His survival at risk from the moment he was born, Morgan Alexander Yesnes spent most of his 24 years in the shadow of dire prognoses. Four days. Two months. Maybe two years. Finally, minutes.
Yesnes died April 22 of heart and respiratory failure after enduring two potentially terminal illnesses and a multitude of complications. He met each wave of bad news cheerfully, determined to do whatever he could in whatever time he had left to him.
"His attitude was, 'Every day you wake up, you live,' " said his mother, Lori Larson of St. Louis Park.
Born with a heart defect, Morgan had open-heart surgery when he was 4 days old, and five more operations in his first four years.
For the following 10 years he lived mostly like an average kid. He tired more easily than his classmates, but he rode his bike, ate pizza, played on baseball and basketball teams.
The next shock came when Morgan was 14 and he was diagnosed with leukemia, unrelated to his heart problems. Doctors ordered immediate chemotherapy.
"He said, 'Am I going to die?' and I said, 'I have no idea,' " Larson recalled. Afterward, she said, she realized his doctors "didn't think he'd make it through the weekend."
Chemotherapy didn't work, so doctors recommended confining Morgan in a bubble with massive doses of chemo. Even then, they warned, his odds of surviving were less than 5%.
Larson and her husband, David Yesnes, balked at keeping their son isolated in his final days. They gave Morgan, not yet 15, the choice: be confined alone and blasted with chemo for a slim chance of survival, or go home and enjoy whatever time he had left. According to Larson, "He looked at us and said, 'When are we leaving?' "
The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent Morgan, his parents and sister Sydney to Disney World. "We were packing for the last family trip [we thought] we'd ever have together, with heavy hearts," Larson said. "But not Morgan — he was so excited."
In what his doctor called a miracle, Morgan's cancer went into remission. He went off hospice care, graduated from Edina High School, entered Augsburg University and lived in a dorm. He and his family traveled to Yellowstone National Park, Normandy, Pearl Harbor. He volunteered as a greeter at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
"I've never had a kid like that," said Dr. Yoav Messinger, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital. "He became part of our [hospital] family."
But as the cancer receded, Morgan's heart weakened. He suffered psoriasis and arthritis, often used a wheelchair and couldn't carry heavy textbooks or go out in the cold.
When he was 21, a doctor predicted he'd live no more than two years. His parents chose not to tell him. David Yesnes retired at age 58 to spend more time with his son.
In December, Morgan got pneumonia. The family vacationed in Florida and Arizona, where he felt better. Shortly after they returned, the pandemic began and Morgan could not leave the house. One day, he confronted his mother.
"He said, 'I'm 24 years old and I'm not doing anything. I'm not in school, not working. ... Am I going to be here until I'm 40?' And I'm like, 'Oh, boy,' " she said.
On April 21, Morgan, his parents, sister and her boyfriend had dinner together. "It was this amazing family evening. We had so much fun," Larson said.
Later that night, Morgan got sick and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. His family was told he had minutes, hours, maybe days. It was minutes.
"It happened the best way it possibly could," his mother said. "He didn't suffer. We were there, holding him."
Morgan Yesnes is survived by his parents and sister. Services were held via Zoom.