A fun place where sick children can go and feel normal -- that's what 13-year-old Gregory Morrison of Granite City asked for when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him a wish. Unfortunately, Gregory won't be able to see his wish come to fruition as he died earlier this month.
However, his parents, Greg and Melissa Morrison, have already developed plans to construct his wish -- a gymnasium complex on the campus of Gateway Family Church in Glen Carbon, where both serve as pastors.
"I have made it my mission that we're going to build his gym ... a center where kids can learn how to be a hero and get their life changed," Melissa said.
She explained Gregory wanted to "create a place that could be cleaned properly so kids that are having immune issues could go."
Greg said he was extremely proud of his son. "I couldn't be prouder of him and made a point to let him know," Greg said. "I couldn't have asked for or prayed for a more amazing son."
Since Gregory's death on July 12, his parents have been busy setting up A Hero's Impact Foundation in his memory. Melissa said they are completing the necessary paperwork to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. While in the hospital, Gregory didn't like when people called him a hero. Melissa said he told her he's not a hero, because "it's God who does everything in me."
"It's out of that conversation that A Hero's Impact Foundation was formed," she explained. "A true hero is someone who wants to help others and doesn't really care about themselves. The Hero's Impact -- we just want to make an impact on the kids of this area and families of this area."
The family has already had an NBA player and an NFL player come on board with the gymnasium complex project and lend their name and their fundraising efforts. The center is expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million.
Pittsburgh Steeler draftee Terry Hawthorne, an East St. Louis High alumni, and former NBA player Darius Miles, who is also an East St. Louis High alumni, were looking for ways to give back to the metro-east community, Melissa said.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers were Gregory's absolute favorite team," she added.
Innovation Construction Services LLC. in Belleville has agreed to build the project, and an architect, who wants to remain anonymous, is donating his services.
"God has just really laid all the pieces together," Melissa said.
The Morrison family hopes to have the complex completed within the next 12 to 18 months.
The center is expected to include a rock climbing wall, mentoring rooms and a Laser tag area -- a favorite of Gregory's. The theme of the complex will be comic book heroes.
"We want to be able to mentor kids and see lives changed," Melissa said. "We want to carry on Gregory's legacy and teach other kids how to be a hero."
The family is currently organizing fundraisers for the complex including a hero's run in Forest Park planned for September, an art show and a house raffle. Melissa said a portion of the proceeds from the fundraisers will also be donated to St. Louis Children's Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
For more information on fundraisers, visit https://www.facebook.com/AHerosImpact. To donate, visit A Hero's Impact page on www.indiegogo.com.
Life threatening condition
Gregory wasn't always sick. His parents thought he just had a virus when he was ill the first day back to school after Christmas break in January. Gregory was a seventh-grader at Gateway Legacy Christian Academy, which is located at Gateway Family Church.
When they took him to a children's hospital in St. Louis, the doctors agreed he had a virus and sent him home. However, he wasn't getting any better, and his mother of five children knew something was off when none of her other children were getting what Gregory had.
The family returned to the hospital and was initially told Gregory had Mononucleosis (mono), which was a relief. Though that diagnosis quickly changed after results from a blood test came back, Melissa explained Gregory's "natural killer cells -- the cells that get rid of all our diseases -- were pretty well non-existent in his body. What was happening was certain cells were eating other cells," Melissa said.
Gregory was diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life threatening immune disorder, and spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. Although it wasn't a cancer, Melissa said Gregory had to undergo chemotherapy and steroids as a way to stop the "HLH flare up. It was a horrible experience," Melissa said.
Once he underwent chemotherapy, he became immune suppressed, which meant he couldn't go to school or church. "He couldn't really leave the house, because he couldn't be around crowds," Melissa said.
Not being able to be around his friends was difficult for Gregory. "He would say, 'mom, I just want to be normal,'" she said. The HLH went into remission, and the next step was a bone marrow transplant, which is the cure, according to Melissa.
Gregory spent February through May recuperating at home and preparing for the transplant surgery. After finding a perfect bone marrow donor match, Gregory underwent the surgery.
Two days later, Melissa said they were told Gregory had two viruses. "For a person with no immune system, a virus is life threatening," she explained.
The medications to fight the viruses impacted Gregory's body's ability to accept the bone marrow transplant.
More donor cells were requested and another transplant was performed on July 4. Eight days later, his body started to accept the transplant, Melissa said, and his white blood cells were coming in for the first time.
"Unfortunately, the virus was just taking over too much, and the new immune system, even though, it was starting to grow just couldn't handle it," Melissa said, "so we lost him on July 12."
Gregory didn't die from HLH since it was fully in remission. His death was attributed to the virus caused by complications to the bone marrow transplant, Melissa said.
After Gregory's death and a fishing day in his honor held at his favorite pond in Edwardsville, the Morrison family spent five days in Chicago to reconnect as Greg Morrison spent every night with Gregory at the hospital from May 6 to July 12.
Gregory is survived by four siblings: Isabella, 12, Alyssa, 10, Benjamin, 8, and Judah, 4. "It's been a rough road for them," Melissa said.
During the family's time away, extended family members and approximately 60 church members renovated every room of their six-bedroom home in Granite City. "They decided to storm my house and redo every room in my home," Melissa said.
The group transformed Gregory's bedroom into a new space for his youngest brother Judah. "It's really cool to have life in that room," Melissa said.
Judah's bedroom became a special dressing room area for Melissa. The dressing room even incorporates a chandelier.
Melissa said she got wind of what was happening at her house when she started getting text messages from her four sisters about what colors she likes.
Altered Grounds Landscaping in Granite City donated new landscaping around the Morrison family home.
Two days after Gregory's passing, Melissa found the strength to deliver the Sunday sermon at Gateway Family Church.
"I was determined to show them how to walk through something," Melissa said. "In life things happen, it's really how we respond to those things that makes a difference. I could either choose to let this moment stop me or this moment to propel me."
She said it was important for her to lead by example for her four other children. "We're not going to become bitter. We're not going to become angry, but we're going to become better," Melissa said. "God is awesome, and he's good. God didn't do this, and didn't intend for this to happen. We just live in a world where not everything lines up the way you want it."
With a big smile on her face, Melissa described Gregory as "the sweetest kid you ever want to meet. Gregory was perfect," she said. "Gregory was the sweetest boy in the world. He was 'the always do the right thing kind of kid.'"
Gregory had aspirations of growing up to be a pastor, following in the footsteps of his parents.
"We teach our kids to live for something greater beyond themselves," Melissa said. "I love that Gregory at just 13 years old fully understood that -- Life isn't meant just to live for yourself; it's meant to live for something greater. Helping his dream stay alive and come to pass helps me get through the day."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.