Child of burned worker determined to help explosion victims

Monday, April 21, 2008

RINCON, Ga. -- Days after the deadly explosion at the sugar refinery where her father worked, 9-year-old Morgan Seckinger went back to school -- smiling, as usual.

Her fourth-grade teacher couldn't believe it.

"I said 'Morgan, was your daddy hurt in the explosion?"' said Stacie Ortiz, Morgan's teacher at Ebenezer Elementary School. "And she said 'Yes, ma'am, but they took him to the hospital and he's going to be fine.'"

Ortiz knew better. Paul Seckinger, a single father who has custody of Morgan, was in critical condition with burns over 80 percent of his body.

She enlisted Morgan for a special project -- one that would raise money to help her father and other victims of the Feb. 7 explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery near Savannah.

Morgan jumped at her teacher's idea, which involved making charms for the popular plastic Crocs clogs.

Imperial Sugar gave its permission to use their logo in a new charm. The manufacturer of the shoe charms, Colorado-based Crocs subsidiary Jibbitz, agreed to produce 1,000 of the postage stamp-sized charms for free.

On Saturday, Morgan and her classmates began selling the charms for $5 apiece. Morgan's grandmother, Karen Seckinger, said they sold 800 in about 30 minutes and made plans to order a new batch.

The money will go to the refinery families.

"I think we'll probably sell a lot of them," Morgan said. "I've told a bunch of people about them."

Ortiz doesn't doubt it. She said more than 200 people sent e-mails asking where they could buy a charm. And some students came to her before the charms even arrived with money their parents had given them to buy one.

Morgan's grandmother said the fundraiser has lifted the girl's spirits. Seckinger has spent all of her time, except for three brief trips home, at the Augusta burn center since her son arrived there Feb. 8.

Paul Seckinger, 33, has regained consciousness, but is still breathing with the help of a ventilator as he recovers from exterior burns and seared lungs.

Morgan has dealt with death in her family before, her grandmother said. A great-uncle died from cancer in November. His death weighed on Morgan's mind when her father was hospitalized after the explosion.

"In the beginning she said 'Is this going to be like Uncle Del?"' Karen Seckinger said. "And I said 'No, daddy has a chance to get well."'

Morgan's grandparents took her to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center about three weeks ago to see her father. It was her only visit. Before that, Morgan would send her father recorded messages telling him she loved him and was praying for him.

At her father's bedside, Morgan was more curious than scared. She asked about the tubes and machines helping him breathe. She rubbed the tiny bristles of hair beginning to grow back on top of his head.

"You've got to talk loud so he can hear you, because he's got bandages over his ears to keep them moisturized," Morgan said. "I told him that I love him and everything's going to be all right, and he needs to hurry up and get better so we can go fishing and watch SpongeBob SquarePants."

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