Sudden Diagnosis Sends Penguin Family Reeling

The McMurray family, hit by a medical crises, need’s community support.

Sabrina and Michael McMurray, owners of Laguna’s iconic Penguin Cafe, suffered a blow last Saturday when their only son, William, was diagnosed with an inoperable and fast-growing tumor called a brain stem glioma.

Friends and family quickly rallied to support the McMurrays, supplying much-needed moral and financial support. Friend Clay Leeds, a web designer, quickly to set up a web site where the family will post updates on William’s progress, and friends can post comments and messages for the family (http://ourlil.com/william/).

Importantly, the site includes a “donate” button for financial contributions to help with medical bills and unforeseen incidentals as the McMurrays have no health insurance.

Earlier in the year, a ball had hit William, 11, who will enter sixth grade at Thurston Middle School this fall. His subsequent dizziness, a sore neck and headaches, were thought to be related to a concussion from the blow, as a clean CT scan offered mystified physicians no other explanation for the symptoms. But instead of improving with time, William’s condition worsened, affecting his vision, speech and motor function. Last Saturday, his parents brought him to the emergency room at Mission Hospital and received the devastating diagnosis.

William was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where he is expected to undergo radiation treatment. Since the tumor is inside the brain stem and inoperable, there are few other options at this point, explained family friend Kimberly Leeds. The prognosis, for the time being, remains vague.

On top of the McMurrays’ lack of health insurance, the Penguin Cafe has also experienced financial set backs in recent years, said Leeds, with the McMurrays struggling to keep open the doors of a business that has been a family tradition for more than 40 years.

Now medical bills will only add to their burden, even as their son’s medical crisis means they will have less time to take care of business, Leeds said.

Though the Penguin boasts a dedicated staff well versed in the daily routines, Sabrina McMurray kept the place running smoothly on a daily basis, even waiting on tables as needed. Now, though, she has yet to leave her son’s side at CHOC since Saturday.

In the meantime, her best friend, Laguna Beach resident Kelly Fontenot, who has worked on and off at the café since she was 12, filled in at the Penguin. Reached Thursday after covering the lunch rush, Fontenot said customers are responding with a “major outpouring of love.”

The family hopes William will be home next week, pending expected treks to CHOC’s outpatient facility in Orange for radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks.

“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Fontenot, adding that the McMurrays appreciate the outpouring of thoughtful deeds, from sending cards to offering to do laundry. “It’s amazing,” said Fontenot. “It’s Laguna, and it’s why we live here.”



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  1. The Tylers

    Our prayers go out to you all. We look forward to helping in any way possible.

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