Goshen Teen Awarded for Service After Struggles

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By Kenny Colston

The chances of Kinsey Morrison making it to 17-years-old were 0.00047 percent.

Odds so miniscule, doctors had told her parents, Karen and Audrey Morrison, to call in hospice and tell their oldest daughter goodbye at 6 years old.  

Kinsey Morrison should not be here.

Yet here she is, an energetic Goshen resident who is a senior at St. Francis, a private school with campuses in Oldham County and Louisville.

After nearly a decade of health issues, Kinsey has dedicated her life to volunteering and supporting others who have experienced similar problems. More than a dozen prominent organizations count her as a volunteer, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

All that volunteering will be recognized Oct. 9, when Kinsey becomes one of two recipients of TV station WLKY’s Bell Award Youth Service Honor.  

Kinsey’s Fight

Kinsey’s battle with health issues started nine years ago, when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disease often treated like cancer. That’s when Kinsey was given her first fatal diagnosis at the Wisconsin Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee.

But after two years of treatments and two delayed bone marrow transplants, Kinsey was suddenly in remission, a shock to even her doctors in Wisconsin, a shock that remains to this day.

“She’s in remission, but has a high chance of reoccurrence,” Karen said. “But it’s like the doctors said, there’s the data, then there’s Kinsey.”

That wouldn’t be the last time Kinsey was facing a severe health issue. Three years in remission from her cancer, Kinsey’s heart stopped seven times in one day.  The nightmare had returned for her mothers.  Doctors gave Kinsey a 30 percent chance of recovery from myocarditis and a 30 percent chance of getting worse.

“So we said, we’ll take that first 30 percent,” Audrey said.

On top of that, Kinsey was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 2008, which affects the thyroid.

And yet, Kinsey is still here. Because of that, the teen spends most of her time volunteering with support groups for various illnesses. And she keeps reminders of other children who haven’t survived their struggles very close, even as a background on her cell phone.

“I miraculously lived through my illnesses, but so many kids don’t,” Kinsey said. “I’ve been to 17 funerals in 17 years. In my eyes, there’s no reason that I lived and they didn’t. But I owe it to them to make reason out of it.”

Family Ties

The start of Kinsey’s work came through her mom Karen, who has spent decades in the non-profit world, including as current CEO of Gilda’s Club, a cancer support group.  And it hasn’t slowed down with more and more health issues surfacing daily.

“Sometimes I have to say ‘Kinsey take a breath, we’re not starting a school in a third world country,’ ” Karen said. “She has so many big ideas, but big ideas have gotten her as far as it has.”

Both Audrey and Karen said Kinsey’s ability to give back has inspired them and shaped their lives as parents.

“Kinsey is apparently an amazing young lady and very intent on giving back,” Audrey said.
And while they are proud of Kinsey’s recognition as a Bell Award winner, the volunteering isn’t about the awards.
“It is wonderful that she is recognized for her volunteering, but she would have done all that stuff even if there wasn’t a Bell Award,” Audrey said.

To Kinsey, surviving her health issues requires her to give back to the community. It’s almost a necessity, instead of a want.

Karen said her daughter “resents sleep” and worries about “running out of time” to make a difference in the world.  But like any parent, Karen reassures Kinsey of the large impact she has already made.

“She told me a few years ago as a freshman, ‘you know Mom, you look at how I’ve beaten the odds and I’ll probably live to be 100. But on the other hand, I may not finish high school either,’ “ Karen said.

Kinsey’s future

When she’s not volunteering or giving speeches, Kinsey is playing field hockey for her school or participating on the quick recall team.

She has aspirations to go to Stanford University, Vanderbilt University or possibly Duke University, if her University of Kentucky-loving family allows that last one.

For a career, Kinsey hopes to be a pediatric oncologist or cardiologist, the types of doctors she’s been around most of her life.

“I hope to be a doctor who sees things more holistically,” she said. “… I want to make sure where you live doesn’t determine how long you live.”

 And at the end of the day, with major health issues still present and chances of survival still low, the Morrisons continue to fight together, with Kinsey leading the charge.

“I kind of owe the world a whole lot,” Kinsey said. “I have a photo of four kids who died. And it says, they didn’t waste a second.”

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