Morgan Fritz: Pretty in Pink or Green

Morgan Fritz, 6.
by Tara Wood on January 1, 2005 - 3:50pm

Morgan Fritz has a clear idea what her role will be as the 2005 MDA National Goodwill Ambassador. "To talk a lot," she says with a smile.

But rest assured: The charming 6-year-old from St. Peters, Mo., knows exactly what to talk about when she and her family represent MDA and its clients nationwide this year.

Morgan will attend fund-raisers, sponsor gatherings and other events to spread the word about MDA and its mission, and will be featured in MDA national promotional materials.

An unforgettable smile

Morgan Fritz horseback riding

Morgan, who received a diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy as a toddler, has become a familiar face for MDA in recent years.

She and her parents, Ron and Sue, were profiled and interviewed live on the 2003 and 2004 national broadcasts of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

“Morgan’s smile lights up a room and absolutely melts my heart,” said MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis. “She and her family will do a great job helping Americans understand why they should support MDA so we can wipe out neuromuscular diseases.”

Morgan and her father were pictured on the cover of Parade magazine the weekend of the 2004 Telethon. In addition, the Fritz family was featured in an article about the 50th anniversary of the partnership between MDA and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Ron Fritz is a fire fighter and paramedic for the Normandy Fire Department, and is a member of International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 2665. He had participated in Fill-the-Boot drives for MDA long before he knew his own child would be affected by a neuromuscular disease.

Ron and Morgan teamed up to create a crayon sketch titled “50 Years of Caring” that’s now part of the MDA Art Collection. It portrays a fire engine, a fire fighter and a child using a wheelchair, and thanks the fire fighters in Morgan’s own handwriting.

Locally, Morgan served as MDA's Missouri Goodwill Ambassador in 2004, and has routinely attended many MDA events and fund-raisers.

She often visits local fire stations in the St. Louis area to thank fire fighters for all they do for MDA. Recently they brought cookies and copies of Parade that Morgan autographed, Sue Fritz said.

Morgan feeding a horse

“Morgan loves to go meet with the fire fighters or whomever, and she knows how important it is to thank people,” she said. “We feel that it’s important that they actually meet someone they’re helping, and they see that this is really what this disease is and does.”

The local and national media exposure means Morgan is already recognized out in public.

“It’s just nice to know that people have seen her, and recognize who she is and what she does,” Ron said.

If not remembered for her smile, people often remember her because of her unique wheelchair, he said.

She uses a Standing Dani — a chariot-style power chair that she can use standing or sitting. The design helps her complete the 5 hours that doctors want her to stand each day.

Either way, Morgan’s parents agree that people just seem drawn to her.

“She just loves being around people. She just really enjoys life,” Sue said. “I think she’s what keeps this family going, really, just her energy and spunk, and her happiness.”

A Girly-Girl to the Max

The Fritz Family
Morgan and her parents, Sue and Ron Fritz

A kindergartner at Warren Elementary (she usually attends half-days to maintain her health), Morgan is the epitome of a girl, with pink ruffles, hair bows, dresses and all.

She collects stickers and purses, and recently brought eight of her favorite handbags with her on a trip to MDA’s National Headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., for a photo shoot.

Wild about swimming, Morgan also enjoys her therapeutic horseback riding sessions, and recently played T-ball on a local team.

Other favorite activities include playing with her siblings — Madeline, 9½, and Austin, 4. “We like to play a lot and sometimes we make up our own games,” she said.

And she loves anything that’s pink or has a Hello Kitty or Walt Disney Princesses theme.

At times, Morgan is a teeny bit cautious when she meets someone new. But she’ll soon open up and tell funny stories or talk about how much she loves her therapy horse named J.R.

She’s looking forward to her first trip to MDA summer camp this year, where she’ll spend time with her buddy Sarah Schwegel, MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador in 2001.

The Fritzes said Morgan doesn’t back down easily from a challenge, and finds ways around life’s obstacles. They also make a point to be honest with her about her disease and limitations.

“I always tell her, ‘Don’t say you can’t, you’ve always got to try. There are some physical things your body won’t allow you to do, but we can always try to do something differently somehow,’” Sue said. “I think with her personality, she’s able to handle that.”

When asked how she handles questions from other kids about her wheelchair, Morgan simply shrugged and said, “Actually, I tell them that this is how I get around.”

Spreading a message

Fritz siblings
Playing with her siblings, Austin, 4, and Madeline, 9½, ranks among Morgan's favorite activities.

The Fritzes say they’re excited and happy to serve in the national role for MDA, and see it as a way to say thanks for the help and hope MDA gave them when they first learned about Morgan’s disease.

They also look forward to educating people about MDA’s programs and services.

“It’s going to be nice to be able to tell people what the MDA does for us, and get the word out. I think a lot of people will give more if they know more about what they’re giving to,” Ron said.

His daughter’s good health is a great example of what happens when you take advantage of the help and knowledge from experts at MDA clinics, he added.

The Fritzes are also well aware that Morgan is taking on the National Goodwill Ambassador role following three remarkable terms served by the late Mattie Stepanek.

“Every night, Morgan says a prayer to Mattie to help her with this mission. And she’s very excited,” Sue said. Meeting Jeni Stepanek, Mattie’s mom, at the Telethon, further boosted their enthusiasm.

“We know we do have a lot of work ahead of us. There’s more than 40 diseases, and it’s our job to speak on behalf of all those families,” Sue Fritz said. “It is our goal to get our message across about what MDA means to us as far as the help they provide through the clinics, and the support groups, and most importantly, hope — that there will be a cure someday.”

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