Morgan was a healthy, active 17-year-old enjoying her junior year of high school. She was on her school’s basketball team and loved spending time outdoors when she wasn’t with her friends. By all accounts, she was leading a completely normal teenage life. All that changed one evening when she collapsed while playing basketball. Morgan was rushed to the emergency room where doctors discovered that a large clot had caused Morgan to suffer a stroke on the left side of her brain. Doctors at UPMC were able to provide cutting-edge treatment in the form of a mechanical thrombectomy, a procedure in which the doctors removed the clot that caused the stroke. While this procedure saved her life and her brain from further damage, Morgan faced a formidable road ahead.
As she recovered, Morgan’s parents knew that their daughter was far from who she was before the stroke and were anxious to have her begin her rehabilitation at the Children’s Hospital Rehabilitation Unit (CHRU) as soon as possible. When Morgan arrived at CHRU, the staff at CHRU was tasked with getting her back to her life. For Morgan, that meant playing sports, taking care of her pets and livestock, and generally being a teenager again. Because the stroke had left her unable to communicate or use the right side of her body, Morgan and the team at CHRU began working immediately to overcome these barriers.
Morgan’s medical and therapy team at CHRU knew how important it was to get Morgan moving quickly, both physically and cognitively. The first day Morgan was unable to sit on her own; by day three, she was up and working on walking with her physical therapist. At the same time, Morgan’s speech therapist worked with her to get her language back and learn to communicate again, while her occupational therapist began tackling the task of everyday independence. Her therapy team also knew that practicing these skills as much as possible was critical, which meant integrating the most important team members: her parents. Morgan began to master more and more skills, in large part because she was able to work at them so much every day. Speech therapy wasn’t just talking; it was walking to the therapy office and using her right arm to reach and gesture for communication. At the same time, physical therapy was not just for walking: Morgan was expected to use all the strategies she had been learning in speech therapy to communicate with her physical therapist. Morgan met these expectations and challenges with determination, with her sense of humor quickly coming back and helping her work through the toughest challenges.
As the days and weeks went by, Morgan showed incredible strength and heart while overcoming obstacles that would test the reserves of even the strongest adults. She never complained, even when difficulty communicating frustrated her to the point of tears. Through all of this, the CHRU team and her parents were by her side, guiding her, cheering her on, and, at times, sitting back and watching this incredible young woman define perseverance.
When Morgan left CHRU, she had overcome countless obstacles and experienced an incredible recovery. The team at CHRU had changed, too, as they do watching each young patient beat the odds and defy diagnoses. On a recent visit, her dad told a favorite story of Morgan recently rearranging the furniture in her room, only asking for help with the bed. She is back to caring for her pets and is raising sheep for a school project. This is the true victory for Morgan and her rehabilitation team: she is back to living her life.