Former Hantsport resident, athlete on mend after US surgery

Family hopes procedure will help Marissa Morse regain her independence

Ashley Thompson
Published on February 28, 2014

Marissa Morse was all smiles after undergoing a corrective surgery in the US in mid-February. (Submitted photo)

Marissa Morse is on the mend following the first of two corrective surgeries a US-based neurosurgeon believes will help the 26-year-old reclaim her life.

Morse, a Fredericton resident who grew up in Hantsport, has been diagnosed with

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Dysautonomia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), epilepsy, hypothyroidism, chronic pain syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, neurogenic bladder, tethered cord syndrome and craniocervical instability.

For the past seven years, Morse’s health has been steadily declining, ultimately robbing her of her independence and forcing her to put her career goals on hold.

She no longer drives, attends school, plays university-level basketball, works or lives on her own.

But, all hope is not lost.

Morse underwent a surgery in Lanham, Maryland on Feb. 18 that was meant to address the head, neck and shoulder pains, imbalance and nausea linked to craniocervical instability.

Her mother and primary caregiver, Brenda Gillis, is happy to report that the first corrective procedure was completed in good time, about 3.5 hours, and Morse noticed an improvement as soon as 24 hours after the surgery.

“The surgeon was extremely pleased with how well it went. There were no complications,” said Gillis, in a phone interview.

Morse was discharged from the hospital two days after the surgery, and her follow up appointment was rescheduled for a week earlier than originally anticipated.

“It's obvious that this has made a really big difference for her,” said Gillis.

They hope to have a clearer indication of how successful the procedure was by the end of March.

Morse, who had to go on medical leave from university in 2012 before completing her Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy, is hoping to return to school in the near future.

“We're very optimistic that this will allow her to go back,” said Gillis.

Morse is prepared for the possibility that her doctor will still recommend she undergo a second corrective surgery to address the tethered cord syndrome symptoms she experiences from the chest down.

Gillis says this includes the weakness in Morse’s legs that causes her to suddenly fall to the floor, severe abdominal pains and the issues resulting from her neurogenic bladder.

Like the procedure Morse is now recovering from, this surgery would also have to be completed in the United States.

An online fundraising page Gillis launched through to help collect enough money for her daughter to have the surgeries states that each procedure is estimated to cost between $30,000 to $45,000.

And those may be conservative estimates.

The hospital bill for the first day spent in the Doctors Community Hospital is about $20,000 and each additional day spent as an in-patient costs between $800 and $1,000 depending on the level of care required, said Gillis.

They brought as many medical supplies and medications from home as possible to reduce the overall cost, Gillis added.

“When she was in the hospital we opted to use anything we brought from Canada first.”

Gillis, a former Hantsport town councillor, says the family received about $15,000 in donations for Morse’s surgery after word spread of the family’s inability to shoulder the costs of the surgeries on their own. A large portion of the donations came from residents or businesses the small town Morse, who now lives with her mother, spent the first 18 years of her life in.

“We're so thankful for the support of so many people. It's at times like this that you really find out who your friends are or who your supporters are and sometimes they come from the most surprising sources.”

Gillis says she is “amazed” at the ongoing support from people in Hantsport. On Feb. 21, about 70 people attended an event at the fire hall that brought in roughly $2,000 for Morse’s medical expenses, a basketball tournament hosted at the Hantsport School brought in another $380 and there’s a large fundraising event planned for the Hantsport Fire Hall on March 29.

Donations for Marissa Morse can still be made online through  or mailed to 73 MacLean Ct, Fredericton, N.B., E3G 9Y1.