Runner dedicates 600-mile trek to Morgan City woman who died from cystic fibrosis
MORGAN CITY, La. — At first glance, a man running on the side of U.S. 90 through Morgan City last week with a weathered beard and baseball cap may remind someone of the famous scene from Forest Gump, but, unlike Forest, this man is running with a special purpose.
Michael Morris, 34, of Galveston, Texas, arrived in Morgan City on Thursday in the middle of a run that has taken him more than 500 miles so far. Morris began his journey at his parents’ home in Rosenberg, Texas, on Jan. 23, and then proceeded to his home in Galveston where he ran the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon.
He dedicated his run to a friend from Morgan City, Debbie Cheramie, who died as a result of cystic fibrosis on Feb. 16, 2012, at age 27, and to raising awareness and money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Cheramie was a 2003 graduate of Morgan City High School and 2003 Miss Morgan City.
Cheramie, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at four months old, went through 87 surgeries during her life, said her mother, Rhonda Cheramie. Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease that affects the lungs, digestive system and sinuses.
A mutual friend introduced the Cheramies to Morris at the art walk in Galveston in March 2010, the third month they had been in Galveston, Cheramie said. Debbie Cheramie was in Galveston at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital as her cystic fibrosis had worsened, and she was in need of a double lung transplant.
“We developed a friendship, and it never stopped,” Cheramie said. Morris stayed with Cheramie’s parents in Bayou L’Ourse last week. Morris arrived in Morgan City on Thursday and received a key to the city from Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi, Cheramie said.
Morris said he knew nothing about cystic fibrosis until he met Debbie and her family. “I’d never heard of it. I knew no info about it whatsoever,” Morris said. He had been involved with other non-profit and charity organizations before though.
“Michael’s the type of person, anyway, that does a lot for people in his community,” Cheramie said. “I think he missed his calling in some sense because he’s a teacher also.”
Debbie had her double lung transplant on Oct. 4, 2010, and shortly after decided she wanted to start running with her new lungs, Rhonda Cheramie said.
“She wanted to exercise those new lungs. She said, ‘Somebody had to perish for me to have life so I want to show my appreciation by running with the new lungs’,” Cheramie said. She was going to get Morris, who worked at a running store in Galveston, to coach her and get her into proper running shoes, Cheramie said.
About 15 months after her lung transplant she developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, the cause of which was unknown but may have been due to her weakened immune system from all her surgeries, Cheramie said. Debbie eventually died from ARDS, which is nearly always fatal, Cheramie said.
The route Morris is taking is symbolic of Debbie’s journey. He began his journey with the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon on Jan. 27 where Debbie’s ended and took the path she traveled to Morgan City. Morris will end his run in New Orleans on Sunday by running the Rock n Roll New Orleans Marathon. Morris is ending in New Orleans because Debbie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at Tulane University Medical Center. He will have run nearly 600 miles in all after he finishes the marathon, he said.
Debbie also loved movies and appeared in seven movies, Cheramie said, so it is fitting that Morris found a smiley face trinket as Forest Gump did in the movie as well as tennis ball he named “Wilson” in reference to the volleyball Tom Hanks’ character named in the movie “Castaway.”
Morris has raised almost $5,000 in online donations not counting the cash and checks people have given him along the way, he said. His goal is to raise $10,000.
Morris started running long distances when he was 18 and ran a marathon with his dad, but stopped for about 12 years after being hit while riding his bicycle. He didn’t begin running again until 2009, about a year before he met Debbie. Morris decided to run in memory of Debbie about a month after she died, he said.
“I knew he was a runner. But he completely and totally shocked us when he said ‘I’m running in honor of Debbie’ from Rosenberg, Texas, to Tulane,” Cheramie said.
Though he is running in honor of Debbie, the run has also turned into raising awareness and money for research for everyone with cystic fibrosis, Cheramie said.
Morris has running and equipment sponsors who have provided him with what he has needed throughout his run.
To learn more about Morris and to donate money to his cause, visit www.cff.org/LWC/dsp_donationPage.cfm?idEvent=24083&idUser=606638.