A Sisterhood That Saves Lives
By Kaitlin Emmett '20
As a Pediatric Hematologist Oncologist, Dr. Colleen Andrews Morrison '96 has a holistic philosophy grounding her work: she is a doctor who treats families—patients, parents, and siblings. In this regard, Dr. Morrison treated Diane Freeby '88, whose daughter, Mary Freeby, was Dr. Morrison’s primary patient.
“She could explain complex things in a way that we could understand. Even though the disease was so complex, she was very reassuring about it," Diane said. "We knew it was very serious, but there was such great hope. The only time we would get anxious about it was when we were looking into on our own."
Mary was diagnosed with an extremely rare blood disorder in July of 2017 called Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemogloburina (PNH), which effects just 1 in 1.3 million people. The Freebys were fortuitously connected with Dr. Morrison, after Mary was sent by her pediatrician to the Beacon Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital where Dr. Morrison is the medical director of the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Department.
Dr. Morrison had been exposed to PNH during her residency and immediately realized there was a chance PNH was the disorder affecting Mary. On diagnosing Mary, she said, “Just like anything rare, if you don’t think about you’ll never find it. My way of practicing medicine, I think: what’s the worse case scenario? What do we need to do right now for this person? Are they going to get sicker if we don’t do this?”
Mary's Match and Recovery
“We relied very much on our Catholic faith and that of our amazing friends and family.” Diane referred to them as prayer warriors before continuing, “but that faith was augmented by incredible science and it was people like Dr. Morrison who literally helped save Mary's life.”
Fortunately PNH is treatable, but even more fortunately, there is a cure for PNH through a bone marrow transplant procedure. After her year of treatment with Dr. Morrison, Mary was connected with a donor through Be the Match and traveled to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to undergo the transplant surgery, which was successful.
A Connection like No Other
Seeing the lasting impact of her education, Dr. Morrison commented on the her connection with patients and colleagues who have a Saint Mary’s background. Working in South Bend, she often treats students or meets Saint Mary’s nursing students. Whenever she sees the Saint Mary’s ring on a student or alumna’s hand, she begins a conversation making an immediate connection.
This connection was not made between Diane and Dr. Morrison immediately, as neither were aware of their shared Saint Mary’s background until a month after Mary’s diagnosis when Dr. Morrison mentioned her education in an interview with a local news station. From that moment, Dr. Morrison felt an additional bond to the Freeby family due to their Saint Mary’s connection. Similarly, Diane revealed, “I got to know Dr. Morrison really well through this fairly intensive year we had. After the dust settled, I realized this alumna was so meaningful to our lives.”
Though Dr. Morrison and Diane were not students at the same time, Diane noted how apparent the Saint Mary’s sisterhood was through Dr. Morrison’s work with the Freeby’s. “It was easy to see she was a continuation of the Saint Mary’s [women] I knew.”