Quaternary of Defects: freshman Morrigan Dodd’s life with Tetralogy of Fallot

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Rachel Benitez-Borrego

Freshman Morrigan Dodd pencils out a character in her sketchbook, which she regularly doodles in. In the last two years, Dodd has gone through three notebooks, filling up the pages with drawings of original characters. “[Drawing] is my safe space. It’s calming [for me],” Dodd said.

By Rachel Benitez-Borrego, Parkway West High School

On the night she was born, April 21, 2006, freshman Morrigan Dodd was transported to Children’s Hospital after doctors determined that Dodd was born without a connection between her heart and lungs. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare condition caused by a combination of four heart defects present at birth. Children born with Tetralogy of Fallot need corrective surgery in order to fix the deformities in the heart.

“I’ve never known a life without surgeries,” Dodd said. “They’ve just been in my normal life since the beginning. I’m resigned about that since there’s nothing I can do to prevent [having surgeries] There’s no use getting angry about it.”

Dee Dodd, Morrigan’s grandmother, who has been present for all of her surgeries, was one of the first people to be informed of her condition. 

“[When we learned of Morrigan’s condition,] I was scared to death and her mother was scared to death,” Dee said. “I mean really scared.” 

I’ve never known a life without surgeries. I’m resigned about that since there’s nothing I can do to prevent [having surgeries] There’s no use getting angry about it.”

— Morrigan Dodd

Morrigan had her first surgery when she was just two days old. To allow blood to flow to her lungs, she had a Blalock-Taussig shunt (BT shunt) inserted. A BT shunt is a small tube put into the heart in order to increase blood flow to the lungs usually used in small children as a temporary fix until the child is prepared for a more permanent solution.

“It was very nerve-wracking waiting [during the surgery],” Dee said. “We were just sitting there praying, hoping.”

Fourteen months after the BT shunt, when she was one, Morrigan had her second open heart surgery where her BT shunt was replaced with a cadaver’s heart. Every year since second grade Morrigan has had a cardiac catheterization to monitor the condition of her heart. Her latest surgery was last year, for another catheterization. 

“After a while, it gets annoying that I have to go to the hospital every six months to even check if I need another surgery soon,” Morrigan said. “It’s [really] annoying at any time, but you have to deal with it [to stay healthy.] I did feel isolated [because] I was out of school all the time, and my condition stopped me from doing a lot of things that [other] kids [enjoyed], like tag [and sports.]”

Because of her condition, Morrigan can not play competitive sports. As a child, she was not even allowed to run, in fear of overexerting and damaging her heart. Even now, she is unable to run for long distances because of her lack of endurance. 

“I can’t just keep running, I have to [slow down and walk]. I couldn’t play as hard as other people,” Morrigan said. “I felt left out sometimes because I can’t do everything that everybody else can.”

During one of her surgeries, Morrigan’s vocal cords were damaged, which altered the way her voice sounds.

No matter how bad things could get, I still have my family with me and that drives me to keep fighting.”

— Morrigan Dodd

“[When I woke up] my voice sounded significantly different and it sounded gravelly. The doctors said that [my voice] would recover, but it never did. When I lost my voice, I thought I lost a part of myself. Now, I’m OK with it,” Morrigan said. 

To distract from her condition, Morrigan found comfort in art. Recently, she has also been working on videos for her YouTube channel

“The only place that [my condition] really affects me is running, or sports. I can still do things with my hand and draw,” Morrigan said. “That makes me happy, [since] drawing is one of the ways I release my creativity.”

Morrigan has considered making a video about her experience with Tetralogy of Fallot as a way to reach out to kids with conditions like hers.

“I know I’m not the only case. I could reach out to people and [tell them that] there are people who care about you. Even if it’s hard, you’re not alone,” she said. 

Morrigan has always been supported by her family, who are her drive to keep her heart healthy. 

“No matter how bad things could get, I still have my family with me and that drives me to keep fighting,” Morrigan said. 

Regardless of the obstacles she has faced, Morrigan also makes sure to keep a positive mindset regarding her condition.

 “Even with [Tetralogy of Fallot] I can still do some things. I can still be happy,” she said. “You just have to believe in yourself. If [your issue] affects one part [of your life], then do something else; something you can find happiness [in].”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on March 1, 2021.