Life Stories: Professional and caring until the end

CorrespondentJuly 7, 2013 

  • Morgan James McLamb

    Born Sept. 18, 1975 in Denver

    1993 graduates from Needham B. Broughton High School

    1997 graduates from N.C. State with a degree in criminal justice

    1998 begins volunteering with the Durham Highway Fire Department

    2002 hired by the Youngsville Fire Department

    2003 marries Amy Sies McLamb

    2004 hired by the City of Raleigh Fire Department

    April 2006 diagnosed with malignant brain tumor

    June 2007 to February 2011 in remission

    2008 daughter Avery is born

    2010 son Carson is born

    2011 tumor returns

    October 2012 ends active duty as a Raleigh fireman

    Dies May 23

Morgan McLamb knew something was wrong when he began having sharp headaches and experiencing vertigo while working out.

The day he learned he had a brain tumor, he went to see his supervisor at Rex Hospital, deciding to practice breaking the news before he told his wife, Amy.

He was 30 years old, a fireman, and a member of the Rex Hospital critical-care emergency transport team. Even if the tumor responded to initial treatment, it had a strong likelihood of returning, and if it did would be even harder to treat.

For the next seven years, McLamb fought the tumor, most of the time maintaining his professional responsibilities, and even starting a family.

But despite his unwavering commitment to carrying on, McLamb died in May.

During his battle, friends and family say, he never complained. Even in hospice care, his speech barely functional, he found a way to inquire about the welfare of his many visitors.

In his 37 years, McLamb had treated others with such kindness that in all the weeks he was in hospice, he was never alone, his best friend L.J. Taylor said.

McLamb had been married less than three years when the cancer appeared. The couple had met years earlier while working at Starbucks, and were friends for some time before dating.

Learning he had a brain tumor was excruciating, his wife said, but McLamb chose to focus on the good it brought him. It strengthened his faith in God. And church and prayer took on an important role in their household. It was not uncommon for McLamb to offer to pray with patients during a transport, though colleagues say he was not pushy about it. He usually ended conversations by saying, “God bless you.”

McLamb underwent treatment for the tumor, and for three and a half years was cancer free. In that time the McLambs had two children.

“Having kids and being a father was something that was so important to him. He had so much to offer as a dad,” Amy McLamb said.

“This is one of the places where Morgan’s faith really came in. He had a firm belief that none of us were promised tomorrow and we all needed to live our lives and be strong,” Taylor said.

But the tumor returned, and once again McLamb underwent repeated treatments, sometimes vomiting during his shifts from the side effects, always insisting he was fine.

One day in the last year Amy was having what she called a “pity party” for herself. At that point Morgan could not be left alone with the children. The tumor was compromising his balance as well as his speech. She was overwhelmed, commuting to a new job and generally worried about their future.

“He was like, ‘Stop, we have a wonderful life. We have a roof over our head we have two great kids,’ ” she said.

McLamb was born in Denver and settled in Raleigh as a teen, graduating from Broughton High School before heading to N.C. State for a degree in criminal justice. But he was bit by the service bug, and after a few years as a volunteer fireman was hired first in Youngsville and then by the City of Raleigh’s Fire Department in 2004.

“He just wanted to love people, even as a child,” said his mother, Rose McLamb.

His colleagues say he was a fireman through and through, a calming force in times of chaos, and always ready to take the lead. Even off duty, he could not pass by a car accident without pulling over to be of assistance. He also kept McDonald’s dollars in his pockets to give to the hungry.

Scotty Wright, a friend and fellow fireman, remembers the time McLamb came in from mowing the lawn at their station, his eyes red and puffy. Wright learned that McLamb was allergic to grass, but refused to shirk his responsibility. When McLamb was transported from Duke Hospital to hospice care, his wife called in a favor to the Rex Hospital transport team, where he had worked for a decade. It seemed right that his family of colleagues would be the ones to bring him to the place where he’d spend his final days.

When Amy seated herself next to her husband in the back of the ambulance, she was told she chose to sit exactly where Morgan liked to sit during a transport. She was right by his side, ready to engage, listen, or simply hold a hand.

A few days before Morgan died, he was taken by Rex transport on a special visit to his family’s new home. It was a house in Burlington they were in the process of purchasing, and he knew he would never live in it.

“He told me that day ‘It was the happiest day of my life,’ ” his Rex supervisor Dale Martin said. Even until the end, his loved ones kept up hope that he would somehow beat the odds.

“There is a blurry line between faith, hope and denial. I think I kept praying for a miracle, but I knew that a miracle may not be what was in God’s will for Morgan, so I had to be accepting of that,” his wife said.

On Father’s Day, Amy took their children to his grave site. They wrote notes to McLamb on balloons and released them into the sky. Their 4-year-old daughter, Avery, squealed saying, “Catch it, Daddy!” as she watched the balloons drift upwards.

“We all know where more Morgan is,” Taylor said, which makes talking about him to his children a lot easier.

“So much of what we do is not based on loss for them. It’s on what Daddy is still doing.”

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