By Deanna Atkinson McGill | Photography by Sarah Oden
When you see her art, its energy creates an instant connection. The brightly colored abstract splatters of drip art combined with realistic forms reflect controlled chaos that’s intrinsic of life. Morgan Coven Herndon IS the joy dripper. This balance between joy and struggle is her inspiration – in art and in life. “So many of us are hurting, struggling and coping on our own. I love the idea of the art that I create being a way to connect and let them know they aren’t alone.”
Connection to her art and others has been essential in Morgan’s unexpected medical journey. She recalls, “My youngest son, Miles, was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF-1) at 10 months of age. Lesley Oslica, now president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, was one of the first people that made me feel at ease. After the doctor left the exam room, she handed me an information packet about resources and shared her own personal story of her daughter being diagnosed with NF.” This network of other families and professionals is a critical component of the CTF mission. A CTF patient advocate helps guide affected children and their families through the process of education and maze of doctor appointments which can be very overwhelming. “It was comforting to be a part of a group of parents and children also struggling with this diagnosis,” Morgan relates.
The confusion of being diagnosed and not knowing how this could happen to your child is always a concern of parents – Is it genetic? Is it a spontaneous mutation? Most people have heard of cystic fibrosis or multiple sclerosis, but neurofibromatosis is less recognizable, yet affects more people than both of those diseases combined. Its unique manifestations can vary drastically from person to person – some with bone abnormalities, others brain tumors and still others with optic or auditory nerve growths – to name just a few.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital is a part of the national NF network. Established in 2008 by CTF, families throughout the state can make one appointment at one place for one day and see four specialists – saving precious time and energy. This alliance with the organization and families sharing similar challenges makes a chaotic time feel more controlled, and eased Miles’ journey to healing.
More healing was in store for Morgan and her family. “I never really thought art would end up being such a big part of my adult world. After losing my first husband to suicide in 2010, I found myself in very dark territory – raising my three young boys while battling my own questions and issues surrounding the loss of their dad. Soon into the recovery process, I discovered that art would be a vital part of my healing,” she remembers.
Now she’s remarried to Eric, with a blended family of six kids – ages 4 to 15 years old. Remarriage after such a traumatic loss combined with the pursuit of a new career as an artist required massive amounts of faith, courage and hope. “Rejection, abandonment, fear and anxiety are pretty common battles I face in both art and with my family,” Morgan confesses.
Morgan’s artwork is featured at Children’s Tumor Foundation Dancing with Our Stars each fall. The evening celebrates the resilient spirit of each NF ambassador and garners awareness of NF and support for critical research. Lesley Oslica praises Morgan, “She is truly a cheerleader for these families – and everyone that is in her circle. Morgan is not one to sing her own praises but people like her keep me doing what I do.”
Dancing with Our Stars showcases civic leaders in friendly competition. But it’s much more than just a party Lesley explains, “Each of the dancing stars are paired with an NF ambassador to give a face to this disease, and so unaffected leaders in the community will have a better understanding of the struggles – as well as celebrate the successes.” The same is true for Morgan’s son Miles who is paired with Wade Radke this year. Lesley states, “This is not just another party. When you leave you can see the hope in the affected families’ eyes. They are in the trenches of dealing with a disease and this gives them a tiny escape where they can find joy. That is priceless.”