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Morgan Enright: More Than Survival


29924775791_692c820bf9_k“Plane crash. Three deceased. One survivor.”

In the weeks following April 8th, 2016, these words became synonymous with the story of Ketchikan, Alaska’s Morgan Enright. During a routine work-related flight across Southeast Alaska — from Wrangell to Angoon, nearly 300 miles away — the Cessna 206 commuter plane carrying Morgan, the plane’s pilot, and two passengers entered turbulent weather. The elements proved too great for the small plane to withstand and, within 20 miles of its destination, the plane crashed into the steep mountain terrain of Admiralty Island, Alaska.

Barely conscious, Morgan — and only Morgan —  survived. Hours later, emergency crews fought against the mountain’s high winds to retrieve her from the wreckage, beginning a desperate effort to save her life.

Morgan’s injuries were numerous, and many of them severe. After transferring from nearby Juneau to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, Morgan was rushed into a series of surgeries to treat the damage sustained by her brain and the minor fractures caused by the blunt trauma.

She had survived the crash and endured the resultant emergency procedures, but the cost of that survival was unknown. Morgan remained in critical, if stable, condition over the following days.

Soon, Morgan began to make noticeable improvements. Her consciousness emerged — she was capable of receiving and interpreting commands — and she had regained enough cognitive autonomy to regularly participate in therapy. By mid-May, Morgan transferred to Denver’s Craig Hospital, where she started initial gait training and weaning off her dependence on manual assistance.

She came to QLI in late July, nearly four months after having survived the crash, and she arrived ready to make the final transition back to a sense of normality.

“I made great progress before getting to QLI,” Morgan said, “so when I got here, therapy really became about perfecting routine little things,” Morgan said. “Building physical endurance, being truly independent throughout the day, getting ready to go home.”

QLI wove together each distinct and disparate component of Morgan’s therapy program with a singular, gravitational goal in mind: preparing Morgan for life after rehabilitation.

To achieve this goal, QLI’s team had to forecast Morgan’s life path — the specific future and identifying elements of the life Morgan envisioned for herself — and began to assemble the pieces necessary to make that life path possible. Her interests, her goals, her family and close personal relationships, her level of safety accessing locations and resources throughout the community, and even her pre-injury vocation became reference points for QLI, key markers with which to direct, focus, and assess her recovery.

Therapy, as a result, took on a unique shape for Morgan, tailored to her specific interests and personality. Challenging her physical endurance and level of coordination meant assessing her skills via adaptive sports. Easing her safely into functional settings meant providing her with cooking tasks in QLI’s residential units, or with vehicle operation assessments on QLI’s campus roads. And preparing her transition back to work meant, without exaggeration, returning to Alaska with a QLI clinician for a formal evaluation.

Prior to the crash, Morgan operated heavy machinery for Ketchikan Ready-Mix, a concrete supplier in Southeast Alaska. With QLI’s vocational specialist in tow, Morgan participated in a home visit to Alaska in order to perform realistic workplace tasks under true-to-life circumstances. The ensuing assessments judged Morgan’s physical capability entering and exiting equipment command seats, as well as the degree of cognitive support Morgan would need to complete complex tasks.

The rehabilitation process molded every potential step of Morgan’s life path forward, a path she continues to explore with pride and humility.

“No one wants to be in this position, going through this difficulty. But it’s my responsibility now to be positive, engaged, motivated,” Morgan said.

Morgan’s work at QLI concludes this October, when she officially begins the next step of her life after injury. Six months after her world changed beyond her control or consent, Morgan gets back to Alaska, back to her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Back to Grizz, her dog and regular therapy companion. Back to work, slowly at first, with more responsibility coming after time. Back to a life that is more than survival or desperation or defying all odds.

At the end of this journey, Morgan gets to go back to what makes her Morgan.

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