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He was moved by a song and after thinking about it Jim Morrell spent hours composing personal letters of “Thank You” to his hospital care team.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
He rounds the nurse’s station in the transplant unit of IU Health University Hospital and even with a mask partially covering his face, nurses recognize him from 25 feet away. Jim Morrell has had more than his share of hospital stays.
In July of 2020 he was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. He was told at the time that without a transplant he had a life expectancy of six to eight months. He was somewhat familiar with liver disease. His mother and brother were both diagnosed with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an advanced form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. His mother died in 2004; his brother died in September 2018.
A resident of Fort Wayne, Morrell’s doctor referred him to IU Health where he was in the care of Dr. John Holden.
“Dr. Holden is unbelievable – a fantastic individual and wonderful doctor. He was upfront about the diagnosis and my alternatives,” said Morrell, a graduate of Bishop Leurs High School and the former St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. He spent his career working in accounting and auditing.
After considering his options, Morrell received a liver transplant on Dec. 15, 2021 under the care of IU Health’s Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal. Days after the transplant, Morrell suffered complications and remained in ICU for more than three weeks. He was hospitalized again with complications in February. In addition to a liver transplantation Morrell, 69, has been diagnosed with an aneurism in his aorta, a benign tumor on his pituitary gland, and Epstein-Barr virus, a human herpes virus that can cause mononucleosis. Morrell has also been diagnosed with Post-Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disease (PTLD), a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Through hospital stays and health issues, Morrell has relied on humor and music for comfort. He has also relied on his faith.
One song in particular made a huge impact on Morrell. That song was “Angels Among Us,” by Alabama. The chorus goes, “Oh, I believe there are angels among us sent down to us from somewhere up above. They come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
With those lyrics as inspiration, Morrell sat down and began writing dozens of thank you letters to his care team. He estimates he spent 10 hours writing about 40 letters. He wrote to ICU nurses, transplant nurses, other floor nurses, his doctors, his physical therapists, and his dietician.
When he was unable to receive visitors due to COVID restrictions, it was a nurse who held the phone for him while he talked to family members. He thanked her for her kindness and for reassuring him that he was in good hands. When he was readmitted to the hospital unexpectedly with complications, a nurse gave him a purple pen and a tablet to take note notes. Morrell thanked her for the purple pen and sent two-dozen more pens after his discharge. He became known as the “purple pen guy.” Others he thanked for responding to his questions. He apologized for his frustrations and thanked them for listening to his ramblings. He thanked them for playing a familiar song during his hour-long MRI – “Black and White” by Roy Orbison – one he used to sing with his mother. He also joked with them that he wished he could have sung along but knew he had to remain still during the procedure.
Mostly Morrell thanked them for their compassion – when there was so much pain it brought him to tears.
“I truly believe my medical team members are all angels. They are why I’m here - their care and kindness and my faith in God,” said Morrell. On his most recent visit back to the hospital he told them they were his angels. And as he was leaving, he turned around and said: “I have one more thing to say. ‘Thank you. I really love you guys.”