the group's kickoff event at American Legion Post 286 in Pine Hill. Les Gallagher, Frank's cousin, helped organize the event.

"The reason I jumped on board is that my wife and I saw what Frank and Sharee went through," Gallagher says. "There needs to be some kind of avenue for other parents."

Frank's union, the 2,000-member UA Local 322 in Winslow, is helping get the foundation on its feet.

"Losing a child is a horrible thing," says James Kehoe, the union's business manager. "There's nothing worse for a couple trying to start a family."

I met the Morgans at their home in Winslow's Cedarbrook section, where Sharee, who is pursuing a nursing degree at Richard Stockton College, tends the foundation website.

The couple got to know each other during a Korean karate class in Washington Township. "I knocked him to the ground, and he fell in love with me," Sharee says.

Despite the complexity and discomfort of the in-vitro process, "I was so willing to do it, because my husband had been told he could never have children," she says. "I was willing to do whatever it took to give him a child." Losing a premature infant "is such a lonely, hard journey," Sharee continues. "People don't really talk about it. Other people don't know what to say to you, so they shy away, and it seems they don't care."

The Morgans want to assist parents whose premature babies have died or been stillborn, or whose full-term babies were victims of sudden infant death syndrome. In addition to moral support, they hope to offer practical assistance such as snack baskets and convenience-store gift cards to families with infants in intensive care.

The foundation, which is registered with the state, has raised less than $2,000 so far. But the Morgans are nothing if not optimistic.

"You have to stay prayerful," says Sharee, who attends Mount Zion Baptist Church in Glassboro with her husband. "Without God in your corner, you're not going to be able to heal."

Citing the success of Sharee's surgery the couple also have another project in the works.

"Whenever the time is right, and whenever my body is ready, we'll try to have a child again," Sharee says. "I'm determined."

"If that doesn't show faith, and fight," says Frank, "I don't know what does."


Kevin Riordan:

An interview with foundation founders

Frank and Sharee Morgan. www.philly.com/carissa


Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

For information on the Carissa E. Memorial Foundation, visit www.thecarissafoundation.org.

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