Giving Toddler Chance to Walk on Her Own

After having a son, Michael and Melissa Santangelo wanted one more child. But, more than three years ago when Melissa found out she was pregnant, an ultrasound gave them the surprise of a lifetime. They were expecting triplets.

"Then there's three," Melissa said.

"Shock. Total shock. It was hard to talk. It was hard to believe,” Michael said.

Olivia, Lauren and Morgan arrived on November 12, 2005. Like most triplets, the girls were born early, at 32 weeks.  A stay in the neonatal intensive care unit was required, but overall they were healthy.

"Breathing on their own and everything seemed to be A-OK," Michael said.

Morgan was the biggest of the bunch and the first to come home.

But, days later it was clear something was very wrong. 

"They brought her back to life, probably about three or four times," Melissa said.

Somewhere along the way, between the hospital and home, Morgan had contracted viral meningitis. 

She fought off the infection, but it left lasting damage. 

"She wasn't crawling with the other girls, sitting up with the other girls. We really didn't know what was wrong," Melissa said.

Doctors diagnosed Morgan with Cerebral Palsy.  Also, she was legally blind and walking may never happen.

But it hasn't stopped her from trying.

"She's got stiff muscles, obviously from the damage to her brain. So we tried a few muscle relaxers, but it doesn't really help," Melissa said.

"If she's on her knees or sitting, she's grumpy and cries and lets you know she wants to get up until she's standing on her two feet and she's happy.  That's where she wants to be," Michael said.

For now, Morgan gets around with a walker. Her biggest limitation is that her tight muscles prevent her feet from stepping flat on the ground.

But the key to Morgan walking on her own may be in the hands of a St. Louis doctor who has perfected a procedure that has given hundreds of other kids with cerebral palsy a chance to walk.


Michael found out about the surgery through an Internet search.

"When I started reading about the surgery, it was like they wrote it about Morgan. Every symptom that they described, she had and she was doing," he said.

The Santangelos wasted no time contacting the doctor and before long, their 3-year-old was approved for the procedure.

But it comes at a hefty cost. The Santangelos' insurance will cover most of the surgery, but not the year of physical therapy afterward.

Then came another surprise.

"It's indescribable the support you have that you might not think you have," said Michael.

Through a benefit being held to raise money for Morgan's medical bills, this family has learned the difference a community can make.

"Some of the people, I’ve never even met before, and (they) are helping out," Michael said.

"It just melts your heart. It's nice. Nice, that people are behind you to (provide) support," Melissa said.

And it might be the one thing that gives Morgan a chance to walk on her own.

"It's what you hope for. You hope she can walk by herself."

The Santangelos are in the process of setting up a foundation for other children like Morgan. It’s called Morgan, Our Angel of Hope.

The benefit is happening Friday, April 24 at 6 p.m. at Port N’Starboard, Ocean Beach Park in New London.

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