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Sugar House Journal

45 Surgeries and Going Strong

Jan 28, 2016 11h28 ● By Bryan Scott

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

Sugar House - Kristen Morrise, a resident of Sugar House, has had 45 surgeries due to a condition called Pierre Robin Sequence. Because of this more medical problems have occurred, but she is still able to accomplish so much despite her breathing disability. Pierre Robin Sequence is a very rare condition found in one in 8,000 children, in which a newborn child is born with an abnormally small lower jaw, a large tongue and breathing problems. 

As a result of this medical condition, Kirsten has had to struggle with depression, being bullied in school and overcoming some learning and physical struggles. 

At a young age she had to have a tracheotomy placed on her throat. Not only was this a burden for young Kirsten, but also for her mother Lisa who was taking care of two other children with medical needs. 

“Kirsten was very sick and we were basically running an ICU and Timothy [her older brother] was bouncing off the walls, and Michael [another older brother] needed breathing treatments,” Lisa said. “[Kirsten] was in the hospital 16 times her first year.” 

Because of the lack of oxygen to her brain, Kirsten had seizures which were getting worse and worse, and even with treatments, the seizures didn’t let up. 

“’Kirsten is sick. Get over it,’ was basically the attitude of a lot of professionals I had to talk to,” Lisa said. “But she kept getting sicker and sicker.” 

Kirsten was finally able to get the treatment she needed after having to visit several doctors, but the treatment required a lot of surgeries. She missed many days of school, and her social life wasn’t going very well either. Her friends didn’t know how to treat her because of her surgeries. They saw her as being delicate. 

“A lot of people don’t know what to say to me because I’ve been through so much,” Kirsten said. “But I say they’re human. Do I really want them to be fully aware of what I’m experiencing?” 

In 2005, Kirsten had screws put in her jaw called jaw distractors. The screws were visible on the outside of Kirsten’s face. When the screws were turned, it forced her jaw forward so the jaw bone behind could grown. Kirsten explained the procedure hurt.

“Yeah, you try getting the bone in your face being gradually moved forward. But knowing the end result is supposed to be makes it easier to endure,” she said. 

When Kirsten turned 12, she attended Brighton LDS Girls camp, something that would change her life. She went back a second time and then went back as a helper in the kitchen and worked in the craft shack. She loved it because the people there didn’t treat her like she was disabled.

“They treated me like I was a human being. There I had a blank slate, no one knew about my past. They let me do everything that everybody else did,” she said. 

When Kirsten entered high school at Highland High, she was bullied by students who took her scooter, teased her and called her retarded and stupid. 

“I have cerebral palsy and I have mood disorders, and I have hypotonia which mean low muscle tone,” Kirsten said. “Those things have kind of caused the bullying because of my posture and people look at me funny and also not being very athletic influenced the bullying.” 

While Kirsten attended high school, she also attended Utah State University.

“I made a plan to get to college and even though I was late, I had a plan I would get all of my high school work done by a certain time, and I would be able to function well enough to go to college,” she said. 

Kirsten graduated from high school, and is on her way to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work because she wants to help others and feels like she has the empathy to do so. 

She is still coming in and out of the hospital but no longer has a tracheotomy or jaw distractors, but will still have to go in for surgeries. 

“The main problem is that my jaw doesn’t grow, and the scar tissue is a byproduct of having a tracheotomy for a long time,” Kirsten said.

“I have pretty much had to come to term with the fact that I will need surgery periodically for the rest of my life. The thing is I get to go to normal college, do normal school and having Pierre Robin is just something extra,” Kirsten said. “I have been realizing I don’t have to be a figure of inspiration and that I can be kind to as many people as possible. How I treat others reflects my character more than diagnosis.”