An intelligent, tech-savvy 5-year-old who has been in and out of hospitals for much of his life will lend his enthusiasm and high spirits to Covington's upcoming Christmas parade - serving as a "police officer.''
Morgan Steward suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (a genetic condition affecting the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement). He was diagnosed with SMA Type 2 at the age of 15 months.
Doctors have said the life expectancy of someone with SMA is about 20 to 30 years, but his family is praying for a cure and that Morgan will exceed that limit.
Though he's been battling the disease since birth, that hasn't stopped the technology-loving tyke from enjoying life like other children his age.
A photo of Morgan with his wish to become a police officer was recently published on Facebook. After the photo circulated, the Covington Police Department found out about Morgan's wish and is now working to make it come true at the Covington Lions Club annual Christmas parade Saturday, Dec. 7.
When I asked Morgan about wanting to be a police officer, he had suspicions about how I found out about his aspiration.
Danielle: "I heard you wanted to be a police officer."
Danielle: "Because your mommy told me."
Morgan: "Why did she tell you?"
Danielle: "Because she told me about Morgan. Can you tell me why?"
Morgan: "Why mommy told you?"
Danielle: "No. Tell me why did you want to be a police officer?"
Morgan: "Because my dream was to be a police officer ..."
CPD Capt. Ken Malcom said the police department will make Morgan an honorary CPD officer. And Officer Morgan Steward will lead the Christmas parade, riding in a police vehicle, and then he will be introduced to the audience at the parade.
"He is such a neat kid," Malcom said. "When you talk to him, you're going to cry because a lot of the people with his condition can't even speak, and he is one of the most articulate little kindergartners you've ever met."
"We just fell in love with him when he came by here for the Miracle League presentation. He came by and we found out then how much he loved the police and then we saw this post on Facebook ... where his wish was to be a police officer," Malcom said. "So, we thought a neat thing to do was to make him a police officer for the parade. And it's going to be with the theme of the parade, which is ‘Christmas Through Children's Eyes.'"
Morgan's family is very supportive. This week, his mom and dad, Tangi Forman-Steward and Barron Steward; brother and sister Dejaun, 15, and Delana, 8; his aunt, Alicia Steward; his grandmothers, great-grandparents and cousins were all together just in time for the holidays.
Family members say that Morgan is extremely intelligent and wise beyond his years. He's faced challenges since infancy, including breathing problems and not being able to crawl like other children his age.
Barron said as he and Tangi monitored Morgan as an infant, they realized he wasn't as strong as they believed a child his age should be. Not wanting to scare his wife, Barron said, he started doing his own research and expressed concerns to Morgan's pediatrician.
"A specialist started looking at some of Morgan's birthmarks as being nerve-oriented. So, we were able to locate neurologists," he said. "My sister, Alicia, was the very first one to mention spinal muscular atrophy and asked us if we thought it may be SMA. And so I started doing a little research. That landed us on it."
Today, Morgan uses a wheelchair, uses a number of specialized machines, uses a ventilator for breathing treatments, and also has a nurse to make sure he sleeps well at night, his mother said. She added that her son has really kept her active.
"He's the light of our life. I'm 38, and I think I feel like I'm about 24 now. ... I feel more alive now than I did because he's got me running now. He keeps us on our toes. He knows a lot. He always challenges us," Tangi said.
Morgan's father said, "I kind of look at him from a spiritual standpoint and a life standpoint. I think he's here for a specific purpose. He's certainly here for a purpose. Everything about his life is purpose. What that purpose is, we don't know quite yet. I think life will define it as we observe his life and as he leads us into what his overall destiny and purpose is here," he said.
A student at Rocky Plains Elementary School, Morgan said he enjoys playing with his friends at the school. He even tried to list them, but decided there were too many.
"Joanna, Kingsley, Jamari, Lydia and Kristin, and Joanna, and me, and Gracie, Connor, Zakiria and hmmm, um, Matthew and Nathaniel ... wait and hmmm, Madison - Did I say her? - Did I say Connor? - and hmmm, um - did I say Emily? - Emily and hmmm ... I can tell you the other ones later, because I don't know the other ones," he said.
When asked what he likes to do at school, Morgan said, "I like to play games, like the racing games ... games at computer lab. Wait. Not racing games, only the car games. I like to play with my friends. I like to play blocks with them and go in small groups and I like to umm, hmm."
Morgan said he is excited about being in the parade. He said he wants his mom to take him to the store so he can buy "my walkie-talkie and my gun, a real gun and a real police officer suit for me that's my size." He likes police officers because they are strong and protect him by stopping "bad mans," he said.
His aunt Alicia, who said she does a lot of advocating for Morgan and all children with SMA, said her nephew has been fascinated with police officers since he was 2 years old. She said the family does everything they can possibly do to keep Morgan happy.
"He's such a joy," she said. "He's the most loving little boy."