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17-year-old expects Christmas to be something special after illness

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By Charmaine Barranco Catholic News Service

BROOKS, Minn. — Christmas this year is special for Mickala Morinville, who is back with her family after a lengthy illness and a Christmas spent a year ago at the Mayo Clinic.

One of the last things 17-year-old Mickala remembers clearly is reciting a prayer with her pastor, Father Chuck Huck of St. Joseph Parish in Brooks, offering herself to Jesus through the hands of Mary.

It was the final prayer in a 33-day process of total consecration. “You give all of your tokens and all of your graces to Mary so that she can use them for people who need them,” Mickala said.

Just two days earlier Mickala had been diagnosed with a virus that required rest. But the day after the final prayer, she felt worse. So, her mother, Judy, drove her to a hospital in nearby Thief River Falls, where she began a seven-month battle for her life.

Airlifted from Thief River Falls to a hospital in Fargo, N.D., she was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome, known as ARDS. It was caused by an unknown virus to which her body aggressively reacted, filling her lungs with fluid.

“I felt really light-headed and dizzy, and I was really fatigued one day after volleyball practice,” she told Our Northland Diocese, newspaper of the Diocese of Crookston, Minn. “The next day I stayed home from school and two days after that I went to the clinic, where I was told I had a virus and all I should do is go home and rest. So, I did. Two days after that I was in the emergency ward and then I was going to Fargo.”

After a week in Fargo Mickala was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She had been placed on a ventilator because her lungs had filled with fluid.

Mickala remembers little of her hospitalization. She has no memory of an October surgery in which tubes from the life support system were inserted directly into her heart. The procedure allowed more oxygen to enter her bloodstream. While risky, the surgery went well, but Mickala’s health remained fragile.

Around Thanksgiving, Mickala recalled asking to visit a chapel and on Dec. 1 the hospital staff, with equipment in tow, took her to the chapel at Mayo’s St. Mary’s Hospital. It was the first of three chapel visits.

“I don’t remember all of the Mass, but I remember receiving Communion,” Mickala said.

“It was kind of a production to get her there even though it was only downstairs,” Judy said. “She was connected to so much equipment and everything had to be constantly monitored.”

Soon after her first chapel visit, Mickala was placed on a list for three organ transplants — kidneys, lungs and heart. Doctors had given her a 5 percent chance of living with her own organs.

For Judy and Mickala’s father, Scott, watching their daughter’s situation was traumatic.

Shortly after Christmas though, one doctor noticed a slight improvement. Short trial periods off life support began.

Then there was a setback. Mickala began to bleed internally. Being on life support required that Mickala’s blood be thinned significantly, making it more difficult to clot. They had to take her off life support to thicken her blood. Otherwise, “I would have bled to death,” she said.

From that point, Mickala’s health improved slowly. In February, doctors decided she no longer need a transplant for her kidneys or heart. Later that month, although still on a ventilator, Mickala was strong enough to begin physical and occupational therapy. She was released from the hospital April 10.

Mickala continues to use an oxygen tank. The lung transplant is on hold, in hopes she won’t need one.

A Caring Bridge website established for Mickala during her seven-month hospital stay netted 220,000 visits from supporters.

“A lot of people said a lot of prayers. That made all the difference. We know it did,” Judy said.

Mickala said she does not see her recovery as a miracle, despite what others say.

“When you’re in that situation you have no choice but to do everything you can to get out of it. You might work hard, but in the moment that’s the only thing you can do,” she said.

“The thought of coming home kept me going,” she continued, with tears in her eyes. “I wanted to leave so that my family could come home too, because I knew how much they missed it. My mom never left. I just I had to do it so that my parents could come home and so that I could come home and see my family and friends again.”

Today, Mickala is back at school and looking forward to life after graduation. She hopes to attend the University of North Dakota to pursue a career in the medical field.

“I used to take life for granted and now I know not to do that,” she said. “I’ve learned to never give up hope, under any circumstances. I’m thankful for all the prayers and for all the people who prayed for me. I’m thankful for my faith and for my family. And I’m truly thankful for my life.

“This will be a really exciting Christmas. It seems like there’s a whole lot more to be thankful for this year.”

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