When Athens toddler Marcylan Francis suddenly needed medical attention in the 1950s, the Athens community was quick to offer their support – financial and moral.  And it’s not at all unusual when they do the same today with similar situations.

The headline in the April 12, 1956 of the Athens Weekly Review read “Campaign Starts Here to Pay for Child’s Operation.” The accompanying article described how 11 month old Marcylan and her parents Mr. and Mrs. Roscoe Francis of Athens, had to travel to Minnesota’s renowned Mayo Clinic for possible surgery for their daughter, The problem? She was described as having a “hole in the heart.”

A family friend explained that Marcylan’s parents had already exhausted their savings and borrowed funds for the child’s treatment in Texas and now would not have the expected cost of $3000 for the surgery in Minnesota.  According to the publicity, donations could be sent to a local church or to what was then Henderson County Junior College where Marcylan’s father had been an instructor for several years.

Texas doctors had advised immediate surgery, so leaving their other two children with family members in Athens, Marcylan and her parents flew to Minnesota the next day. Actually, they were flying at a time it was almost rare and especially when rail travel was so much more common.

In the April 12 article the reporter gave more details as to the effects of Marcylan’s condition. As he wrote, her  “…heart has to pump at an exceedingly rapid pace because of the ailment which permits the unpure blood to mix with the pure. As a result the heart has to pump extra fast in order to supply her with sufficient pure blood. This has resulted in an enlargement of the heart.” Doctors hoped to be able to “close the opening that permits the mixing of the blood.”

Once at the Mayo Clinic, Mr. and Mrs. Francis spelled each other in bedside care for Marcylan since there was no money for extra nurses. They were to stay there for four to six weeks.

Yet a few weeks later in the April 19 Review it was reported that Marcylan and her parents had returned to Athens and the corrective surgery had been postponed. Meanwhile, a local supporter, grocer C.T. Bush, announced that the family support fund had received $1,325. “He [Mr. Bush] said that doctors advised they would continue to study the child’s condition and they expressed confidence that barring complications the operation will be a success.”

A few weeks later the Review of May 10, 1956 published a picture of now one year old Marcylan with her first birthday cake taken on April 27. The captain read: “Why does the flame of one little candle look so bright wonders pretty Marcylan Francis as she looks with surprise at her first birthday cake …”

Yet the postponed surgery was to finally take place many months later and was detailed in the May 28, 1959 Weekly Review. The headline told the story, “Little Girl to Undergo Major Heart Surgery.” Four years old at the time of the operation, Marcylan was to have her surgery at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

The reporter also gave more information about the child’s condition:”Her parents had taken her to Houston for regular checkups after her time in the Mayo Clinic for the original tests and observations….Due to the seriousness of the operation, the doctors have postponed it as long as possible, but since her condition has grown worse, surgery at this time has become necessary, it was reported.”

It is likely that Marcylan’s “hole in the heart” was probably a ventricle septal defect (VSD) a common congenital heart defect. The condition is called on one website an “abnormal opening in the wall between the main pumping chambers of the heart.” Today, depending on the situation, treatment is often done within the first year.

Perhaps the relationship between little Marcylan and her Athens neighbors could be summarized by the words from the April, 1956 Review picture of the child and her birthday cake. The caption writer put it this way: “There will never be darkness in the world as long as one tiny candle shines and neither will there be all sadness in the world where there are babies like Marcylan.”

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