When she was 19 weeks pregnant, Winston resident Jennifer Murphy went to the doctor’s office with her husband, Patrick, to find out whether their child would be a boy or girl.
What they learned changed their lives. The doctors found their unborn son had a large hole in a wall separating the heart’s four chambers. The heart condition was also a sign he would likely be born with Down syndrome.
The Murphys did not hesitate to continue with the pregnancy.
They welcomed Preston, who was born three months ago with Down syndrome and two holes in his heart. According to the National Institutes of Health, about half of all infants with Down syndrome are born with a heart defect.
One hole is tiny. The bigger one allows blood from three of his heart’s four chambers to mix, combining oxygenated blood leaving the lungs with blood that has not been oxygenated. Because of the defect, Preston has difficulty breathing and eating and sometimes has too little oxygen in the blood carried to the rest of his body. Ultimately, his heart will fail without open-heart surgery to correct the problem. Without the surgery, he probably would not live past 7 months old.
Preston’s medical expenses are being paid under the Oregon Health Plan now, but the plan did not kick in until the day after his birth. His parents are struggling to pay medical bills for their extensive pregnancy costs, including extra monitoring Preston needed before birth and the costs of his care and testing the day he was born.
That’s why Play it Forward organizer Jill Fummerton chose Preston and his family to benefit from a Sept. 21 concert. This will be the second time local bands will play the event to help a family pay its medical bills. This year’s performance includes bands Hemlock Lane, When We Were Young and Messenger and will end with a jam session. It will be held at Splitz Bar and Grill, 2400 N.E. Diamond Lake Blvd., in Roseburg.
Fummerton said she was impressed by the couple’s commitment to paying their bills and to raising a child with Down syndrome.
“They’re excited to see what he can do and who he will be,” Fummerton said. “They really are focusing on what his abilities might be, not what his disabilities will be.”
The Murphys both worked at Umpqua Homes for the Handicapped helping special-needs adults until Jennifer quit her job to give Preston the full-time care he needs. She was a medical technician there and Patrick Murphy is a dietary technician.
Though they had insurance through work, its high deductible meant the Murphys have thousands of dollars worth of medical bills.
They say they feel blessed by the gift of a child with Down syndrome.
“A lot of people say they’re sorry Preston has Down syndrome. I think they just don’t know what to say, but we’re not sorry for that. This is Preston’s destiny, not anyone else’s,” Jennifer Murphy said. “God’s got big plans for Preston.”
Patrick Murphy, 23, said Preston has taught him to “be a better person.”
Jennifer Murphy, 25, said her son is already teaching others to be compassionate toward children with special needs.
“He’s already changing people’s hearts,” she said.
Jennifer Murphy said she has been told that once the open heart surgery is done, Preston’s heart-related medical problems should disappear.
Though she said she trusts his doctors, she still struggles thinking of her baby having open-heart surgery.
“It’s scary thinking he’s going to go under anesthesia. It’s scary to hand your child over. You wish you could do it in place of him,” Jennifer Murphy said.
“I just can’t wait to get it done. I can’t wait for my son to feel better,” Patrick Murphy said.
Last weekend, Preston had a feeding tube inserted into his nose because he was not able to swallow enough to keep him growing and healthy. The tube extends to his stomach and allows Preston’s parents to feed him using a syringe or a machine.
Fummerton said she hopes to raise enough money at this year’s Play it Forward to help pay the couple’s medical bills. She also hopes to make enough money to compensate Patrick Murphy if he takes unpaid leave to stay in Portland while Preston undergoes heart surgery at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
They have written to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield to ask that 75 percent of their hospital bill be written off. They have accepted charity from strangers, gifts of clothing from baby showers held by people they did not know before.
The Murphys say it was hard to swallow their pride and accept charity, but the generosity of others has inspired them.
“We can’t wait to pay this forward and help someone in need ourselves,” Jennifer Murphy said. “We’re grateful for everyone’s support. It’s made our journey a lot easier.”
Last year was the first Play it Forward event, which raised $15,000. Last year’s beneficiary was Donna Chavez, 57, of Roseburg, who was struck with meningitis in April 2012. The illness turned septic, forcing doctors to amputate part of both feet and four fingers off Chavez’ right hand. Though doctors were able to save her, she was left with a half million dollars in medical bills.
Fummerton said Chavez is paying it forward by helping organize this year’s concert, which she said might not be the last Play it Forward.
“We know there’s going to be lots of need in the community. It may actually become an annual event. We don’t know,” Fummerton said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.