You will never meet a nicer girl than Carissa Murray. The 11-year-old is sweet, kind and caring, with an inquisitive mind and an ear for languages and music. She also has faced unique medical challenges throughout her young life.
Although she’s received no single diagnosis, she has undergone multiple procedures and surgeries, including five craniotomies. “These have left noticeable scars on her face and head that tell of much darker times,” says Ginger Gauthier, Carissa’s mom.
However, life at home is bright and full of love. Carissa lives with her mom and stepdad, Maurice; her sister, Cadee; and her aunt and grandma. “We have a unique family blend,” Ginger says.
Carissa’s health challenges began at birth, and Ginger was advised to call in hospice for her baby. She opted for more interventions, including a feeding tube that remained in place until Carissa learned to eat at age three.
“We still don’t even know all the issues,” Ginger says. “She had eating issues from birth, and so her main issue has always been eating. She’s always been small.” Carissa had a ventricular septal defect, or hole in her heart, when she was born. “But luckily that thing healed up on its own,” Ginger says. A spinal fluid leak later caused hearing damage in both ears, so Carissa wears hearing aids.
Carissa and Cadee were students at Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet school studying Spanish. When Carissa began having problems with her esophagus and was very susceptible to infections, the family opted for homeschooling instead.
“I pulled her out of school in February,” Ginger says. “With all of her issues, I’m afraid to send her back in with the masses.” This fall, Carissa will begin seventh grade via University View Academy, an online public charter school. In addition to keeping up her Spanish, Carissa is teaching herself French with DuoLingo.
After an unsuccessful procedure on her esophagus, Carissa was on an all liquid diet for a month. “She’s a fighter, and she doesn’t let any of it get her down,” Ginger says. “She couldn’t eat a thing, and she was still super happy and positive.” A second procedure was successful, and the family is on a high with some good health news.
“She’s actually gaining weight. For the first time ever, she’s on the height weight chart. It’s all good right now,” Ginger says.
Carissa plays the violin, and she would like to be an author. She loves babies and is a certified babysitter. She’s looking forward to volunteering in her church’s nursery when her immune system allows.
Carissa also loves to organize and has made the most of her time while at home by organizing the bedroom she shares with her sister. “She hasn’t been a lazy home body,” Ginger says. “She prepared her own daily schedule, and she always sticks to that.” And best of all, Carissa has a group of good friends who always look out for her.
“Her positive attitude is what keeps me going,” Ginger says. “We’re just so lucky we are where we are right now.” ■