On March 5, John Morris’ world turned upside down.
A bicycle accident in Hawaii severed the Purcell man’s spinal cord and left him a paraplegic.
Morris and Dr. Peter Chau were physical therapists here 40 years ago.
Morris worked as a physical therapist for a local home health agency, but was recently laid off due to home health cutbacks from Medicare. While awaiting responses from prospective employers, Morris accepted an offer to join the Chau family on an Hawaiian vacation.
Chau became Morris’ close friend when they were freshmen at the University of Oklahoma. Both graduated from OU as physical therapists. Chau was a physical therapist at Purcell Municipal Hospital years ago and is now an emergency physician in Southern California.
According to Chau, they were bicycling on Mount Haleakala when Morris pulled to the side to allow cars to pass about two miles from the summit. He lost control of the bike on loose gravel and fell approximately 10 feet, landing on jagged lava rocks.
Chau and his son, an EMT, did what they could to stabilize Morris. Poor weather caused air transport to be cancelled. Chau said rangers arrived in 10-15 minutes and were able to administer oxygen. It took 45 minutes for ground transport to arrive, during which Morris went into shock and briefly lost consciousness.
When he arrived at the trauma center, the diagnosis was grim. His spinal cord was completely severed and three vertebrae were fractured. He also has multiple bilateral rib fractures, an open clavicle fracture and multiple bruises and abrasions.
He was admitted to the intensive care unit at Maui Memorial Hospital.
In addition to spinal shock with low blood pressure, Morris was deemed too unstable for surgery for several days. Eventually, surgeons stabilized his spine with metal rod implants and removed bone fragments from the spinal canal.
He has since developed fever, shortness of breath, confusion, dizziness and vomiting. He is unable to eat or move his bowels. His shoulder surgery has been postponed three times due to the persistent low grade fever and low oxygen. Morris’ wife, Vicky, and her sister flew to Maui to care for him. Remaining in Purcell was the couple’s adult son, Anthony, who is doing his residency at OU Medical Center.
“What awaits John is almost too overwhelming to imagine,” Chau said. “He will need shoulder surgery when he is more stable. Without the functioning arm, it would be difficult for rehab. The neurosurgeon reported little chance of regaining control of his legs or lower trunk. The intensivist estimated two weeks of acute care hospitalization before he returns to Oklahoma.”
Vicky Morris, a physical therapy assistant, was also laid off.
Due to their recent job loss, the couple acquired a high deductible barebone health plan, Chau said. Being able to fly commercial is highly unlikely, Chau said, and an air ambulance to Oklahoma, not covered by insurance, will cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
“He will need adaptive equipment, handicap van, home modifications including ramps and widening of doors/bathroom, etc.,” Chau said of his friend. “John is in his 60s and it will be difficult for him to start a second career to cover the expenses in the near future.”
Chau has started a GoFundMe campaign for his friend. The initial goal is $60,000. That should cover initial acute and rehabilitation care. As of Tuesday, $11,496 had been raised.
Future goals will include home care.
To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-john-morris-with-spinal-cord-injury.
“Let’s bring John back to Oklahoma,” Chau urged. “John is a knowledgeable, dedicated, and skillful physical therapist who works hard to improve the quality of life for others. Both John and Vicky are very kind and caring. Their patients love to talk to them just about everything. They heal both the body and the mind. Now, they need our help indeed! The Morris family is still in shock with great sadness and stress. It’s time for us to come together to give them a helping hand.”