Coach: This Mother's Day, one woman gives thanks for healthy preemies and the mom who inspired her
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 8, 2020
Click here for the Advertiser photo gallery of the events surrounding the Morgan twins.
Jazen Morgan thought about it at first, then realized the importance of the day.
It's been a whirlwind these past few months, a lot of emotions and struggles. So it's understandable that she wouldn't realize until asked that this will be a special Mother's Day, a milestone in her life.
Since November, Morgan lost her mother and thought at times she might lose her newborn twins, delivered premature days after her mother's death.
She will spend Mother's Day with her babies both healthy and stronger today than those first fragile weeks. And she will spend her first Mother's Day without her own mother.
“It’s bittersweet realizing that you have the twins now at home … and I don’t have my mom here,” Morgan said.
From the moment she received the call that her mother's health was deteriorating, through the memorial service, through the unexpected birth of her twins, through the uncertainty of knowing for sure that her babies would be alright, Morgan has been through a lot as a young mother.
“Rollercoaster pretty much is what it was,” the 32-year-old said. “One day you’re doing great and you’re feeling really good, and then you come back the next day … and it’s kind of like a never-ending story.”
For Morgan, the story that led her to this Mother's Day is one she will always remember.
Jazen Morgan holds twins Kalais, left, and Krue, who were born just 24 weeks and two days into her pregnancy. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)
A mother's 'inner strength'
LaMar Morgan remembers the day his wife told him they were having twins, and how they laughed the whole time, silly even as they talked about having twins while having lunch at Twins Burgers & Sweets in Lafayette.
It was a happier time, with LaMar getting back to work as an assistant football coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Jazen managing her pregnancy and caring for the couple's now 2-year-old daughter. And they had their sixth wedding anniversary coming up.
They had a lot on their plates.
Jazen Morgan also was worried about her mother, who had suffered for several years with an illness. No one was quite sure what she had at first.
It turns out it was ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s, a debilitating nervous system disease.
About six months into her pregnancy, Morgan learned her mother had taken a turn for the worse back home in Abilene, Texas. So she went to spend time with her in hospice.
On Nov. 25, the Monday of Thanksgiving week, Kathleen "Kathy" Laverne Dalbert Merrill died. She was 64.
Morgan, who had traveled to Abilene, remained there to help plan her mother's memorial service, with a flight back scheduled Thursday that would allow her to spend most of Thanksgiving in Lafayette with her husband, their daughter, Kroix, and her mother-in-law.
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But things didn't work out that way. Looking back, Morgan said she believes what happened next made her appreciate how much her own mother gave her.
“It kind of helps me realize I didn’t know I had the inner strength my mom had until I went through this,” she said. “I feel like she kind of gave me that strength to get through everything, handle it in the way she would have handled it.”
Preemie twin Kalais Morgan checked in at just 1 pound, 7 ounces. (Photo: LaMar Morgan, Special to The Advertiser)
'She probably would have bled out'
Thanksgiving was two days before the Cajuns were supposed to play in-state rival UL Monroe, where LaMar coached defensive backs in 2016 and 2017.
The night before, Jazen experienced some pain while she was staying at an uncle's home in Abilene. She didn't think too much of it at first.
“So she takes a shower. She thinks she’s gonna feel better,” said LaMar, who is 35.
Far from it.
A trained intensive care nurse on leave to take care of her family, Jazen realized she needed to get to a hospital. She felt the contractions.
“When she gets there,” said LaMar, “she’s fully dilated and, basically, her placenta detached. If she should would have gotten on a plane and that same thing happened, she probably would have bled out.”
With his mother already at the house for Thanksgiving able to stay with Kroix, LaMar started driving in the middle of the night to Abilene to be with his wife.
He left at 1:06 a.m., to be exact.
“I didn’t pack a bag or anything. I just drove, because it didn’t sound good on the phone,” he said.
About 575 agonizing miles later, early that the morning, LaMar arrived.
An emergency C-section already had been performed. “I’m sorry I had them so early,” Jazen Morgan told her husband after the procedure.
The twins were delivered at just 24 weeks and a couple days, considered "micro preemies" barely beyond the viability stage.
Krue LaMar Morgan, named for his father, was born weighing 1 pound, 14 ounces. Kalais Kathleen Morgan, named for Jazen's mother, was born weighing just 1 pound, 7 ounces.
Jazen Morgan said she immediately saw her daughter's connection to her mother.
“I feel her spirit is still here," she said. “Every nurse that saw her for the first time, they all described her as a fighter. She did everything on her timing, and not theirs. That’s definitely my mom.”
'You just have to stand there and watch, and just pray'
The tiny twins needed the highest level neonatal intensive care possible.
Abilene doesn’t have a Level 4 NICU, so they were supposed to be transported by helicopter 150 miles away to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. But fog kept the chopper grounded.
So the newborns were driven instead in specially equipped Life Care medical vehicles.
One of the preemie Morgan twins is loaded for transport from Abilene to Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Submitted photo)
Once they arrived at the Fort Worth hospital, concerns were too many to count.
Brain bleeds. Eyesight issues. Heart problems. All were high on the list of potential problems for such fragile newborns. Both babies were on jet ventilators, an invasive oxygenation system.
For the longest while, so much was touch-and-go.
“There’s a lot of days that you don’t know,” LaMar said. "There’s a lot of days the doctors come in and they tell you, ‘If they get to this point, then we have a shot; if they don’t …’ ”
Krue seemed to struggle the most.
“I wouldn’t say he passed away, because he didn’t. But … they had to do the life support,” LaMar said. “(He) crashed two-to-three times.”
Both twins had to be resuscitated at birth — “full-blown CPR,” Jazen said — and as it was happening their father didn’t know what to think.
Their mother did.
“That was the hardest thing for me, being a nurse, because you’re used to seeing so much progress," Jazen said. "But babies are kind of different. So that was (difficult), especially when they had to have certain interventions I couldn’t do for them.
“They’d come in and they were giving them oxygen and bagging them, and you’re just helpless,” she said. “You just have to stand there and watch, just pray.”
Early days of life in surgery, intensive care
Kalais and Krue know a thing or two about dealing with adversity.
Krue Morgan spent 145 days in the hospital after being born extremely prematurely. (Photo: LaMar Morgan, Special to The Advertiser)
Krue underwent surgery twice for a condition that damages or kills a portion of the small intestine
“They had to do emergency surgery … because they thought (his small intestine) busted opened,” LaMar said. “It actually didn’t. But it had a lot of air particles on the lining of the intestine.”
As a result, he’s been on a mostly liquid diet for much of his short life.
Krue also has low blood sugar, which means frequent fasting studies and blood tests.
Born with better lungs, Kalais has been a bit more fortunate.
“She was smaller than him, so she kind of struggled at first. But then she got stronger as it goes,” LaMar said. “She’s probably a little stronger than him right now.”
But Kalais did develop an infection in her bloodstream shortly after being born.
“So she had to deal with antibiotics for the first month-and-a-half of her life,” LaMar said.
Twins Kalais Morgan, left, and Krue Morgan were born just 24 weeks and two days into Jazen Morgan's pregnancy. (Photo: LaMar Morgan, Special to The Advertiser)
'I FINISHED THE RACE'
Relief came when the twins were discharged.
For Kalais, it was after 109 days in the Fort Worth hospital, on March 15 — Jazen’s original due date. For Krue, it happened after 145 days, on April 21.
But with several more steps still to climb, it took the family a few more days to actually leave Fort Worth.
There are several specialists to see too, especially for Krue, and there are developmental milestones still to meet. Physical therapy is required as well.
“They’re 5 months old, but they’re technically only 1 month old in development,” Jazen said. “So they have to make sure they’re progressing.”
But the bottom line is that in late April the family made it back to Lafayette, just in time for the Morgans to enjoy Mother’s Day in their own home.
For Jazen, that’s something to celebrate.
“We’re all here,” she said.
“It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air. We're sleep-deprived, of course, but it’s different when you don’t have to go to the hospital and stay .. to feed (Krue) and come back and we’re feeding the other twin, 24 hours non-stop, around the clock. Here, we kind of do everything under one roof and it’s a better routine. Our 2-year-old is happier. She’s home.”
They all are.
They overcame the trials, the tribulations. They endured the many tests and procedures.
Krue and Kalais graduated NICU, a fact Jazen considers “a Mother’s Day gift to myself.”
“I just felt like, ‘I finished the race,’ ” she said. “All the hard work and sleepless nights, everything you endured, was worth it.”
UL cornerbacks coach LaMar Morgan and his wife Jazen stand outside their home with twins Kalais and Krue and 2-year-old Kroix. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)