"I wanted to help my mom because I knew we couldn't afford to do other things," Morgan Franklin tells PEOPLE.

By Cathy Free
October 23, 2015 10:45 AM
Elizabeth Eller

Nine-year-old Morgan Franklin of Muskegon, Michigan, was well aware that her parents made financial sacrifices to pay for the expensive medical treatments she required to treat her rare skin disease. There was never extra money for vacations or dining out, and her family was always playing catch-up with the monthly bills.

So two months ago, Morgan, who suffers from linear morphea, an extremely rare disease that causes lesions to grow on her skin, came up with a plan: she would collect rocks, paint them and sell them on Facebook to help pay for her medical bills.

“I wanted to help my mom because I knew we couldn’t afford to do other things,” Morgan tells PEOPLE. “I’ve always loved taking home rocks from the beaches on Lake Michigan. I knew that doing something with them was the perfect way for me to help so we’d have some extra money.”

Since late August, her Facebook business, Morgan’s Creations, has brought in more than $8,000 thus far through a GoFundMe account, with people paying what they feel they can contribute to buy rocks covered in glitter and polka dots or painted with lady bugs, jack-‘o-lanterns, alligators and snowmen.

Morgan Franklin
Elizabeth Eller

“Quite honestly, for a kid of her age to be aware of her family’s mental and financial strains is pretty amazing,” says Morgan’s grandfather, Reg Eller, 62, who lives nearby in Muskegon and was one of Morgan’s first customers, buying two rocks – one painted sparkling green and the other with a pumpkin design.

“Morgan rarely complains about what she goes through with the disease – she’s always been positive,” he tells PEOPLE. “When you see her on the beach picking up rocks, she always has a smile on her face.”

Morgan’s health problems started in early spring 2014, when a large bruise showed up on her right buttock the size of a baseball. Her mother, Elizabeth Eller, a single parent who has two other children, made an appointment with the pediatrician for tests, but everything came back normal.

When the lesion grew, Eller took Morgan to a dermatologist in Grand Rapids and was told she had linear morphea, a disease that caused her skin to thicken and would eventually move into her muscles and organs if left untreated.

Morgan Franklin during recent hospital treatments
Elizabeth Eller

“The lesions are now on the backs of her legs and on her torso, and they’re causing her pain,” Eller, 34, tells PEOPLE. “They look like intense bruises. We’ve tried creams and steroid injections, but because it’s so rare (affecting about 50 in 100,000 children), they’re having a hard time finding a medication that works.”

Morgan has a particularly aggressive case of the disease, says her nurse practitioner, Becky Thompson, of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“Morgan’s lesions cross her joint lines, and we’re concerned that her range of motion will be limited,” says Thompson. “But some of her lesions have stopped growing and gotten softer, indicating some response to treatment. Hopefully, she’ll be able to do all the normal things that kids do.”

Morgan Franklin
Elizabeth Eller

Steroid infusions to help soften the skin and high doses of vitamin D are helping, says Morgan’s mom, which is why the family continues to make the six-hour round-trip to the hospital three times a month.

“Insurance pays for some of our expenses, but not all,” says Eller, who works as an independent contractor for the Muskegon Chronicle newspaper. “So when Morgan came up one day and asked if she could buy some paint to start her own business, I told her to go for it. We pay for a lot of overnight medical trips and this was a way for her to feel like she is contributing.”

Morgan, who is homeschooled because her immune system is compromised from her medications, spends several hours every evening filling special orders and painting her rocks.

“It’s relaxing and fun,” she says, “and except for the paint, my supplies are free. If I run out of rocks, I don’t have to worry. I know that if I go to the beach, I can always get more.”