For Lightning wing Ryan Callahan, a father of three, every child he meets through his pediatric cancer foundation hits home.
"It's what touches us, me and my wife," Callahan said. "We couldn't imagine being in that situation."
Then Ryan and Kyla Callahan met 8-year-old Morgan Allen of Lutz, who might be their most heartbreaking case yet.
Morgan is a sweet, sassy child. She is an adventurous big sister who has a blue belt in martial arts and was off training wheels by age 4. She makes good grades and is selfless, once giving a prize she won to a student who didn't win one. She also loves butterflies and unicorns.
"Pretty much what every father wants kids to do," said her dad, Kenny Allen.
Last summer Morgan started to have vision issues, so she was taken to her pediatrician. A 10- to 15-minute CT scan turned into a rush to the emergency room and a devastating diagnosis.
Morgan had brain stem cancer, a type called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
Morgan was transferred to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where doctors weren't very optimistic.
"They sit you down and tell you she's got three months to a year to live," said Allen, his voice cracking. "It's a killer. I was lost."
Allen, 47, a terminal operator for Chevron, and his wife, Bhavana Patel, 44, a product manager for a payment processing company, exhausted their options. There is no mainstream treatment or cure for Morgan's cancer, but an experimental trial in Mexico has shown progress. Patel said they have seen two children from Australia who have cancer-free scans because of the Mexico treatments.
"It's a Hail Mary," Callahan said.
The problem is, each treatment in Mexico costs $11,000, Allen said, plus $2,000 for travel. They went every three weeks to Monterrey and got positive results, with five treatments showing the tumor getting smaller. For Morgan's treatment, doctors accessed an artery in the groin area, drove a catheter close to the cerebral cortex and released chemotherapy drugs near the tumor.
The next type of immunotherapy for Morgan — also available in Mexico — is much more expensive, $33,000 per try, Patel said.
Callahan met Morgan after the March 3 game against the Flyers at Amalie Arena. The Ryan Callahan Foundation hosts pediatric cancer patients and their families at most every home game. Callahan gathers with the kids after the game in an adjacent locker room.
Callahan, who has two daughters and an infant son, said he and Kyla were struck by Morgan's story and wanted to help the family raise money through the family's website. The site has information about Morgan and ways you can donate via the crowdfunding sites gofundme.com and youcaring.com. Donations by check can be made out to Morgan Allen and mailed to Morgan Allen, P.O. Box 273574, Tampa, FL 33688.
Callahan offered to match up to $5,000, and the fund was close to $77,000 between the fundraising websites as of Saturday.
Morgan is in a wheelchair. Radiation treatments have led to decreased mobility in her right arm and leg. She is handling it like a champ, her parents said.
"She still laughs and giggles," Allen said. "She's still herself."
The Callahans offered the family one of their foundation's monthly Make-A-Wish-like trips. They could go to Disney World or to the beach with Morgan's 5-year-old brother, Ashton. Anywhere to create some memories.
"Maybe one day," her dad said.