The Wade Morgan Story: A Mother’s Perspective
One of the truly tragic realities of texting while driving (or TWD) that we have seen time and time again over the course of our outreach work is the widespread damage and far-reaching effects caused by this dangerous practice. Indeed, accidents resulting from texting while driving impact so many more people than just the texter or the victims involved. Oftentimes, it seems as if the heaviest or deepest consequences and after-effects of TWD are carried by those closest to the victims—the friends, families, and loved ones who receive that life-changing phone call out of the blue, telling them that their son, daughter, wife, or husband has been in a terrible accident and might not survive, or who must bear a lifelong burden in terms of care and support for a family member that has become permanently disabled by a TWD accident.
Donna Morgan received just such a phone call on the morning of Thursday, June 18th, 2009. At the time, her twenty-four year old son, Wade Morgan, was lying in a hospital bed at Orlando Regional Medical Center, in critical condition as a result of injuries sustained from a texting while driving accident. He suffered severe head trauma and was placed on a ventilator after his girlfriend veered headlong into oncoming traffic on the freeway while she was texting. While his girlfriend sustained a broken arm and a minor concussion as a result of the incident, Wade’s injuries were far more severe; the doctors told Donna that her son was not expected to live through the weekend.
In Donna’s own words, “Wade wasn’t supposed to be in that hospital bed. He was supposed to be on a Coast Guard cutter ship. I kept telling myself that this couldn’t be happening and there must be a mistake … that he was actually on that ship.”
Just before that fateful date, Wade had just completed his Coast Guard basic training in New Jersey, finishing at the top ten percent of his class, as well as graduating with the prestigious qualification as a “sharpshooter.” This was quite an accomplishment for Wade, as it had taken him a long time just to get into basic training, having been put on a waiting list for over a year before he even got his chance. Donna says that he was enthusiastically looking forward to his new career, in large part because he believed his position with the Coast Guard would be an exciting and rewarding way for him to help others, something that he was always passionate about.
Wade’s graduation from basic training was certainly cause for celebration. Donna and her husband Larry, their two other sons, and Wade’s grandparents, as well as other members of his extended family, all made the trip to New Jersey to see him graduate. Afterwards, during Wade’s five days of leave in Atlantic City, they all spent some much needed family time together, enjoying each other’s company and basking in Wade’s happiness. He was beginning a very new and exciting chapter in his life, one that would provide the direction and fulfillment that he had always craved. Everybody was overwhelmed with pride and joy as they returned home to Florida.
Once his leave was over, Wade needed to get to the Orlando Airport to catch a flight to Philadelphia to report for duty. His girlfriend and his father argued over who would drive him there. The girlfriend eventually won, although Donna had one simple request for her: “Please get my son to the airport safely.” As it turns out, these would be the last words she would ever say to her son’s then-girlfriend, words that would prove to be foreboding of the accident that would occur the next morning.
Wade had promised his mother that he would call her at 8:30 AM when he reached the airport. 8:30 came and went, and Donna decided to call her son, whom she figured might have been running late. Wade’s phone rang a few times and then went to voicemail. Then, right after she had hung up, Donna’s house phone rang. She picked up the receiver, but it wasn’t Wade on the other line—it was someone from the Level One Trauma Center at Orlando Regional Medical Center. They said that Wade had been involved in an accident and was in critical condition. They also said that she needed to come immediately, as they weren’t sure how much longer they would be able to keep him alive.
Orlando was a forty-five minute drive from Donna’s residence, and she and her husband made the trip in a panicked daze. What information she had been able to get from the ER nurse about Wade’s situation and prospects for recovery wasn’t good. A veteran paramedic and ER nurse herself, Donna knew full well the seriousness of her son’s condition: a fractured skull, fractured vertebrae, and broken cheekbones added up in her mind to injuries involving very serious head trauma. When Donna arrived, she was hysterical and unable to accept the reality of the situation. She kept looking at her son lying in the hospital bed, but she just couldn’t believe, or accept the reality, that it was him; she continued to tell herself, “Wade is on a Coast Guard cutter ship … that can’t be him.”
Despite the bleakness of the initial prognosis, Wade would ultimately survive, although it would be far from an easy path back to recovery. When doctors would try to take him off the ventilator, he would stop breathing. At one point, they even had to perform a tracheotomy to get the breathing tube back in. After three weeks in the trauma Intensive Care Unit, he was finally deemed stable enough to be moved to the trauma step-down unit. Donna, who along with her husband Larry hadn’t left Wade’s bedside, was a little relieved, although she soon noticed that her son was acting strangely.
“Even in the condition he was in (Wade could hardly move or speak), I could tell that there was something off about Wade,” Donna said. “I couldn’t figure it out, and when I told the doctors and nurses, they couldn’t figure it out either. Then Wade started vomiting up huge amounts of bright red blood. I was terrified.”
Wade immediately underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured blood vessel, which required a massive blood transfusion afterwards. The operation would save his life once again. When his condition stabilized, he was permitted to be discharged from the hospital, although Wade Morgan’s road to rehabilitation was only just beginning.
Donna had her son transferred to the Shephard Center in Atlanta, Georgia, a rehabilitation facility specializing in spinal cord and head trauma injuries that spanned half a city block. Donna picked the facility for its excellent reputation, and she says that she cannot praise the people at Shephard enough for their hard work and dedication. For the next two and a half months, Wade would undergo intensive physical therapy. Still on a strict liquid diet because he could not feed himself or take most solid foods, after the accident Wade’s weight had dropped from 170 to 110 pounds. Over time and with the help of the people at Shephard, he was able to work his way back onto a solid diet. He also began learning to walk and talk again. Wade’s rehabilitation regimen was extremely demanding and exhausting for him, and lasted five days a week, with visitors only permitted on the weekends. Donna and her husband, Larry, made the drive from Florida to Atlanta every week to spend this time with their son.
Wade finally returned home to the Morgan residence on Labor Day Weekend of 2009. It then became a concerted family effort to care for Wade, and his grandfather, Mike Cardo, even relocated from Connecticut to help. According to Donna, the invaluable assistance from his grandfather, as well as the support and assistance of Wade’s grandmother, Jackie Morgan, were critical components, or as she puts it, “building blocks,” that gave Wade the foundation he needed to construct his road to recovery. Indeed, Wade needed help with just about everything. Although he would eventually be able to abandon his wheelchair for a four-pronged walker (which he still uses today), at first he needed somebody to carry him up and down stairs, assist him in the shower and bathroom, and dress him. Larry volunteered himself for these duties. Although not Wade’s biological father, Larry had always considered Wade to be his son. In a strange way, the accident strengthened their relationship: one year after the accident, Wade asked Larry to legally adopt him. Larry gladly accepted.
While Wade’s accident took a definite toll – both physically and emotionally — on those he loved, Donna told us that the Morgan family has never viewed this as imposing an unfair burden or felt victimized in the sense that they were dealt a bad hand of cards with what happened to Wade. While acknowledging that the first couple of years after the accident were definitely trying and severely tested the family’s collective will and fortitude, eventually they have found peace and acceptance with what has happened to Wade and his situation going forward.
“For the first two years after Wade got hurt, I would cry all the time and couldn’t even talk about it without getting angry,” Donna said. “Eventually, I got to a place where I finally came to grips with the realization that I needed to simply let go of this anger, accept what had happened, and do what I could to help Wade continue on as best he could. I thank god that I still had my son, which is more than a lot of other parents affected by texting while driving can say. I didn’t have to bury my son. I was lucky enough to be able to bring him home.”
Donna still finds it difficult to watch her son struggle, however. His dreams of a career in the Coast Guard have been taken from him forever. He still suffers from speech and mobility impediments, in spite of all the difficult rehabilitative work he has put in; Donna says that Wade must exert strenuous effort to do even the most menial of tasks, such as picking up a glass of water. She also admits that it’s difficult for him (and for her) to see other people his age getting married and starting families, something that may also not happen for Wade. The simple fact is that while she considers herself fortunate to have her son, she believes that his accident was entirely avoidable and hopes that her story can spare other families the pain, anguish and turmoil that Wade’s family has experienced. And she also points out the one positive outcome of this unfortunate accident — that although Wade’s physical body has permanent deficits, his mind has regained its former sharpness and his loveable, engaging personality has returned. And through it all, Wade still has the same great sense of humor and wit that he had before the accident, and in his mother’s eyes, this is truly one of his most endearing features.
“There is absolutely no text in the world that is so important that it should prompt a driver to take his or her attention away from the road. If it’s really that important to you, then you should take the time to pull over, stop the car, and read the message. The consequences of texting while driving can devastate the lives of everybody involved, especially loved ones. I hope that people realize how serious this thing really is.”